WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Jordan Harris was laid to rest Feb. 7, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, with full military funeral honors.
During Harris’s life and Air Force career, she accomplished multiple crowning achievements. After receiving her commission through Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1965, she ventured into her first assignment as the assistant director for administration for the 60th Airlift Wing at Travis AFB, California. She then completed a tour in West Germany in 1971 before enrolling in the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course at Chanute AFB, Illinois. After graduating, she was named aircraft maintenance officer — the first woman to ever hold the title.
“Being a leader, being a mentor is not about how much you can fill your own cup, it’s about how much you pour into others and with Major General Harris, our cups run over,” said Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, Inspector General of the Air Force. “She poured so much of herself, personally and professional, into all of us and influenced so many — those she knew and those who knew her from afar.”
Through hard work and dedication, Harris continued to pave the way for females and women of color in the military. While she served at assignments in Thailand, California, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Kansas, Japan, Mississippi and Oklahoma, she continued to rise through the ranks. During those assignments, she was appointed as a White House aide during the presidential administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1975, and she was the second female in history to serve as a commanding officer for an Air Force cadet squadron in 1978. In 1988, she became the first female wing commander.
Harris continued to break barriers – on May 1, 1991, she was promoted to brigadier general – making her the first African-American female general in the U.S. Air Force. A mere four years later, on May 25, 1995, she was promoted to major general, and was the first woman to hold this rank in the service.
“Harris was the personification of enduring power…she had the ability to withstand challenges and changes that came with being the first…the first woman, the first forerunner, the pioneer for females in male dominated career fields,” said Lt. Col. Ruth Segres, chaplain. “In the midst of opposition and obstacles she exhibited a power, a mental steadfast strength and a fierce fortitude to keep her composure — a credit to her character.”
After 32 years of service, Harris retired in 1997 as the highest ranking female in the U.S. Air Force and highest ranking African-American female in the Department of Defense. She continued her legacy of service by aiding as the treasurer of the Atlanta branch of the NAACP and a director on the board of Peachtree Hope Charter School. In 2010, she was given the chance to once again serve with her Air Force family when President Barack Obama appointed her to work as a member of the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“My sister was a fighter,” said Elizabeth Johnson, Harris’s younger sister during the memorial service. “She was forever striving to serve others, and even in retirement she never missed an opportunity to contribute.”
Harris passed away Sept. 7, 2018, at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami, on a Caribbean vacation with her companion, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Branch. Though her death was sudden and unexpected, she was surrounded by loved ones.