John Leslie Harvell was born in Miami, Arizona to Leslie John and Martha (Martin) Harvell on Sunday, September 7, 1941. Soon after the family moved to Lordsburg, NM where he spent the majority of his youth. They spent a short period of time in the state of Washington to help on a family farm. They were soon called back to Lordsburg to help care for Grandpa Martin.
John attended school in Lordsburg and graduated from Lordsburg High School in 1959 where he was Senior Class President. He first attended college at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, NM but soon transferred to Western New Mexico University in Silver City, NM where he earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial technology. John was very skilled and could fix just about anything he set his mind to. Much of his success can be attributed to learning skills from his father while they worked together as miners.
In 1964, John chose to enlist in the military. He attended officers training school at Medina AFB, Texas starting in September 1964 and completed in December 1964. At that time, he was commissioned 2nd Lt. (reserve). John’s first assignment was to Randolph AFB, San Antonio, TX where he entered undergrad pilot training (T-38A) with the 3512th student squadron.
In December of 1964 John met Ann (Darlene) while shopping for a fishing rod in the sporting goods department at the BX where Ann was working. The family has always found the story of their meeting rather amusing because John had such a passion for fishing throughout his entire life. They began dating in July 1965 and then surprised everyone by marrying shortly thereafter on August 3, 1965. They left the next morning so that John could start phase two of his pilot training at Stead AFB in Reno, Nevada. This is where he began helicopter pilot training (H-19 and CH-3) with the 638th Training squadron. Ann pinned on his pilot wings in December 1965. In that same month they moved to his second assignment at Turner AFB in Albany, Georgia with the 1371st mapping and charting squadron. From there he went TDY to Ethiopia after a brief assignment to Patrick AFB, Florida. In June 1966 John was promoted to 1st Lt. The birth of John and Ann’s first child, a daughter, followed December 29, 1966. The following April 1967 they moved to a new assignment at Forbes AFB, Topeka, Kansas. In addition to flying as a pilot John had additional duties with mission control, manuals admin and supply officer. June through April of 1968 the family moved to Montgomery Alabama while he attended Squadron Officers School. In April 1968 he received a regular commission, and he spent much time TDY training H-53 ground school and flying training.
The family was separated as John left for duty in the Vietnam War in November 1968. He was assigned to the 40th ARRS as safety officer, while performing as Aircraft Commander, Instructor, and acceptance test pilot duties. During that time John was promoted to Captain and become one of only six pilots in the Air Force at that time to be dual qualified in HH-3E and HH-53B aircraft. The chopper group became known as the Jolly Green Giants of which John was so proud to be a member. Before returning stateside in November 1969 John was made an honorary pararescue man and was gifted their highly coveted barrette. Another very proud moment in John’s life.
Upon his return to back to the states John and his family were assigned to Randoph AFB in San Antonio, Texas. The Air Force wanted him to fly fixed wing aircraft and was assigned to HC-130s. Although disappointed not to be able to fly the helicopters he loved, he looked forward to the new mission and aircraft. The stay at Randolph was a short as he was soon reassigned to McCoy AFB, Orlando, Florida. After settling into their first home John and Ann welcomed their second child, a son, on September 26, 1970. Very soon after the entire squadron moved to Eglin, AFB, Fort Walton Beach, Florida. During his assignment time in Florida John got to spend much time on his favorite activity…fishing. He got a fishing boat and from early 1971 until March 1973 he spent many hours catching and consuming all of his bounty.
March 1973 found the Harvell’s with a new assignment to Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage, Alaska where John’s became a search and rescue pilot. It was quite an adventure for the family to travel across the United States from Florida to Washington by car, followed by the boarding of a ferry to travel across the Gulf of Alaska to Haines Alaska where they stayed overnight before traveling the Alcan Highway to Anchorage. They arrived to Alaska during “break-up” season which is notoriously messy and dirty so was quite the welcome to their new home. It took some time for the family to adjust to snow, slush, ice, darkness, and daylight, for which Alaska is well known. The best part of the assignment to Anchorage for John (and the entire family really) was camping and fishing (most notably for King Salmon). John could have spent the remainder of his days doing nothing but fishing in Alaska given the opportunity.
In January 1976 John was promoted to Major and after a longer than normal amount of time for assignment, was relocated to Reese, AFB, Lubbock, Texas in August 1977. This was the new beginning where promotion meant that desk jobs would be in his in future, which is difficult for any pilot to do. That was a tremendous adjustment as he loved flying so much. His new ground duty was as Chief of Services division which included all facets of bachelor housing, dining hall contracts, monitor of base exchange and commissary and as a mortuary officer. John was awarded a Meritorious Service medal for this his outstanding effort during this assignment.
September 1980 was to be John’s final assignment to Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, NM. For a brief period, the family was separated while they remained behind to complete the sale of the house in Lubbock before they could join him at Kirtland. John was able to work again with the HC-130 with 1551st FTS HC-130 combat rescue training school as squadron exercise officer and additionally served as wing/base plans officer, directing wing special activities, supervised all base airfield operations, including use of Albuquerque city airport. During his assignment at Kirtland John directed many exercise activities including an exercise agent crisis group for which he was the only officer that ranked below full colonel. As Wing/base Chief Airfield management he was an exercise evaluation officer for 30 team members. He wrote scenarios and conducted evaluations for all base attack, mobility, and disaster exercises—8 exercises were conducted in a three-month period. He also worked with the secret service for Presidential and Vice-Presidential visits. One of his favorite duties was as assistant base open house project officer where he oversaw the thunderbird and blue angel airshows, hosting 70,000 visitors. John retired from the United States Air Force at the end of this assignment in January 1985.
Before retirement John procured employment with Honeywell Defense Systems where he worked for twelve years. He finally retired 100 percent in 1997. One of his first great adventures after that was in June 1998 when returned to Alaska for the King Salmon fishing season. He was able to reconnect with longtime friends and do what he loved most.
John and Ann had moved from the northeast part of Albuquerque to Corrales in late 1994. Once he was fully retired, he was able to work on many projects to update and beautify their home. John was extremely capable of doing just about any time of work that needed to be done. He was generous about helping others with many kinds of projects for their homes or for the different organizations that he was a member of. He also made sure to take every opportunity he could to go fishing or hunting. He loved nature and being outdoors.
John’s memberships include the Wildlife Federation beginning in 1995. One of the founding and lifetime members of the VFW post, Corrales, NM. He served as an officer for the VFW for many years, relinquishing that position in March 2023. He was a member of the American Legion. He was an active member of the homeowner’s association for Sky View Acres serving as Chairman of the Board. He was well known throughout the neighborhood and helped many with things that they may have needed assistance with. He loved being able to help friends and family.
In July 1999 John was able to return to Alaska to go fishing. This time he was joined by both of his children, making it even more special. They fished for King Salmon along the river in Talkeetna and then headed for Homer to fish for Halibut. There were some geocaching adventures along the way, which was another outdoor activity that John loved and allowed him to be outdoors with his dog or his daughter.
All of John’s hard work and fun unfortunately took its toll on his body. As many of you know, John struggled to get around during the last couple of years, but as expected he was a fighter. He pushed through and continued to do the best he could for as long as he was able. Once he reached that point, he did not struggle for long. He was under the care of hospice for about 10 days. He was visited by close friends and family. He passed peacefully with his family by his side in the early evening on Tuesday, June 13, 2023.
John was loved by many more than he ever realized. He was cremated and requested that his ashes be placed at a specific location at one of his favorite fishing spots and that the ashes of his best friends, his dogs Ebby, Oscar and Toby be placed with him. He will be dearly missed.
Rest in peace John.
For those that are interested the family is requesting that you make contributions to the charity of your choice in John’s name. He had a deep love of animals and the outdoors.