What you don’t know about the Navy career of the Old Man of ‘Pawn Stars’

Richard Harrison is shown in the TV show "Pawn Stars" on the screen at his memorial service at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas, Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP) Long-time watchers of the History Channel’s reality television show “Pawn Stars” typically know that Richard Benjamin Harrison , aka “The Old Man,” spent time in the Navy.

But on the show, there were only passing mentions of Harrison’s time in the Navy. What viewers don’t know is that he rose to the rank of Personnelman 1st Class during a 20-year career.

Those two decades saw Harrison serving on four ships, a destroyer squadron staff, a tactical air squadron and one shore tour at a maintenance activity center during a career stretching from 1958 to 1979.

"I spent 14 years onboard ships, and I was gone a lot," Harrison told Navy Times in a 2014 interview. "That’s the only thing I didn’t care for."

Born in Danville, Virginia, Harrison then grew up in Lexington, North Carolina. As was the case for many young men of the day, Harrison joined the Navy only after being given an ultimatum from a North Carolina judge that he either join the military or go to jail after stealing a car, son Rick Harrison wrote in a 2011 autobiography.

After recruit training in San Diego, Harrison served back-to-back tours on two San Diego-based destroyers, the Orleck and the Twining. He left the Navy in 1962 after his four years were up, according to Harrison’s releasable information provided by Navy Personnel Command.

When his daughter had health issues that required constant medical attention, the financial strain caused the Harrisons to reconsider the Navy.

“My daughter had medical bills … I’ll be honest with you, I couldn’t afford the medical,” he said. “Me and the wife talked it over, and I went back in the Navy. I enjoyed it.”

It wasn’t long before he was back at sea, assigned to the attack transport ship Freemont, which operated out of the then-Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia.

After a year and a half onboard the Freemont, Harrison was offered orders to Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, also at Little Creek, in January 1966.

TACRON-21 controlled and coordinated air operations for amphibious and expeditionary units operating off Navy amphibious ships. And once again, Harrison spent much of his time away from home.

Longing to return to Southern California, Harrison took orders in April 1967 to the San Diego-based staff of the Commander, Cruiser and Destroyer Group, Pacific, a deploying command that would later become part of today’s Naval Surface Forces and Surface Forces Pacific.

Harrison’s final stint at sea was aboard the fleet ocean-going salvage tug Chowanoc, where he spent his longest continuous shipboard tour, which lasted nearly four years between 1971 and 1975.While assigned to Chowanoc, Harrison had multiple extended deployments to the western Pacific and Vietnam, along with numerous extended at-sea periods operating out of San Diego.With a total of $5,000 remaining, the family packed up and headed to Las Vegas. The pawn business gradually grew […]

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