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Harmon C. Rorison Private Papers

Identifier: SC-MS-017

Scope and Contents

This collection contains materials pertaining to the life and military career of Harmon C. Rorison, a military officer, pilot, and banker from Wilmington, North Carolina. The bulk of the materials in this collection pertain to Rorison’s military service during World War I, the Russo-Polish War (also known as the Polish-Soviet War), and World War II. The military-related materials include correspondence, including a letter to Rorison from Merian Cooper; copies of U.S. and Polish military general orders; photographs documenting Rorison’s military service abroad; U.S., French, and British identification cards; a notebook containing notes from his family; pins; and newspaper clippings, including the November 11, 1918 issue of the Wilmington Dispatch announcing the end of World War I and a 1921 newspaper photograph of Rorison receiving the Virtuti Militari at Poland’s Legation in Washington, D.C. This collection also contains photographs of Rorison’s war memorabilia and correspondence concerning the donation of this memorabilia to the Air Force Museum at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Other types of materials in this collection include notes and correspondence from Rorison’s childhood, anniversary and birthday letters between Harmon Rorison and Margaret Devereux Lippitt Rorison, certificates related to his civic activities, newspaper clippings, Wilmington tram tickets, Rorison and Chadbourn family genealogy research, and other types of realia. Materials date from 1900 to 1990, with one document dated from 1819.


  • Creation: 1819, 1900-1990


Conditions Governing Access

This colllection is open for research use.

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2021 University of North Carolina at Wilmington, all rights reserved (subject to exceptions). Certain items in this collections were conveyed to UNCW without the accompanying copyright. Where the donor did not convey copyright to UNCW, copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Biographical Note

Harmon Chadbourn Rorison was born April 15, 1893, in Bakersville, North Carolina, to Elizabeth Chadbourn Rorison and Richard Baskett Rorison. After his mother’s death, he and his brother, John Lee Rorison, moved to Wilmington, N.C., to live with their aunt, Serena Chadbourn, and grandparents, James Harmon Chadbourn and Mary Ann Bluxome Chadbourn. Rorison was educated in Wilmington public schools, Jefferson School for boys of Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Virginia, and the University of Georgia, where he was awarded the Bachelor of Law degree in 1916. Rorison served in the military during World War I, the Russo-Polish War, and World War II. During WWI, Rorison volunteered for the U.S. Army, serving in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps as an officer and pilot. He flew in Europe and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1919, when the Russo-Polish War (also known as the Polish-Soviet War) broke out over the border between the newly independent Poland and Bolshevist Russia, Rorison joined Poland’s 7th Squadron, made up of the American aviators and called the Kosciuszko Aerial Squadron in honor of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Polish patriot who entered the American continental army as a volunteer in 1776.[1] The Kosciuszko Squadron was commanded by Cedric E. Fauntleroy, with Merian C. Cooper serving as second-in-command. Rorison had several close calls and returned home before the end of the war when he was wounded. On March 14, 1921, Rorison was invited to the Legation of Poland in Washington, D.C., where he was awarded the Virtuti Militari, Medal of Valor. Merian C. Cooper was shot down in July of 1920 and captured by the Russians. The Bolshevists’ policy was to shoot the officers and imprison the common men, so Cooper pretended to be a corporal rather than a lieutenant colonel. As such, he survived for a year in a Russian prison camp near Moscow, until he learned friends were seeking his release. Fearing his identity would be revealed, he escaped prison on April 12, 1921, returning to Poland on April 27.[2] The Treaty of Riga was signed in 1921, returning to Poland almost all of its eastern frontier of 1793.[3] On May 10, 1921, Cooper and other Kosciuszko Squadron members were honored by President Pilsudski in Warsaw, Poland, at ceremonies marking the demobilization of their squadron.[4] At some time after Cooper’s escape, he wrote to Rorison, who was at home in Wilmington. Cooper became a writer, motion picture producer and director. He created, co-produced, and co-directed the original King Kong movie as well as several other motion pictures.[5]

In Wilmington, Rorison Worked for the Citizen’s Bank, the Murchison Bank, and the North Carolina Bank and Trust Company. When the Security National Bank opened in August of 1933, Rorison was elected vice-president and manager of the Wilmington branch. He held that position until his retirement in 1958, with the exception of two years for military leave of absence during World War II. During WWII, Harmon Rorison served the British Eighth Army and First French Army as a volunteer ambulance driver.

Rorison was a board member of the Community Chest/United Fund, YMCA, L’ Arioso German Club, Security National Bank, Wilmington Public Library, Surf Club, and the Local (Wilmington Draft) Board No. 66, North Carolina. He was also appointed to the Morehead Scholarship Committee, Third District. Harmon Rorison belonged to several Wilmington clubs, worked for many years with Boy Scouts, and was a member of the St. James Episcopal Church.

Rorison married Margaret Devereux Lippitt of Wilmington on January 31, 1924. They had two daughters named Margaret L. Rorison and Mary Ann Rorison Caws. Harmon C. Rorison died on February 27, 1976 in Wilmington.

[1]Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Chicago, IL: William Benton, 1972. Vol. 13, p. 477.

[2]New York Times. April 27, 1921, p.3, col. 5.

[3]The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1973. Vol. 15, p. 540.

[4]New York Times. May 12, 1921, p.2, col. 7.

[5]Who’s Who in America. Chicago, IL: A.N. Marquis Company, 1972-73. Vol. 1, 37th edition, p. 650.


4 Containers (Contains 2 document box and 2 map case folders)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged into the following series: Personal and Biographical Materials, circa 1903-1990; Correspondence, circa 1900-1976; Military Documents and Memorabilia, 1918-circa 1945, undated; Photographs, circa 1917-circa 1973; Genealogy Research Materials, 1819, 1902-1972.

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated by Margaret Lippitt Rorison in 1976.

Other Descriptive Information

Rorison's war memorabilia are part of the collection at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Caroline Waller in June 2021.

Harmon C. Rorison Private Papers
Special Collections Staff
2021 June 23
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Repository Details

Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository