Ensign Ellison was born in Buffalo, New York, January 17, 1917. He attend Pratt Institute of Fine and Applied Arts, Brooklyn, New York, and enlisted in the US Naval Reserve in Brooklyn on March 4, 1941. He had preliminary flight training at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, from March 4 to 31, 1941. He was appointed Aviation Cadet on April 3 and had flight training at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, followed by advanced flight training at Naval Air Station, Miami, and was designated naval aviator, September 3, 1941, receiving his commission as Ensign on October 20 of that year. He was detached from Miami on that same date with orders to the Advanced Carrier Training Group, Atlantic Fleet for temporary duty, and subsequently was assigned to Torpedo Squadron 8 based on USS Hornet.
Ensign Ellison was reported missing on June 4, 1942, when the plane ,which he was piloting was shot down by the enemy in the Battle of Midway, and was officially presumed Dead on June 5, 1943.
He was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously, and cited as follows:
“For extraordinary heroism and distinguished service beyond the call of duty as pilot of Torpedo Squadron EIGHT in the “Air Battle of Midway”, against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. Grimly aware of the hazardous consequences of flying without fighter protection, and with insufficient fuel to return to his carrier, Ensign Ellison resolutely, and with no thought of his own lie, delivered an effective torpedo attack against violent assaults of enemy Japanese aircraft fire. His courageous action, carried out with a gallant spirit of self-sacrifice and a conscientious devotion to the fulfillment of his mission, was a determining factor in the defeat of the enemy forces and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Ensign Ellison also was awarded the Purple Heart Medal posthumously, and is entitled to the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and Ribbon and facsimile of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to Torpedo Squadron EIGHT, “For extremely heroic and courageous performance … and the eventual success of our forces in this epic battle of the air,” and World War II Victory Medal.
Destroyer DD-864, has been named in his honor USS Harold J. Ellison.