Harper Elliott Van Ness was born in Junction City, Kansas, on 2 July 1919, son of Harper E. and Ethel Stover Van Ness. He attended Mexico (Missouri) High School and Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas, before entering the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, upon appointment from his native state in June 1939. Graduated with the Class of 1943 on 19 June 1942 (course accelerated due to World War II), and commissioned Ensign he subsequently advanced in rank to that of Captain, to date from 1 July 1962.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1943, he reported as Engineering Officer on board USS Lansdale (DD-426). While attached to that vessel, he participated in North Atlantic Fleet convoy operations and the Anzio-Nettuno advanced landings from January to March 1944. Detached from Lansdale in April 1944, he next had flight training and was designated Naval Aviator on 27 March 1945.
In August 1945 he joined Fighter Squadron TWENTY as Operations Officer, and in July 1947 began instruction at the Naval Postgraduate School, Annapolis, Maryland, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He was also awarded a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, in 1950. In July 1950 he was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department, Washington, DC, for duty as Project Officer, and in July 1953 reported as Armament Officer on the Staff of Commander Naval Air Force, US Atlantic Fleet.
He was Missile Officer at the Naval Missile Center, Los Angeles, California, from July 1956 to July 1959, after which he had duty in the Astronautics Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, Washington, DC. In July 1961 he was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration where he participated in Manned Space Flight Operations.
He was Officer in Charge of the Navy Field Office for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, Los Angeles, California, from May 1965 until July 1966, and for service in this capacity was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal and cited as follows:
“…Through his exemplary management and technical performance, he provided the Navy and the nation with the firm foundation and impetus necessary for realization of the Navy contribution toward development of the nation’s first military manned space capability…”
In August 1966 he began instruction at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Washington, DC and in August 1967 reported as Assistant Chief for Research in the Office of Naval Research, Navy Department, Washington, DC. In May 1960 he assumed additional duty as Deputy and Assistant Chief for Research. He was awarded a Master of Science Degree in Business Administration from George Washington University, Washington, DC.
In addition to the Navy Commendation Medal, Captain Van Ness had the American Defense Service Medal; World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.
Captain Van Ness was a member of Naval Institute and the American Rocket Society.
Caption Harper Elliott Van Ness died 20 March 2007 at Carriage Hill of Bethesda [Maryland] Nursing home.