Harold Emanuel Vita was born in Woodside, Long Island, New York, on 20 February 1921, son of Charles and Rose K. (Mayer) Vita. He attended New York University, prior to enlisting in the V-5 Program in April 1941. After elimination flight training at the Naval Air Station, Floyd Bennett Field, New York, he was appointed Aviation Cadet, US Naval Reserve in June 1941 and had flight training at the Naval Air Stations, Jacksonville and Miami, Florida. Designated Naval Aviator and commissioned Ensign on 17 March 1942, he subsequently advanced in rank to that of Captain, to date from 1 June 1961, having transferred from the Naval Reserve to the US Navy on 14 August 1946.
After receiving his “Wings” in 1942, he joined Fighting Squadron NINE and for outstanding services while attached to that squadron, which operated in both the African and Pacific areas, was awarded the Silver Star Medal, the Air Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of the Sixth Air Medal. The citations follow in part:
Silver Star Medal: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as pilot of an airplane in Fighting Squadron NINE, attached to the USS RANGER, during the occupation of French Morocco, November 8-11, 1942. Participating in numerous flight missions against the enemy, Lieutenant (junior grade) Vita pressed home his attacks with bold determination and utter disregard for his own personal safety. He contributed to the destruction of seven hostile planes on the ground at the Rabat airdrome, supported landing operations ashore in the vicinity of Port Lyautey, and aided in silencing an anti-aircraft battery near El Hank…”
Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…operating against enemy Japanese bases at Wake Island on October 5 and 6, 1943, and at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, from November 18 to 25, 1943. Participating in the attacks on these important islands, (he) fought his plane boldly through intense and withering enemy antiaircraft fire to carry out repeated swift and aggressive strikes against important hostile bases, inflicting extensive damage on Japanese shore installations, grounded planes and small craft in the vicinity…”
Gold Star in lieu of the Sixth Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…during operations against enemy Japanese forces at Rabaul Harbor, New Britain, November 11, 1943. Assigned with his section to cover a striking group during an attack on Japanese shipping, (he) led his flight to the target area in advance of the bombers and, maneuvering skillfully in the face of intense enemy anti-aircraft fire, relentlessly strafed enemy warships in the harbor. During retirement, he and his section continued to provide unusually effective protection for the attack group, thereby enabling all but one of our bombers to return safe to base. By his airmanship, courage and devotion to duty in the face of tremendous opposition, (he) contributed materially to the success of his squadron’s operations in this area…”
In addition, he is entitled to the Ribbon for, and facsimile of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded USS Essex.
During the period April to June 1944 he was an Instructor at the Naval Air Station, Melbourne, Florida, after which he served with Fighting Squadron TWELVE, attached to USS Randolph. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Gold Star in lieu of the Third Air Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Silver Star Medal. The citations follow in part:
Distinguished Flying Cross: “For heroism and extraordinary achievement…during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Tokyo Area on February 17, 1945. Leading his group in a fighter sweep against enemy aircraft and ground installations, (he) shot down an attacking enemy plane and, despite hazardous weather conditions, succeeded in setting fire to an enemy hangar and in inflicting sever damage upon a freight train…”
Gold Star in lieu of the Third Air Medal: “For meritorious achievement…during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of the Japanese Empire and adjacent island chains, on April 14, 1945. Intercepting an enemy fighter plane over enemy-defended territory, (he) pressed home an aggressive attack and shot it down…”
Gold Star in lieu of the Second Silver Star Medal: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity…during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Tokuno and Kikai on April 17, 1945. Striking at a series of enemy-defended airfields in the Japanese Homeland, (he) led his division in strafing attacks against enemy installations, damaging grounded aircraft and thereby diminishing the enemy power to strike at friendly vessels. While swinging to another enemy strongpoint to continue attacks, the division intercepted fourteen hostile fighters. Pressing home aggressive attacks, (he) personally accounted for the destruction of three enemy planes…”
He was also awarded Gold Stars in lieu of the Second, Fourth and Fifth Air Medals and a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Distinguished Flying Cross for completing twenty missions during the period 16 February to 26 May 1945.
From July to September 1945 he was an Instructor at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, and in February 1946 was assigned to the Naval Air Material Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had duty on the Staff and as a Test Pilot. In September 1947 he reported for instruction, under the Holloway Plan, at George Washington University, Washington, DC, and in August 1948 joined Attack Squadron ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY FOUR, to serve as Executive Officer and later Commanding Officer until January 1950. The next month, he became Project Officer with Experimental Squadron THREE.
In March 1952 he reported for instruction at the General Line School, Monterey, California, and upon completing the course there in December 1952, was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance, Navy Department, Washington, DC, where he headed a section concerned with mine and depth charge research and development. In January 1955 he assumed command of Fighter Squadron EIGHTY-THREE, the Navy’s first missile squadron to be deployed. He was detached from that command in September 1956 and in November that year joined USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) as Navigator. During May and June 1958 he continued duty afloat, in a similar capacity, on board USS Kearsarge (CV-33).
From July 1958 to February 1959 he had test pilot training at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, and after completing his training, remained there for duty until June 1961. He next commanded Carrier Airborne Early Warning ELEVEN and in July 1963 became Bureau of Naval Weapons Representative at the Grumman Aircraft Engine Corporation, Bethpage, Long Island, New York. Assigned in October 1966 to the Naval Air Systems Command Headquarters, Washington, DC, he headed the Plans and Programs Division until May 1968. Following three months’ hospitalization, he returned to the Naval Air Systems Command Headquarters. In June 1969 he assumed command of the Naval Station, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.
In addition to the Silver Star Medal with Gold Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Gold Star, the Air Medal with five Gold Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, Captain Vita had the American Defense Service Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.