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."
Harrison died June 25 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was laid to rest Sunday.
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.
Two years into his enlistment, Harrison married his home-town sweetheart, JoAnne, and the couple started a family.
“I went in for four years, and then came out and went home,” Harrison said.
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.”
Harrison then reported to Norfolk, Virginia, which wasn’t far from his North Carolina home.
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.
It was during this nearly four-year tour that Harrison advanced to first class petty officer ― his highest paygrade.
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.
Shore duty finally came Harrison’s way for his last four years, where he was stationed at the Shore Intermediate Maintenance Facility in San Diego.
He opted to retire at the 20-year mark in 1979 instead of heading back to sea.
“Out of 20 years, I was deployed about 10,” Harrison said “That’s a lot of time. ... The only reason I got out was that I had three teenage boys, and the wife couldn’t handle them.”
According to his Navy records, he is authorized to wear the Good Conduct Medal; the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; the Vietnam Service Medal; and the National Defense Service Medal.
While Harrison finished his Navy career in San Diego, his wife started selling real estate. Early success led to the opening of her own business, where Harrison worked part-time after his retirement.
Though initially successful, a downturn in the economy and rising mortgage interest rates in 1981 doomed their business.
With a total of $5,000 remaining, the family packed up and headed to Las Vegas. The pawn business gradually grew into a successful shop and they twice relocated to larger digs. In 2009, that shop became famous when the reality TV show became a History Channel hit.
Harrison said in 2014 that the Navy taught him the value of hard work. With a nod to his failures, he said the best practice is to simply to put your head down and keep moving.
“Don’t dwell on the past — you’ve got a life ahead of you,” he said “Live it to the fullest. Don’t waste your time thinking about the past — the past is over.”
Senior Reporter Kevin Lilley contributed to this report.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.