Today is my dad’s birthday; Centennial, actually. He was born 100 years ago today in a farmhouse outside of Garden City, SD. In honor of that occasion, I offer you his Memories of WWII. I have edited it slightly for spelling and typos but for the most part, what follows are his own words written around 2000.
World War II Memories
Glen Harding #39592527
The 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II has come and gone.
There have been a lot of events taken place honoring the Veterans that have sparked a lot of interest. Among those interested are my two sons, Keith and Kevin. I will try to relate as much as I can remember. It must be remembered that after 50 years my memory leaves a lot to be desired. Many dates can be found accurately given. Others are approximate.
My Discharge says I was inducted into the Army July 7, 1944 at Fort McArthur California. Discharged April 6, 1946 at Camp Beale, California. I had reached the Rank of Sergeant and earned the World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Ardennes, and Central Europe Medal and Combat Infantry Badge (the one I am the proudest of) and served as an Infantryman in the Ardennes and Central Europe Rhineland. (note: Dad never knew it but he also had a Bronze Star Medal. I, learned about it when I read it on his grave marker. Apparently, according to a 1947 regulation, a Combat Infantry Badge from WWII automatically qualified one for the Bronze Star Medal.)
Induction was at a building in downtown Los Angeles. From there it was a train To Fort McArthur . Here were shots, haircuts, clothing issue, etc. Everyone was promised a pass for the week end. This was the first lesson of the Army. Come Friday night we were all put on KP for the week end. (no passes). Before the next week was over we were on a train going to Camp Hood, Texas (now Fort Hood). Bernice came to Camp Hood and spent a week there. I spent most of the week in the field. We had 2 weekends together
After 18 weeks of Basic Training I left there on a delay in route pass via Los Angeles. When the 10 days were over it was to the train station. That is when the fuel pump on our 1935 Ford decided to give up the ghost. We called a cab for transportation. Les Travers helped her out of that situation. As I was to board the train Keith decided he was going with me. A bit of a problem.
Arriving in Maryland with a lot of snow cold. I felt sorry for the 18 year olds that had never been in such a climate and had never been away from Mama. After a few days there it was on to Camp Miles Standish near Boston. Here we boarded the Aquitania, a British four stacker, nearly as large as the Queens.
The 9 day trip across the Atlantic was uneventful. My bunk was a Pallet on the floor in front of the toilet (Head). Everyone going in and out had to step over me (they all made it). Going over with 117,000 troops and Crew takes some getting used to. Like myself most had never been on the Ocean before. Seasickness was a major problem. (not myself). Our Ship had 4 dining rooms. They could feed everyone 2 times a day. It was a slow process with standing in line in narrow corridors. With only salt water showers not many were taken. The corridors got pretty smelly. People got a little woozy standing in line. By the time they got through the serving line and got their meal and took it to the standing tables where we ate many set it down and headed for the rail. I got through the first time without getting sick but observed what was happening and changed tactics. I entered the dining room through the exit door and watched for someone to get his meal and head for the rail. I would walk up and eat his meal and left. Sure cut down on time and sickness.
Our Ship anchored in the Harbor at Glasgow, Scotland. We left the ship by ferry, which took us to a train on the Pier. Then an overnight ride to South Hampton, England. We got our taste of London fog. We were warned to keep close to the person in front of us to keep from getting lost (about 3 feet). We went into a large warehouse where the Red Cross was set up with about anything we needed. Here we Boarded a ship and crossed the Channel, I think on New Years Day. The landing was at Le Havre, France.
From here we rode in Train Box Cars. The famous 40 and 8s (forty men or 8 horses). We went to Verviers, Belgium. Here I was assigned to the 99th Infantry Division. Then we went forward in trucks. I remember spending one night in a Brick Building with the windows all bombed out and no heat. It was a cold night. A buddy of mine, Hoopes, put three of our blankets on a cot and both got on the same cot and put one blanket on and huddled together to keep somewhat warm.
I want to dwell some on the next stop. I don’t know where it is located. I have been over there in 1999 and found no one that could tell me where it is. The town was at the base of a hill. The ground was covered with ice. Vehicles could not get up the hill so we had to walk and carry our packs. It was a matter of 3 steps up and slide back 2. At the top we came to a huge Cave. There was a fireplace large enough to take small trees. The first time I was warm since leaving the ship at Glasgow. A Cadre member took some of us around into some of the tunnels leading off from the main. From one we came out into a tower. It seemed like it was a mile to the bottom of the canyon. (It couldn’t have been). I think this was some medieval fortress. Another tunnel was a Bakery with large iron oven doors. Where the smoke went I have no idea. Another was the Latrine. There were holes in the floor with foot prints so you could plant your feet and squat down over the holes. You could drop a stone in the hole and never hear it hit bottom. We were taken out into a clearing where there was a pile of M1 Rifles. I think they had been picked up in the field by a dump truck and dumped there like a pile of rocks. We picked out a Rifle and took it back to the cave where we cleaned it and then went out in a clearing to test firing.
Next stop Eupen, Belgium. We were given a block of t-n-t to start our fox hole and dig our living quarters. Weather was so bad nothing was moving. In about 3 weeks we shoved off. We went through the Maginot line. This was a line of pill boxes with an excellent field of fire. The French had originally built them and the Germans had improved them. By this time the line was defended by the People’s Army. They were mostly older men who didn’t want to fight.
Sometimes we ran into Troops that would make a fight of it. One of these times was a town named Hal Fortuna, Germany. There were trees along both sides leading into the town. A Hedge Row on the right and on the left a Catholic Institution. On the northwest corner a large barn. On the southwest corner probably the Priest house. On the east was a large 3 story building. There was a Chapel on the ground floor. There were several Nuns and Priest living there. The Germans were firing down on us from the 3rd floor. When we finally secured the mission we had 4 left of our 11 man squad. Myself one of the lucky ones.
Now come the foggy memories. I remember incidents and places but can’t put them in order or name the places. In April a truck load of us were taken back somewhere for showers and clean clothes. The first time I had my clothes off since Late November. On the trip back we spent most of the time helping build roads. A matter of laying tree trunks down in the mud for the trucks to drive on. In a small town a long tent was set up with 100 shower heads. We were told we get 5 minutes of water. Many came out with their hair still soapy. Sometimes when on the move in daylight we would toss our sleeping bags on a truck. If the trucks happened to show up that night we would get one back. Sometimes our kitchen did not show for a day or two.
I remember a 3 day pass to Verviers. This was before the Hal Fortuna incident because Stern was killed there and Rezeck was badly wounded. In 1999 I got an address for Rezeck. I wrote to him and got a letter from his sister. He had died in 1998 after spending his life in a wheel chair. In Verviers we saw a sign American Steaks, so in we went. We went down stairs to the rest rooms. There was a woman attendant in the hall way. She took Sterner into the men’s room and got him seated down on the stool and came back and took me to the ladies room. About time I started looking for toilet paper the door opened and there she was pealing off paper for me. I often wonder what she would have done head I of raised up off of the seat.
To clear a town of enemies we went down a street, house by house. Usually 2 to a house. 2 others would take the next house. I came to a door in a house that only opened about an inch. It was hitting something. The Germans were great on putting the stove close to the chimney and running the stove pipe all around the walls to get all the heat they could. I had to get into the room so backed off a little and made a run for the door. There was quite a racket. The stove had tipped over and all the pipe had come tumbling down. Quite a mess. I didn’t stop to clean it up. Another surprise was going into a bedroom where an old man was bedridden. He sat up yelling something about Kaiser Wilhelm.
We came into this one town on a nice spring day. It was rather eerie as there was not a soul in sight. We looked things over and decided to make the most of the peace and quiet and sunshine. Bobbie got out his clippers and started cutting hair. We started looking for food. Most houses had hams hanging in the chimney smoking. There should be a rabbit hutch around, a vegetable garden and potatoes in the cellars. First sign of life was a big Rooster came down the street. Sawyers raised his m1 and shot the head off and we had chicken in the pot. Often we had to move out before the chicken was done. In this case someone carried the pot until we got another chance build a fire. Soon a boy came peeking out of the trees. He got brave enough to come down where we were. We fixed him up with candy bars and soon another came. Before long the town people were all back in the Village. I suppose they had been told stories about what we would do to them.
Once while cleaning a Rabbit the owner came out boiling mad. I thought he was mad because I was taking his Rabbit but it turned out it was because I had cut the head off. They leave the head on as the skin is worthless without the head.
At one stop along the Railway we made a stop at a field kitchen set up to feed troop trains. There was a pile of plywood along the track. We loaded some of into our box car. A warning came over the loud speaker that the train would not move until that ply wood was back on the pile. We had been in Army too long to swallow that line. When it came time for the train to go it took off and we build some bunks in our 40 & 8.
Another story is about a Carbide Lantern. All the German Yard Masters carried Carbide Lanterns. Having no light in the Box Car we needed one of those lanterns. First attempt we lured the Yard Master up to our car and when the train started moving someone grabbed his lantern. That didn’t work as he had it tied to him. I guess others had tried that before. Next stop we lured him with a pack of cigarettes. We told him we had more but needed a light to find them. He handed us his lantern which we took and closed the door. He went off screaming for the Captain. An officer came down the train saying this train will not move until this Kruat has his lantern back. He had forgotten what car it was. Again we had been in the Army long enough and covered the lantern with a blanket and the train moved out. It was easy to get Carbide for a Pack of Cigarettes.
One time we got to go to see a Bob Hope show. He put on a great show. The Radio City Rockettes came to Nuremberg while I was there. This was another great show.
There were times that we got a little break and got to spend a day or so in a real house. One of these times was after the Hal Fortuna incident where we down to 5 people. We stopped in a town and replacements were brought in to bring up to make our squad of 14 men and an Officer. The procedure was to pick a house and send the occupants on their way and move in for the time being. Our Replacements begin to arrive and we were glad to be inside for some rest. One Replacement apparently had not been very well schooled by his Mother. He had a can of C Rations he wanted to heat. He sat the can on the stove and waited. You guessed it the can blew up and there were rations all over the kitchen. The easy way out was taken. We just moved next door and let the owners come back and clean it up
Later a pass for Brussels came down and I won the card cut and went to Brussels. I found a Quartermasters store. We had been issued winter snowpack boots when the snow was deep. In the spring they issued Combat Boots to replace the Snowpacks. My Combat boots did not fit and I had blisters on my feet. The man there said he could give all new clothes but could not issue Combat Boots to front line troops. I had two German razors in my shirt pocket. He asked what I was going to do with those razors. I told him I intended to trade one of them for a pair of Boots. I went out of there with Boots that fit.
On March 7, 1945 the 90th Armored captured the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. We started out on what turned out to be walk and stop, walk and stop. Eighteen hours later we crossed the bridge. It was one way crossing, nothing coming back. I crossed on the 11th we were the first complete Division across. By this time the engineers had one pontoon bridge across and were working on another. We had to climb a real steep hill at the end of the march. (On my trip back in 1999 I took a lift to the top) Our unit was scattered by that time because of the steep climb. From the top of the hill we saw quite an air show. The German Planes would come in and try to blow the Bridge and our p38s would come and chase them out. Anti Aircraft was so heavy it looked like you could walk on the flak. A buddy named Sutton from Terra Haute, Indiana and I got up the hill at the same time. We heard a shell coming in and dove into a small building for what protection it might afford. When we looked up we were in sort of corn crib on a pile of sugar beets. We could look out of the slat openings. The shell landed in the street and blew a hole some 20 feet deep. (some protection) Across the road was a long low building with windows on our side. Sutton spotted a fruit jar on the sill of a window. We decided to try and make that building. We ran around the shell hole and made a bee line for the building. Sutton came in right behind me with the fruit jar full of cherries. We pulled our spoon out of our boots and ate the cherries. (first food that day). I have seen a documentary on TV and that jar was sitting on that windowsill./
Somewhere down the line I started getting yellow and couldn’t keep food down. I would go on sick call when there was a Doctor available. They would say it looked like yellow jaundice but I had no fever so they could not evacuate me. This went on until we up to the Danube River and ready to cross. As we were to push off the Lt. Told me there was a Medical tent down the road and I should go there. I went into the tent and there was only the Doctor there. He looked up at me and said Yellow Jaundice. The last Ambulance is out in front get on it. This was another stroke of luck as many were lost at that crossing. I found myself at a field Hospital. At the entrance was a Medic sitting looking at everyone’s tag. He told me I could have some chicken broth. Somehow a drum stick got into my Broth. In a few days they put me on a c47 which took me to England. There was a ward full of us. I went in at less than 100 pounds and 3 weeks later left at 145. Next was a Convalescent Center. One requirement to leave there was to make a 10 mile hike. Now I had walked from Elsenborn, Belgium to the Danube River and was not going to make that hike just to show them I could.
They finally sent me to a RePo Depot and on back to my unit. I found them at Konigshofen, Germany. This Sutton from back at the Bridge Crossing was running the Theater and I got hooked up with him. Occupation duty here consisted of Fire Guard at night and Outpost duty at nearby towns. One town was Rodhousen. Down the road about ½ mile the Russians had a Post. They would get on their Bicycle and come to visit us. When we got enough of them a candy bar or cigarette and they would leave.
The 99th was sent home with those of high points. I had only 50 points so had to stay. We were trucked out to a field where the 79th Division was set up. I was transferred to them and went back into the same town. I sort of had it made as I was the one person the people knew. I worked my way into running the theater. The only film we got was through Regiment. (one a week). I knew of some other sources of film and was able to show a new film every night.
.Next I was transferred to the 1st Division at Schienfeld, Germany. I guess this had a purpose behind it as we were sent to Nuremburg and put on duty at the trials. Here we were billeted in an SS Kasserne. We had beds with springs but no mattresses. One day and Inspecting General came through. He said I notice Sleeping Bags on all these beds. Don’t these men have mattresses? He said order them. We had them the next day.
Nuremberg was an interesting place to be. There was an Opera House where we able to go see shows like The Rockettes and plays. We were basically on an eight hour day at the prison. When I first went there I was stood guard on cells, recreation yard, etc. Then they started the escort guard Duty which I was assigned to. We were all at least Sgt. There was a room where we waited for a call. This was before the Trials started and we might have to take one of the Prisoners or a witness for interrogation. Room 55 in another wing of the Prison was where Prisoners could meet with their Lawyer. When you took one of them you sat at the table with them until they finished and took them back to their cell. Once when taking Hess to room 55. He had requested to read a document that was introduced against him. He read the first page and handed it to me saying I might be interested. It was written in English which he was able to read. It was the report from the time his plane was sighted over England until he was taken back to Nuremberg. I remember taking Goring for his bath and he had several 1 inch scars on him. Later I was told this was where they had taken poison vials off from him. I was home when he committed suicide but by reading medical books the one they missed was in his navel. I guess the others were for them to find.
I escorted General Warlimont around sever times. He was a witness at that time. He said “never lose a war it is too much trouble.”
Some of the Prisoners—
Herman Goering—I found he was no dummy. He understood English well he might hunt for words when talking but spoke well. He asked what state I lived in. He thought most Californians were not natives. So I told him South Dakota. His answer was he always wanted to hunt Pheasants there. He had pictures of his dogs on his desk in his cell. I think he thought more of them than anything else.
Rudolf Hess—His English was pretty good. I didn’t think he was a nutty as he tried to portray. It seemed when alone with him he could carry on a conversation but there was little to talk about.
Von Ribbentrop—I don’t think he spoke any english and had no desire to speak with a lowly Sgt.
Robert Ley—He is the one that hung himself on the flush knob of the toilet just before I got there.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner—I don’t think he spoke english. He was the first one I took out of his cell for a trip somewhere. He had to stoop over and turn sideways to get out of his cell. When he started to straighten up I didn’t think he would ever quit going up. Me at 130 pounds and him 280.
Alfred Rosenburg—I don’t think I ever had anything to do with him.
Hans Frank—I remember him saying we Americans are funny people. You are trying me for my life and will probably take it and my daughter works for American Military Government.
William Frick—I can’t come up with anything except he was there.
Julius Streicher—All I remember is it would take a Mother to like him.
Wilhelm Funk—He was very mopey, I suppose I in his place may have been the same. He had prostrate trouble and had to be taken to the Doctor twice a day to have the water drained out of him.
Hjalmar Schacht—I don’t remember any trouble with him and he was acquitted.
Admiral Karl Donitz—I remember him as ornery as the day is long.
Erich Raeder—No comment
Baldor von Schirach—I probably spent more time with him than any other. He spoke fluent English. His Mother was an American and he had an English Governess as a child. He was often used as an interperter when I had him in room 55.
Fritz Sauckel—No comment on him.
Alfred Jodl—He was another that didn’t care for orders from a lowly Sgt. But was soldier enough to obey any command.
Franz Von Papen—He would not put his autograph in a book with the others. Only on a separate paper. He was acquitted. He was defended by his son.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart—I don/t have any comment about him.
Albert Speer—I don’t remember having a lot to do with him. Since reading his book, he acknowledges their wrong doing, I give him some credit.
Konstantin Von Neurath—Again I can’t remember much about him.
Hans Fritzsche—He created no waves and was acquitted.
Wilhelm Keitel—Here was an old time Prussian General. He held his head high and obeyed orders.
Leaving Nuremberg I was sent to Selb, Germany where I joined the 102 Div. This unit was built up with enough points to come home. It was a waiting game but finally got to Le Havre, France where we boarded the General Anderson. It was 5 days home to New York where a Brass Band greeted us home. I have a news letter put out on the General Anderson. It required 20 navy cooks. 11 bakers, and 2 commissary storekeepers full time. Plus the GI’S doing KP. They consumed 52 cases of eggs, 800 pounds of sugar, 34 pounds of coffee, 300 pounds of butter, 500 pounds of Jam. Cost of feeding per week in 1946 was $20,000.
We debarked and went to Camp Kilmer where the 102nd was deactivated.
Another waiting game for our name to come up on the shipping board. When my name came up it was by C54 to the west coast. Coming into Dallas we had engine leaking oil and were there for a week waiting for repair. Then to Long Beach, California for fuel. It was a 20 minute stop and I had time to call home. At Camp Beale in Northern California we started the discharge process. Things moved rapid and looked like the Army was going to do something right. Within 2 hours of discharge my name came up and I was sent to the Hospital for Diabetes tests. This was on Thursday and I found they would do nothing until Monday. I asked for a pass and was told passes only started Saturday and for a 50 mile radius. I asked the nurse if she would write a pass to Los Angeles for Friday and Sunday. She wrote it and said I don’t think the Col. will sign it. I took it to the Col. (a woman). She talked a bit and asked how I would go to Los Angeles. I said I would fly. Flying was not too popular yet in those days. She asked how long since I had been home. I said 2 years. She changed the pass to immediately to Monday morning. I made the trip home and back by Monday morning and went through the tests and found I did not have Diabetes. So I was out of the Army.