Excerpts from Me and Harry (Mostly Harry) by OE Starnes. To read the full piece click on the link below.
Me and Harry – But Mostly Harry by OE Starnes
In May, 1943, I finished my second year of college, age 19 years. I probably would have been drafted into the Army during that Spring had I not voluntarily enlisted on December 7, 1942, a historic day.
In June, 1943, I found myself in Infantry Basic Training, Army serial number 14,189,335, near Tyler, Texas. After the customary 3 months, I was sent to Texas A & M under a program called “Army Specialized Training Program” which meant that some entrance test taken on induction suggested that I could be educated for service as an officer in the Corps of Engineers.
That boondoggle soon ended, as of March, 1944, as they needed foot soldiers, not engineers, so off to the 103 Infantry Division, 409th Regiment, Company A, 4th Platoon, 4th Squad. In short, I was a machine gunner. After further training and maneuvers, I shipped out for Europe, via Fort Dix, New Jersey, disembarking in September, 1944 at Marseilles, France, which had just been liberated from German control. German observation planes flew overhead as we walked ashore, with our spotlights shining and our antiaircraft guns firing. My spirits were not particularly buoyed at that moment.
We were committed to combat in the Alsace Lorraine area, and then fought on through the Fall and early Winter of 1944, entering Germany in early November. I recall our advancing through forest lands, and approaching our platoon leader, asked where we were. He had a map. He replied we were in the Black Forest of Germany-Schwarz Wald. I’d heard of the Black Forest, an ominous term at best, since childhood. I received faint solace from his geographical response.
–And so it went–We advanced deeper into Germany, crossed the Rhine River, and the German Army was in general disarray, and retreating. We did not have it as tough as the troops coming in on Omaha Beach, and fighting through the hedge rows, when the Germans were at full strength. We hit occasional fierce pockets of resistance, and had many casualties. We crossed the Rhine at Ulm and turned south, into Austria, and into the foothills of the Austrian Alps, Garmisch Partenkirschen, Oberammegau, etc., into March and April, 1945, being told that the war in Europe was nearing an end, and our destination was to go south to Innsbruck, and through the Brenner Pass to meet up with the 5th Army coming north from Italy.
On May 1, 1945, Adolph Hitler committed suicide. On May 2, 1945, one day before my 21st birthday, I was shot by a sniper in a village outside of Innsbruck. It was not a serious wound, but it required me to be carried back to a field hospital to have my head sewed up. I got back to my unit on May 8, 1945, and by that time, the war in Europe was over. Happy days are here again—-, but not for long. What about the Pacific, the Japanese? That war was still going full bore, or so we were told.
Our Infantry Division was split up, I was assigned to a chemical warfare battalion, training with 4.2 inch mortars, biding time until we could be shipped to the Pacific. What a doleful prospect!
Earlier in the Spring, the word came to us that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died. He had been by President since I was eight years old, I’d heard his comforting voice on the radio, I'd seen him in person in Asheville, and I was saddened, and shaken, and then even more so to realize that Harry S. Truman was our President. We had seldom heard his name before this, Roosevelt having only recently been re-elected for the fourth time.
So much for me, and now on to Harry, . . .