Harold was born in 1931 into a farming family in eastern Kansas. There were two girls and two boys in the family. His dad's farm was 300 acres and had wheat and cattle. Harold drove tractors, milked the cows and fed the hogs. Harold remembers how exceptionally hard things were during the 1930s. He never was able to go to high school.
As a young boy, Harold remembers daytime turning as dark as night, the street lights came on during the day. There was a major dust storm. Harold's grandpa lived close by school and told Harold not to ride his mare home from school – it was too dusty. It was 5 miles between home and school. Grandpa told him to walk home that day. Horses played such a vital role in daily life; they were drilled from a very young age to take very good care of the horses.
Harold's dad talked to the draft board and got him a deferment, but Harold wanted no part of that. He wanted to serve his country just like the other boys from his hometown. He joined the Army and was sent to Fort Leavenworth, then went on to Camp Walters in Texas and one stop to Fort Meade, Maryland, then directly to Africa. It was 129 degrees there and the weather had a profound effect on the troops.
Harold was being trained as a rifleman. They marched 40 miles on training days, and Harold's feet were torn up, bloody and blistered. Harold was issued a Browning automatic rifle that weighed 200 pounds. He remembers that the water was contaminated, but they had to keep walking the 40 miles and water was being rationed. This tested the limits of a man's temperament.
They landed in Casablanca and 40 of their men were killed immediately. They were shot at daily and half of every night and had to endure listening to shells being fired their way. They were in trenches with hardly any water. On top of that, they were losing a lot of men. Harold felt hopeless at times.
They moved on to Sicily where they could see the German tanks and trucks. They were trying to get the Germans to surrender and they were still losing many men. They continued moving on.
Occasionally they were taken off of the front lines to rest and attend a dance that was a much needed break because the Germans were really attacking them hard. They would go out on patrol at night and bullets would be flying everywhere. They never knew if they would make it back alive. They couldn't see until a shell landed close by and lit up the night. Harold was in the 3rd Infantry, they knew they were a target of the Germans.
Harold received a Purple Heart. Shrapnel hit him and it had to be pulled out with pliers. He was shot at and injured repeatedly. He remembers one time when he and four or five guys were patrolling on a trail, a German fired his gun and hit Harold in the wrist.
They were ready to cross the Rhine River; they were just waiting for orders. They could see the German tanks and the anticipation was building. Harold knew deep down that if he had to cross the river, he would not make it across alive. Harold would always get a little warning, or feeling that told him when danger was near.
Harold was responsible for reporting the number of injured and killed on a daily basis to the battalion commanders. It was an emotionally draining task.
The Sergeant Major gave Harold papers to go home after 400 days on the front lines. Harold had mixed feelings about leaving because he knew what his buddies were up against.
Harold was loaded onto a troop transport ship; it looked like a banana boat. They traveled out into the ocean and met up with the Queen Elizabeth. They pulled up as close as they could to it and climbed aboard for the rest of the trip home.
When Harold saw the Statue of Liberty as they entered New York Harbor, the world seemed to be spinning because he was so excited to be home.
Harold held various jobs after returning home. He first began work as an engineer for the Department of Agriculture. He then became a grain inspector for the State of Kansas and was responsible for 21 counties. Later Harold went to work for the bank in Greeley, Kansas, and worked there for 51 years. He just recently retired from the bank.
Harold enjoys playing guitar for anyone willing to listen and says that he was one happy person to get back to this country alive.
Peggy Sowders, a city of Independence staff member, compiles stories from veterans from around the area at the Truman Memorial Building. Contact her at email@example.com or 816-325-7979 if you are interested in helping a veteran tell his or her story.