On December 7th, 1941, the lives of every American, including mine, changed forever. Radios worldwide broadcast these ominous words: “Unidentified aircraft are attacking Pearl Harbor.”
The next day, President Roosevelt gave his celebrated ‘Day of Infamy’ speech before congress, and we declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany declared war on us. A short time later, I received my draft notice in the mail.
My parents were proud of me. I didn’t stop to think about whether or not I was happy about it or whether or not I should feel proud. It wasn’t like that. I was an American. I had been asked to serve, and I was prepared to do my duty.
I was inducted into the Army on January 27, 1942, at a place called Camp Upton, in New York. The minute I was drafted, my world began to shrink. For the next three and a half years, the Army would be making all the major decisions in my life for me. It was an uncomfortable feeling. I would be going where the Army told me to go. I would be living with people they had chosen for me. I would see my family and friends when the Army said I could see them.
When service school in Fort Knox was over, I was officially certified as an AF Radio Operator and given new orders. I was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division and sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana.
An ‘Armored Force’ was a new concept centered upon frontline units built to take the enemy head on. Divisions like the 3rd Armored Division would sustain the most battlefield casualties during times of war and inflict the most damage on the enemy. It was an inevitable trade off. Now I was a part of this mentality.
It was in Camp Polk that I was assigned to the mortar patrol and given my first taste of the weapon that was probably the most despised and most feared by foot soldiers on both side of war. I would eventually discover first-hand that the mortar was, by some estimates, the single biggest killer of infantrymen in the entire war. Ironically, it was also one of the simplest devices to be found on the battlefield.
My unit was one of three in 1st Platoon, Headquarters Company. There were seven of us. I acted as squad leader, radio operator, and spotter.
Our job was to target any structure, permanent or otherwise, that might be housing or concealing enemy troops: machine gun nests, fortified bunkers, pillboxes, churches, barns, warehouses, train depots, crossroads, even fox holes. Our other job was to set up perimeter defenses for the tank destroyers. The idea was to protect the tank destroyers at any cost. We would, if need be, even make ourselves the target.
June 29, 1944. D-Day plus 23, we landed on the shores of Normandy. From that moment on, my mortar patrol would be on the cutting edge of what came to be known as the Spearhead Division. Our job was to chase the German Army across France and Belgium and back into Germany. We did that for 231 days of combat. The 3rd Armored Division would suffer over 10,000 casualties in those awful, brutal days.
When the Germans officially surrendered on May 8, 1945 and V-E Day was proclaimed, it was also my 25th birthday. There was little in the way of celebration. Those of us who were left just wanted to go home.
My name is Harold Harris. This is my story