Moving to the United States

A Jewish boy in Hitler's Germany

Joining the Army

From Virginia to Anzio

The Anzio Breakout

Invasion of Southern France

Leading a Combat Patrol

We bagged 11 German prisoners

Wounded by German Artillery

Continuing His Education with the GI Bill

The US had to be in World War 2

Annotation

Gerard Halpern finished high school in 1943 then took one semester at a City College before dropping out and joining the army. His mother had told him not to join the navy. Halpern went to Grand Central Palace where all branches of the military had tables set up. As the volunteers and draftees arrived they were sent to one line or another. Halpern was placed in the line for the navy. When he got to the table he told the man seated there that he had promised his mother that he would not go into the navy. The man let him go into the line for the army. Halpern's mother did not want him in the navy because she was afraid that he might drown. By the time Halpern joined the army in 1943 all of his relatives back in Germany had been killed. [Annotators Note: interview actually begins at this point which is approximately two minutes and 18 seconds into this segment.] Gerard Halpern was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on 8 July 1925. His father was a merchant who had a delicatessen store. The delicatessen turned into a bakery which Halpern's father eventually sold to a chain. Hitler came to power in 1933 when Halpern was eight years old. Prior to that Germany was in an uproar. Inflation was terrible. It was right after World War I and the country was still in a shock situation because they lost the war. Parties on the right blamed the loss of the war on the financiers and the Jews even though there had been a good number of Jewish officers and enlisted men in the German army. This was all taking place at the time of the Weimar Republic when it was unknown whether the Bolsheviks would win control of Germany or if it would be the right wing parties. The old president, von Hindenburg, asked Hitler to form a cabinet. This was in 1933 and the beginning of the Hitler era. Within a few years Hitler was the leader of Germany. Halpern was aware of the situation because of the gangs in the streets chasing Jewish kids. He even once escaped from a group who had placed a noose around his neck. Halpern does not think the group would have killed him. In 1935 things really started getting bad and his parents decided that it was time to leave. Halpern was shuttled back and forth between his parents in Germany and his grandparents in Czechoslovakia. In 1937 the family left Germany. They boarded a ship and came to the United States. Halpern was much too young to have an impression of the political climate in Germany when he was a child. Even so he knew about Hitler and that Jews were restricted. One day a neighbor who was the same age as Halpern approached him wearing part of a Hitler Youth uniform. The child told him that they could no longer play together because Halpern was a Jew. He knew about the restrictions but there was always a sneaking admiration for them [Annotators Note: the Nazis]. Halpern arrived in the United States on 20 July 1937. He steamed into Manhattan aboard a Cunard White Star line ship. He never went through Ellis Island. Halpern had an uncle in the United States and that made it possible for the family to enter the country. Halpern adapted well into American society. He learned English and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1943.Halpern was still in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and a friend were preparing to make a report on the Museum of Natural History. They were in the museum on that Sunday afternoon when an announcement was made over the loudspeaker. That is how Halpern learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Halpern believes that the attack came about because of restrictions placed on the Japanese.

Annotation

Gerard Halpern graduated from high school in May or June of 1943. He applied to City College and started classes there that summer. When he turned 18 he decided to enlist. Halpern was sworn into the army on 3 September 1943. After three weeks of leave he went on active duty. He had tried to get into the army earlier but his parents refused to sign for him. His mother did not want him to go into the navy so after he enlisted he told her that he was in the army. Since he was an only child she was not very happy with him for joining up as he could have qualified for a deferment. He also could have gotten a deferment if he had stayed in school. When Halpern enlisted he wanted to go to the European Theater. He knew that the guys who went to the Pacific were sitting on islands in the heat. When some of the guys Halpern was with were sent to Fort Ord, California he hoped he would not be sent there. Instead he was sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia. Halpern took 17 weeks of basic training at Camp Wheeler. Camp Wheeler had a reputation for being a tough base as was Camp Shelby [Annotators Note: in Hattiesburg, Mississippi]. During basic training they went on many hikes and did a lot of training with machine guns. He was trained on the heavy water cooled .30 caliber machine gun. Halpern’s basic training was capped off by a 24 mile overnight march. Halpern does not believe that his Jewish faith spurned him on to want to fight the Germans any harder. He was experiencing some anti Semitism in the US Army. From Camp Wheeler Halpern went straight to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. That was where they were waiting for embarkation. They were told that it would probably be a couple of weeks before they shipped out. That day someone aboard the liberty ship that was loading up there came down with the flu and all of the troops aboard were taken off the ship. Halpern and about 500 of the men he was with went aboard and shipped out the next day. When Halpern boarded that liberty ship he knew he was on his way to Europe. They were supposed to go to Oran but were rerouted to Naples. When Halpern went overseas he went as a replacement. At the time General Marshall thought that units should stay on the front lines and when men became casualties they would be removed and replacements would take their places. This did not do much for morale among the front line soldiers.

Annotation

For Gerard Halpern the trip from the United States to Italy was unremarkable except that they ran out of food near the end of the trip and had to eat k rations and c rations for the last few days or week of the trip. Halpern never had a problem with sea sickness. The bunks aboard the ship were stacked five high so he did make sure that when bunks were assigned he got a top bunk. They were packed in for about a month. During the trip they were allowed to go topside during the day but had to go back below decks at night. They also came out of the hold to get fed. When they arrived in Naples the first thing they saw was a ship turned over on its side that had been turned into a landing dock. From the dock they went to what they called Mussolinis Dairy Farm. The depot’s official name was the 2nd Replacement Depot. Halpern was there for a couple of weeks. One thing that surprised him was seeing Japanese there. His group was later told that the Japanese there were Nisei. They were members of the 100th Battalion. After spending about two weeks at the 2nd Replacement Depot Halpern’s name was called and he was told to get ready to go. At the time they were near the town of Caserta. This was in March and there were a number of things happening. The 34th Division was fighting at Cassino and Halpern thought he may be going there. He was taken by truck to the sea and put aboard an LST which left that night or late that evening and early the next morning they arrived at Anzio. At that time Halpern knew that he was being assigned to the 45th Division. Halpern was assigned Company E of the 180th Infantry Regiment. Halpern was assigned to a rifle company because one or two days before he arrived at Anzio a man in a machine gun nest shook out his blanket which alerted the Germans to his position. The Germans shelled the position killing that man and the rest of the machine gun team so when Halpern arrived he was assigned to a light machine gun team instead of a heavy machine gun team in a weapons company. There were five ammunition carriers in the machine gun squad. There were also the first and second gunners as well as a sergeant who was in charge of the team. Halpern was the first gunner. When Halpern arrived at Anzio he was sent into a covered area. That night the Germans attacked with what were called butterfly bombs.

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Gerard Halpern landed at Anzio in April [Annotators Note: April of 1944] and was assigned to his new squad. They were about eight miles inland near where the mountains [Annotators Note: the Alban Hills] started. A typical day in the Anzio beachhead consisted of Halpern sitting at his machine gun looking out over no man’s land. There was nothing out there but a house. One thing that was ever present was the stench of death. During the day they stayed under cover. When they did move they ran stooped over. A movement they referred to as the Anzio Stoop. They moved this way to avoid attracting enemy fire. Halpern never went on patrols because he was a machine gunner. There were always German attacks but Halpern never saw any German soldiers. One time he passed within 100 yards of a German soldier but did not know it. The supply situation at Anzio was pretty good. There was only one time when they did not get supplies for 24 hours but other than that things were good. In May they were told that there would be a breakout. They felt fortunate because they had a tank to protect their flank. Then they were subjected to one of the most intense artillery barrages Halpern ever experienced. The only thing Halpern remembers from the breakout is walking through a gully carrying the receiver for the machine gun. The gun broke down into two parts. The receiver and the tripod. Halpern usually carried the tripod but ended up with the receiver that time. The Germans put up some heavy resistance. They were near the Mussolini Canal not far from the factory. They were right in the middle of things. Halpern did not have any trouble killing Germans. It was kill or be killed. One thing he remembers and will never forget was being in a cave near the canal when the order came to move out. When they moved out Halpern’s heart was in his throat. He had a choice to make. He could stay or go. If he stayed he knew that nobody would realize that he was not there. He went. That was a big decision. Halpern encountered some of the few civilians who were still in the Anzio area. One man had two very good looking daughters and he kept a very close eye on the soldiers. The Italians were very happy to see the American soldiers and were also very happy to get the money that soldiers brought with them. Many of the Italians had lost their homes. The Germans did not treat the civilian population very nicely. Halpern was part of the breakout that advanced up Highway 6 which was the ancient Roman road known as the Apian Way. They advanced in two columns on either side of the road and went through the Alban Hills. There had been a lot of fighting in the Alban Hills but Halpern was not there for it. The majority of the fighting Halpern saw was in the gully. One thing he remembers from that time was seeing a German soldier coming toward them to surrender. As the soldier approached he stepped on a land mine and was killed. There was not much fighting around Rome. They marched right into the city in the two columns they had arrived at the city in. As they marched through the city some of the civilians were cheering. The soldiers with Halpern were pissed off because the men of the 3rd Division were all sitting in the parks and they had to march to the outskirts of the city. They went into an open field and set up their tents.

Annotation

Gerard Halpern and his fellow soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division spent the six weeks after the fall of Rome doing amphibious training. Because of this training they knew they were going somewhere but were not sure where. They knew it would be France or Yugoslavia. The Normandy invasion took place right about the same time as the liberation of Rome. Halpern and his fellow soldiers were elated to hear about the invasion of Normandy. The landing in Southern France went very smoothly. They were aboard attack transports and had their ammunition and everything else ready. They knew they were going to France when they were issued French phrase books and some francs. Before the landing an officer told Halpern that he would be carrying a flamethrower during the landing but he was able to talk his way out of it. When they boarded their landing craft they lowered their machine guns down with ropes then they got in by going down cargo nets. Usually when landings were carried out they were done at dawn. For this landing H Hour was eight o'clock. When they hit the beach the landing craft Halpern was aboard went right up onto the beach. He landed in Southern France without even getting his feet wet. They all had to carry gas masks because of the fear of a gas attack. A few minutes after they landed they discovered that there was no gas so they all got rid of their gas masks. They moved inland about 20 miles that first day. Halpern only encountered two civilians during the move inland. The terrain was flat and a little hilly until they got to the Maritime Alps. The Maritime Alps were very steep. Halpern spoke German and French fluently but he was not asked to act as an interpreter until after he had been in France for about six weeks when he was transferred to the I and R squad. At that point he acted as and interrogator. He also spoke to the French. He had taken four years of French in high school. Halpern had no animosity toward the typical German soldier but he did hate their helmets. When they got some prisoners he would always knock their helmets off. What Halpern did with the prisoners depended on which company caught them. Company G was very good at stripping prisoners. If Company G sent prisoners back the prisoners had no valuables on them by the time they got to Halpern [Annotators Note: Halpern is smiling and laughs when he says this]. Halpern was able to read the soldbuchs [Annotators Note: a detailed identification booklet carried by all German military personnel.] the German soldiers carried with them.

Annotation

Of all the prisoners Gerard Halpern interrogated there is one who really stands out to him. The man was a German Army sergeant. He had a bad attitude and did not cooperate at all. When another German soldier gave Halpern some information this German sergeant slapped the man in the face. Halpern told the other soldiers with him to take the man back and keep him separate from the other prisoners because he may try to escape. If he tried to escape the guards would have a reason to shoot him. One German soldier said that he would lead a patrol back to the German command post. At the time a lieutenant colonel was in charge over there [Annotators Note: at the German command post]. Halpern was ordered to lead the patrol. One of the GIs carried a BAR [Annotators Note: Browning Automatic Rifle] and Halpern carried his .45 pistol and an M1 rifle. They went down into the valley to a spot from where they could see the building. There were eight or nine of them on the patrol. Halpern told his BAR man to set up in a certain spot so he could cover them when they advanced on the building. Halpern noticed that the Germans in the command post had put their rifles outside leaning against the wall. He took off across the field. He got to the building first and was joined there by four others. Halpern went through the front door and surprised the enemy soldiers inside. They captured 11 Germans. Halpern heard that there was an artillery group set up nearby. He asked the prisoners where the artillery was set up. When none of them answered he took the safety off of his weapon and asked again. The Germans told him that the artillery group had been there but they had left. Halpern and his group took back the 11 prisoners. All of them were enlisted men. The lieutenant colonel had gotten away. His name was Oberstleutnant Zander [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. Halpern did not encounter any SS troops in France even though he did spend time in the Alsace region.

Annotation

Gerard Halpern was with the I and R Platoon [Annotators Note: the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division] until they arrived in a small town in Alsace on 7 December 1944. Prior to 7 December they just rolled over the German ammo dumps and did not get much artillery fire but by 7 December they noticed that the amount of artillery had increased. When they entered the town Halpern turned a corner just as a shell from a German 88 exploded wounding him. Halpern was taken to an evac hospital then spent three months recovering. When he returned to duty he was placed on limited duty status. Halpern did not return to the 180th Infantry Regiment. He was instead assigned to the XVth Corp. Halpern feels lucky. He was wounded on 7 December and the Bulge started on 14 or 15 December. He had been flown to England after he was wounded. He had three operations in England and recovered from his wound over there. Halpern’s job with the XVth Corps was acting as a liaison with the British. His experience with the British was very good. They had fought side by side with them during the advance toward Rome. Halpern feels that the training he had received was excellent. A bridge he had to cross during training was exactly like a bridge he had to cross in a combat zone. Halpern also feels that they had good equipment. The Germans had some good equipment, especially their machine guns. During the breakout [Annotators Note: from Anzio] Halpern was firing a German machine gun. That German machine gun, the MG42, could lay down a serious field of fire. The American M1 rifle was superior to the German rifles. Of everything that was fired at Halpern the thing he feared the most was the 88mm flak guns. The German Tiger tanks also had an 88 millimeter gun on them. Halpern encountered German tanks during the war but never got too close.

Annotation

Gerard Halpern was serving with the XVth Corps when the war ended. He was stationed in the town of Chantilly right outside of Paris. Prior to the war the American Ambassador Dillon had his residence near there. Halpern was put in charge of the officers club there. At the time he was a PFC [Annotators Note: Private First Class] even though the interrogator MOS, 320, was a staff sergeant rank. The I and R squad invited him back but he declined. When the war ended Halpern had 68 points. He needed 85 to rotate back to the United States. In December 1945 he was put on a ship and sent back to the United States. Halpern always felt good about not having to go to the Pacific after the German surrender. He carried with him an order Eisenhower had issued stating that if a soldier served in two theaters of war they would not have to serve in a third. Italy was considered a different theater. He carried the order with him in case someone tried to send him to Japan. Halpern returned to the United States aboard a ship. The trip was rather uneventful but the mood was definitely better that on the trip over. When he got to the United States they came into Virginia. He was sent from there to Fort Dix [Annotators Note: Fort Dix, New Jersey]. He got to Fort Dix the day before Christmas. He was given a three day pass to visit his family in Brooklyn then returned to be discharged. He was discharged on 30 or 31 December. After returning to the United States Halpern bought a pair of jump boots for 20 dollars. According to Halpern’s mother the war changed him a lot. There was a GI in Halpern’s company when they were in France who was always talking down about the Jews. Halpern called him out one day and the two got into a fight. After the fight they became good friends. Halpern feels that the best thing that ever happened to them [Annotators Note: those who served during the war] was the GI Bill. Halpern applied to Yale but was not accepted so he returned to City College. After a year there he entered law school. He was able to do so because he had received a law qualifying certificate. Halpern graduated and passed the Bar on his first try. He practiced law in New York for a while then left New York to work in Knoxville, Tennessee at the Glazer Steel Corporation as the assistant counsel to the general counsel. Halpern spent six years with Glazer. He spent three of those years in Paris. Halpern left Glazer because he wanted to teach. A PhD was required to teach unless a person had a law degree in which case an MA would do. Halpern went to LSU to complete his master’s degree then started teaching at Georgia Southern. Halpern had chosen LSU because he was already in New Orleans. LSU offered him a teaching scholarship. Halpern taught at Georgia Southern then left and went to Arkansas where he worked for 20 years. By the time he retired he was a full professor. This was unusual since he did not have a PhD.

Annotation

Gerard Halpern feels that the United States could not have avoided taking part in World War 2. The United States had become part of the world community. Some of the downsides included the number of people killed. Halpern believes that using the atomic bombs caused the Japanese to surrender and saved many lives. After the war Halpern was in Paris buying steel for Glazer. At the time he was 30 years old and single. He had a great time. Halpern has visited The National WWII Museum. He believes that museums like The National WWII Museum are more important than presidential libraries. He states this even though he knows President Bill Clinton.
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