Early Life

Becoming a Soldier and Overseas Deployment

Utah Beach

Hedgerow Fighting

Hospital Recovery

Experiencing Combat

Postwar

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Harry C. Quinn, Jr. was born in 1925 near Brookhaven, Mississippi in Lincoln County. He grew up on a farm during the Depression. Being young during the Depression, all he knew was that life was always hard. Quinn had six sisters and one brother. Being the oldest grandson, he was somewhat pampered. His father died of a heart attack in 1935 or 1936. His father had previously hired a young black man named Fred Butler. Butler was given a small home near the family home. He ate at the family table and was a trusted man. When Quinn’s father died, his mother asked Butler to take over running the 325 acres of farmland. She said she would back Butler with any decision he made. Butler kept good records on purchases and farm needs. He was a lifesaver for the family. That made Quinn very partial toward black people. Quinn’s father had been a deputy sheriff. As a result, Butler knew that Quinn’s mother had a pistol with bullets that had belonged to her deceased husband. Butler told Mrs. Quinn that if she would let him hold the weapon and ammunition, he would protect her and her family with it. Butler kept the gun four years until he had to enter the service. He brought the weapon back at that time. The family still has that pistol. Butler was a lifesaver to keep the family on the farm. To move would have been very upsetting. Quinn was fortunate to stay at his home. When Butler went into the service, Quinn was old enough to take care of the farm. About a year later, Quinn had to enter service. His mother did not like the fact that Quinn’s sister had married a conniving man. The sister’s husband talked Quinn’s mother into putting her son-in-law’s name on the farm title. Quinn’s mother did not know what she was doing when she did that. She was a woman of limited education. As a result, Quinn had to go into the service while his brother-in-law stayed home with the farm and the family. Quinn went to Camp Shelby in September 1943 when he was 18 years old. He stayed a few days and then was sent home. He had to get used to the idea of leaving his mother and six or seven of her children due to his sneaky brother-in-law and sister. They had taken the farm out of his mother’s name.

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Harry Quinn entered Camp Shelby in September [Annotator’s Note: 1943] and stayed there for about a week. From there, he was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida to get his training. For the first series of weeks, most of the men were very homesick. Quinn had never been out of Lincoln County [Annotator’s Note: Lincoln County, Mississippi] prior to then. Half the outfit was from New Jersey and the other half from Mississippi. They were in Blanding from October to January 1943 [Annotator’s Note: October 1943 to January 1944]. Although most of the men were shipped out in January, a few like Quinn were kept behind. A sergeant indicated he wanted to be Quinn’s friend, but, when Quinn refused, the non-com had him shipped out instead. He spent two weeks at home and then went to Fort Meade, Maryland. Afterward, he went to Fort Dix, New Jersey. From there, he shipped out to England. Departing New York at night, their single ship was joined by many other vessels en route. There were tough guys on the voyage. When the ship arrived in Liverpool, England, some of the men threw things at the Bobbies [Annotator’s Note: English police]. The troops were kept on the ship as a result. The next morning, they were loaded on a train. Never told where they were destined, the soldiers ultimately found themselves in one place for a week and then on to Dover near the English Channel. They were billeted in tents. The island was full of troops. They were based in that location until D-Day. Quinn had been assigned to the 4th Infantry Division upon arrival in England. The men were provided with weapons and ammunition prior to reaching the edge of the Channel. The soldiers were transported in small boats to the larger troop ships. Some of the boats were privately owned. The ships moved out at night while Quinn slept [Annotator’s Note: toward the beaches of Normandy for the beginning of the D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944].

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Harry Quinn woke up in the morning [Annotator’s Note: of 6 June 1944]. He was the third man to go down the net into his Higgins boat landing craft. There had been extensive training on descending nets but there was a heavy load in their packs plus weapons and ammunition. One man ahead of Quinn balked at going down the net. He was crying and shaking. The sergeant told Quinn to go around the hesitant individual. The non-com also told the reluctant man to either go down or he would be thrown down into the landing craft. The nervous man extended his arms and released his hands and fell into the boat. He never moved after the fall. Quinn has carried that memory since then. He has often wondered if he could have coaxed the frightened man down. The man must have been afraid to fight. If he had tried to convince the hesitant man to go down the net, Quinn might have been knocked off the net as well. The landing craft was fully loaded with troops and then headed to the beach. At first, the boat stopped too far from the beach. The men knew that with the weight they carried they would drown in the depth of the water. The sergeant told the driver of the boat to pull the ramp up and get closer to the water’s edge. When the boat ramp fell again, the men had to cross in much less water [Annotator’s Note: Quinn motions that the water depth was about waist deep]. When Quinn hit the beach, there was extensive gunfire from Navy ships bombarding the coastal fortifications. He saw a pillbox but ran past it. He did not take time to see if the enemy was still in the emplacement. He went up the hill and saw the extensive flooding of the land behind the beach. The Germans had done this to slow down any Allied landing force. Quinn had a buddy with him. They had to stay on the road not to drown. They crossed a metal bridge and spent the first night there. They dug in but did not get much sleep. At least, they were across the beach.

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Harry Quinn and his buddy attempted to locate the paratroopers the day after the landing [Annotator’s Note: the date was 7 June 1944]. It was later in the day before they found the Americans they were seeking. The men were moving inland all the while that shelling and gunfire exchanges were going on around them. After digging in for the night, the men headed to the right toward Cherbourg where the ports were. There were hedgerows between them and their objective. The hedgerows were composed of rock and dirt with thick vegetation on top. The enemy had dug trenches for protection using the hedgerows as part of their emplacements. When a tank tried to penetrate the obstacle, it could not. The solution came when a man devised a technique of welding steel to the front of the tank body so that it could claw its way through the thick growth. On the outskirts of Cherbourg, ten tanks were required up front. If one got hit, the men better get off the tank and out of the way because a bulldozer would shove the disabled vehicle off the roadway. While preparing for the advance on the objective, Quinn was hit on 19 June [Annotator’s Note: 1944]. Cherbourg was taken on 26 June. The plan had been to capture the port city on 19 June. Quinn joked with his buddies that it took so long because he was not there to help. Quinn hit the ground as soon as he was hit. The medics got to him in ten minutes. They were great. They told him to lay still. Quinn going into shock was a concern for his attendants. Quinn was placed on the floor of an ambulance that already had four wounded men in it. The driver looked like a very young teenager. As they were proceeding to the aid station, an MP stopped them and said the road was dangerous up ahead. The driver responded that his passengers had to be expedited to a treatment area. The ambulance continued to the field hospital. Two Germans took him in for treatment [Annotator’s Note: German prisoners of war, or POWs, were used to provide labor in the rear to free Allied soldiers for the fight at the front]. There was a prioritization of treatment for men who could return to the fight or, at the opposite end, those who would not make it through the night. Late that night, surgery was performed on Quinn. A cast was placed on him but it was done improperly. As his leg began to swell, the pressure was painful. He was being readied for a flight back to England for better treatment when the pain grew intense. He told a young officer that he had an awful pain in his leg. All the officer had was aspirin which did not help the situation at all. The next morning, Quinn was flown to England. He was taken to a makeshift hospital. His toes were beginning to turn brown. A nurse brought a young officer to see him. The officer was not only rude to Quinn, but said he did not have time to fool with the wounded man. The officer disregarded Quinn and walked off. Quinn could not sleep. He was loaded onto an English train headed toward an unknown destination. The motion of the train made Quinn cringe with the pain. When he reached Bristol, England, a nurse saw the problem that Quinn was having. A major shouted at Quinn for not paying more attention to his condition. Quinn explained to the major about the young officer who had disregarded his condition. The major apologized and said that he would have the other officer court martialled for his lack of action in trying to save Quinn’s leg. The cast was removed and Quinn’s leg looked half the size it should have been because of the cast. A squirrel cage was put over his leg so that he could not touch it. It stayed on for about a month and a half. The treatment at that hospital with its staff was commendable compared to the doctor who earlier had told Quinn that he did not have time to fool with him. If one more day had passed, Quinn may have lost his leg.

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Harry Quinn arrived at the hospital on 19 June [Annotator’s Note: 19 June 1944] and remained there until the middle of August. At that point, he had officers checking on him to see if he was ready to travel. He was to be ZI’ed [Annotator’s Note: returned to the Zone of the Interior or continental United States]. Despite repeated entreaties on his part, Quinn was never confirmed for release to return to the United States. At that time, soldiers did not debate with officers. His buddies were released to return to the States but Quinn was held behind. Shortly after the departure of the other men, a nurse returned to where Quinn was recovering. She was crying. When Quinn asked what the problem was, she told him that the plane that had departed was lost and the men did not survive. Nothing was ever said about why the plane went down. It was the time of the V2 rockets [Annotator’s Note: Germany ballistic missiles]. Quinn was to have been on the plane but his hospital release was delayed. Consequently, Quinn survived while his former hospital ward mates did not. A chaplain came on a public address system and reassured the patients that they would be taken by ship back to the United States. They did not have to be anxious about flying back home. Two or three weeks later, the patients were ZI’ed back. An officer told Quinn that he would probably make it this time to which Quinn responded that he hoped so. Quinn shipped out of Liverpool on a hospital ship. Because he was the last man in his ward to leave, he was the first man loaded on the ship. He was also the first man off the ship when it docked in Charlotte, South Carolina. The men had been in a blackout mode for so long that the lights on the ship worried them. The nurses reassured the men that it would be alright. They wanted the Germans to see them and know that they were there. They even could board them if they wanted to do so. The men had to be calmed down a bit. It took 19 days to reach Charlotte. The men were offloaded in the morning after arrival. While in Charlotte, the men were given the option of going to Memphis or New Orleans. Quinn decided to go to New Orleans where he was discharged in December [Annotator’s Note: 1944]. He had been in the hospital for six or seven months. Despite his leg being stiff at discharge with limited range of motion, after knee replacement surgery, Quinn gained full mobility. He walks with ease.

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To Harry Quinn, combat was the closest thing to Hell that a person could experience. Sleep was disrupted at night by rockets flying over. The rockets had bombs attached to the front. The men could not sleep because they worried. When Quinn was hit, he felt he went into shock. The two young medics calmed him down. The cast on his leg was a problem [Annotator’s Note: an ill-fitting cast cut off circulation on his legs and he nearly had to have an amputation before it was corrected]. Most of the surgeries performed on him were in England. Some were done after his return to the United States. The doctors were fine people. Quinn was hit in multiple spots including his feet [Annotator’s Note: Quinn motions to the numerous locations during this discussion]. His two discharge papers said two different things. One said it was due to bullets and the other said it was due to that plus shrapnel. Fighting in the hedgerows was difficult until the tanks were fixed to run right over the obstacles. The 4th Infantry Division at Normandy called the German rockets screaming Meemees. They experienced rockets early on in the combat on the continent. Artillery hits in the trees would spray shrapnel everywhere. Quinn was one of the lucky ones to survive. When he returned to Normandy in 1984 with his wife, he could see that the men who landed on Omaha Beach were the hardest hit. On Utah, where Quinn landed, he only had to cover 30 to 50 yards to get up the cliffs. The men on Omaha had a much longer distance to reach the bluffs. Someone ahead of Quinn on D-Day on Utah Beach had knocked out a concrete bunker with two enemy soldiers in it [Annotator’s Note: Quinn had indicated earlier that he saw a pillbox after landing on Utah Beach and ran past it not checking on the status of anyone inside]. While coming ashore, there were obstacles driven down in the sand for the landing craft to hit. There were bombs on top of them so it would blow up the boat with its troops. Quinn was lucky because they did not hit one. There was barbed wire that the CBs [Annotator’s Note: members of a naval construction battalion] had worked the night before to remove. Quinn’s boat evaded that, too. The landing craft came up close to the Germans. The men ahead of Quinn had taken care of the enemy resistance before his boat reached the beach. He had trouble sleeping during combat, but he and many of his buddies managed to survive. Quinn was with the 22nd Regiment, Company D attached to the 4th Infantry Division [Annotator’s Note: Company D, 1st battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division]. Looking back, Quinn heard about Pearl Harbor on a Monday while he was plowing. The news did not register much with him because he was so young. In his company, the men were armed with machine guns, M1 rifles, and carbines. The M1 was preferred but carbines were optimum in close-in fighting in the towns. There were mortars and tanks used to support his outfit. The unit never went backwards while he was with them. He was wounded in a large field that was about 20 acres. Within it were about 200 dead Germans. The Americans slept in the hedgerows adjacent to the enemy. The men slept four across so they could alternate sleeping on two hour shifts. The civilians in Normandy shunned the Americans because they believed that the allies would be shoved back into the sea. The soldiers dug up a French farmer’s potato patch. He offered resistance but gave up when he saw the Americans would not stop. When the soldiers were told to dig in, they did so as quickly as possible. Quinn never bothered with drinking any of the alcohol that was available although many of his buddies did.

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Harry Quinn has been bothered with physical and mental problems resulting from the war. He goes to the VA [Annotator’s Note: Veterans Administration] for help. He now has a good coordinator helping him. It is important to maintain museums and education so young people can learn about World War II. Lessons that Quinn has learned are that freedom is not cheap and war is hell. He would do it again though, if he had to but he would not relish it. Many men over 25 served in combat despite what some say. The war matured Quinn and gave him pride in his country. Young people were more likely to adapt to the new adjustments imposed by military service. When Quinn was wounded, two medics came to him quickly. A young ambulance driver who transported him may have been as young as 15 years old. After the war, Quinn took time off and enjoyed playing pool. He went to work at the pool hall in Brookhaven [Annotator’s Note: Brookhaven, Mississippi]. He attended a ballgame while he was on crutches. Quinn had not been dating while in service. He was invited up into the stands by his future wife. They chatted back and forth. Quinn was a star basketball player but had never met the girl before despite playing against her high school before he went into the service. When Quinn returned to New Orleans, the girl found out that he was returning to Brookhaven the next weekend. They made a date to see the circus together. They would go on to be married for 66 years. His beloved wife died of cancer. Quinn has no interest in meeting another woman. He loves being outside and working with plants. Over the years, he has learned to talk about the war without emotion.

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