Becoming a Soldier

Normandy

Battle of the Bulge

Being Pennsylvania Dutch and a Hospital Stay

Postwar and Memories

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Peter Harry was born in May 1924. He had two brothers in the service during the war. His father worked for a sink company for many years during the Great Depression and died of a brain tumor at 40 years old. Harry did not go to high school. Instead, he worked on his dad's farm. When Pearl Harbor happened, he was on the farm. He was young and did not think too much about going into the service, however, he was the first brother who was drafted. He was 18 years old and living in Baltimore at the time. His brother was working in a shipyard and had gotten Harry a job in that shipyard right before he went into the Army. After he was drafted he had no choice but to go into the Army. Either he went into the service or he would have been locked up. He was lost when he first went in the Army. He did not know anyone and he felt like a lost sheep. After he finished basic training, he went home for a 15 day leave then went to California to be shipped out. He thought he was going to Japan but then went cross country on a train back to Massachusetts. They sailed out from the United States but there were mechanical problems with the ship so they returned. Harry was in the amphibious engineers at this time but not yet part of the 83rd Infantry Division.

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Peter Harry spent six months in England then crossed the Channel to Omaha Beach in Normandy. He landed about two days after D-Day. There were still dead bodies all over. Lots of people got killed at Omaha Beach including troops who drowned because they were overloaded with equipment. Harry was bitter that the Air Forces did not bomb the beaches before the landings. Harry drove a jeep off the ship and was told not to look in the trailer that had been hooked up to his jeep. After landing, he unhooked the trailer and looked under the cover. He saw beer and liquor for the officers. In the first evening after landing, he went inland and stayed overnight so the shells that were going inland from American ships would miss him. The next day, he was in the first battle off the beaches of Omaha. He saw Germans running back and forth behind the hedgerows. The hedgerows were high bushes that hid the enemy as they shot at the GIs. American troops could not see the Germans. The Germans were dug in and had pillboxes with big guns. The pillboxes had tunnels underground. From England, Harry began to make friends but those friends were scattered after their arrival in France. They were on their own after they got into the conflict. By a week after landing, Harry was in St. Lo, France. He joined the infantry in St. Lo because they were short of men. He refused the alternative choice which would have been in the paratroops. He joined the 329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division there. He drove a jeep at first but was changed to the front lines where he was chosen as first scout where he was the lead man for his unit. He worked in tandem with the man behind him who was the second scout. At one point, the Germans captured the second scout who was directly behind Harry. As first scout, Harry had to watch for land mines. He felt like a guinea pig in this situation. As scout, he was out front of the rest of his platoon. He could have been a few feet in front of the group or many feet ahead. He never volunteered for that job or anything else in the service. Once he saw a German motorcycle approaching him and he shot the driver. The driver went up in the air and Harry refused to go check out the German driver because he did not feel it was his job to do so. There was always a first and second scout in the platoon. Once, in Luxembourg, a dog followed them on a scouting mission. They went behind German lines to see what was going on. They took the dog along. They went along the railroad track embankment with the dog running ahead. They heard a German guard calling to the dog. The Americans halted their advance. Harry decided not to go any further because Germans were there. The next day the dog returned to Harry. The dog had either saved their lives or kept them from being captured. St. Lo was captured by the Americans after the Germans withdrew. There was nothing left standing in St. Lo after the battle. Harry was checking the building basements to be sure the Germans were not hiding there. He saw an old woman who spoke English and was an American. She had met and married a Frenchman while in college in the United States before the war and had moved to France. That was of interest to Harry. Harry received no passes or liberty until the war was over. Sometimes he would be pulled back from the front to have a rest and bath but never did he receive any passes that put him very far away from the front. He drove officers back and forth at the front. Harry enjoyed that duty. When the officers did not need him, he would sightsee and take pictures with his camera.

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Peter Harry fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Snow and winter began to set in and then the Battle of the Bulge began. Frostbite was a problem for many soldiers. Harry put a sock on and wrapped a newspaper around his foot and then covered the paper with another sock. It was like insulation. He was laughed at but he never had frostbite as a result of protecting his feet. After the German breakthrough, he was rushed to the front. The Germans surrounded his unit. He had to be careful about whom he shot at because it could be one of his own men. Both the weather and the Germans were enemies of the GIs. The GIs were told to watch out for civilians who could be Germans masquerading. The Germans in disguise would be nice to the GIs then stab them in the back. The Germans were also dressed in white camouflage in the snow. Harry was a BAR man [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle] which made him a target. The weapon sounded like a machine gun when it fired so the enemy soldiers would always go for that individual using a machine gun. Harry never used the BAR unless he really had to. He always had a buddy along who carried ammunition and was there to pick up the BAR if Harry was hit. One time he was ready to use the BAR was when he was close to Hitler's Highway, a four lane highway [Annotator's Note: Harry is referring to the Autobahn]. There were German officers in a car that passed but he did not shoot. Harry felt it was a bullet proof armored car and it would do no good to shoot. His sergeant did not punish him for not shooting. Harry used the BAR to shoot the motorcycle driver he previously mentioned [Annotator's Note: See segment titled Normandy]. The driver went up in the air [Annotator's Note: Harry chuckles at the memory]. That German driver had been a messenger. Several times Harry was ordered to cross enemy lines and reconnoiter. Sometimes he would not go forward but hold back instead. He had to use his head. He did not always follow orders in detail. Instead of going on a scouting mission, he would go forward a bit and take a break and report back that he did not see any Germans. During the Battle of the Bulge, Harry could find some sort of shelter or use German foxholes. They carried candles to burn in the covered foxhole. The candle could not be seen from outside the foxhole. The sergeant said blow out the candle but Harry and his buddy did not. He did not have enough covers to warm them but the candle would get the dampness out of the foxhole. Only eight of the 36 men in his unit from St. Lo made it through the war. Harry was glad he was in the service. He knew from experience what he talked about. He never got used to the dead and wounded people. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was running toward a foxhole and jumped in but then bounced right back out. There were three Germans in the foxhole already. Harry and his buddy quickly got out of the foxhole and ran. The 88s [Annotator's Note: German 88mm guns] were very frightening, especially with the tree bursts above their heads. The shrapnel and broken branches from the explosion would spread and hit someone. The GIs had to seek shelter immediately when they heard the 88s being fired at them. It was just a matter of luck that Harry was not injured.

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Peter Harry has bad dreams about the war. He goes to meetings and they talk about the Battle of the Bulge and that bothers him. Harry was picked to go behind the lines because he was Pennsylvania Dutch and could speak a little Dutch. They observed a German scout car with two soldiers and an officer entering a building. He tricked the enemy to exit the house by speaking Dutch to them. The three Germans were captured by Harry and his buddy. Harry and his buddy went on to capture another German. [Annotator's Note: Harry finds the story humorous.] After the German prisoners were taken to the American lines, it was said that he should get a medal but the sergeant and the corporal got the medals, not him. It was a frightening time for him. He could not sleep very well on the front lines. It was hard to sleep in the Bulge because there was a lot of snow. The pine trees were all around. He heard Germans talking. He could have gotten two more prisoners but he just wanted to get away. Harry's buddy said Harry was doing very well but Harry responded that he was doing all the dirty work and his buddy was staying behind him. [Annotator's Note: Harry finds the story humorous.] Harry was injured a few days before the war ended. It was during an informal armistice between the Allies and the Germans before the Germans surrendered. Nevertheless, the Germans fired and wounded his buddy. Harry was hit also but the round did not hit a bone. Harry went back to a hospital away from the front lines. After a few days, he was flown to a hospital in France. He experienced some bigotry in the hospital between a nurse and a black soldier. In the hospital, Harry heard that the war with Germany was over.

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Peter Harry went to Berlin, Germany after the war ended. He was again driving a jeep for officers. Harry saw many Russians in Berlin. He and the officers were escorted by the Russians to see Hitler's bunker in Berlin. They saw where Hitler had shot himself. The bunker was heavily guarded and few people got access. Harry went down into the bunker but he was not allowed to take pictures. The things that Harry remembered most about the war were the people dead on the Normandy beaches and the bodies floating in the water after D-Day. Tanks would drive over the bodies and not bother to pick them up. When he left England, he knew he could die. Although he forgot a lot of things, when he looked at books the memories came right back to him. He felt he was lucky to get home alive. Fighting the war was worth it for him. Sometimes he avoided following a direct order from an officer. Harry would only partially obey the order so as not to endanger himself. Rather than engage the Germans up ahead, sometimes he would only go part of the way and then take a break. He would report back that he did not see the enemy. He had trouble with memories when he came back. Harry did not want anyone to wake him while he was sleeping. He did not want to be touched while he was asleep. He might physically react. The only person that could help him would be himself. It has been 60 years and he still had reactions. Harry did not remember officers being up on the front lines. Only sergeants and privates were on the front lines. Harry's leaders were good and decent people. He formed friendships during the war. Those friendships helped him get through but some were either captured or killed in action. Harry hoped that his interview helped contribute some good.

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