Start of Exhibit
|Oral history interview with Carl S. Harrmann and his wife Odessa Harrmann by Brad Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. Mr. Harrmann discusses his experiences in the 10th Armored Division.
Transcript of interview with Carl and Odessa Harrmann
February 9, 2001
Interview conducted by Brad Larson
Two (2) 45 minute tapes
NOTE: The interview did NOT follow these questions as the interviewees began talking immediately upon entering interviewer's office and before the interviewer had time to structure the interview. In fact, the interviewees had not even taken off their coats.
CH: Carl Harrmann
OH: Odessa Harrmann
BL: Brad Larson
Carl Harrmann brought in several maps taken from American headquarters during the Battle of the Bulge. He was a member of Headquarters' Company for the 10th Armored Division. The interview began when CH starting looking at the maps and explaining each one.
CH: The blue is American. The red is German. You can see the red moving this way. This is why Bastogne was so important: road, road, road, road, and road. [He was pointing at the various roads that came together in Bastogne.] All of them came together at this point. And somebody sitting here could [sit? unable to understand word] here.
[some discussion while checking microphones]
CH: This map shows the first day we were in Bastogne. We were actually before, before we were called to go to Bastogne, we were down in France near the Saar River. We were waiting to go into combat crossing the Saar around the 28th of December. That's what they were planning for at the time. And the commanding office of our headquarters was up in Luxembourg to see General Fryberg? They were classmates at West Point, and we got a call, in fact I remember the news we got that something was wrong. That was on the 18th, no the 16th of December, on a Saturday. I was just going back to headquarters after we had our evening meal. Those went back to headquarters because you're call all the time. And the person that was on guard there said we were on the alert because the Germans had a little action north of here. We didn't get too excited about that.
BL: Why didn't you get too excited about that?
CH: Oh, you never knew. I mean, we didn't know what was going on. The next day we started toward Luxembourg City to the north of where we were, and it took us all to get from where we were in France up to Luxembourg City. We stopped there. By that time Colonel Hag (?) was back and he, that evening he called his officers together. The commanding officers of the units under him, and advising them of what we had to do. He told them, well there was a little trouble up north of here, up in Belgium. We'll go up there are we'll be back here by Christmas. So the next day we took off for well, it turned out to be Bastogne. It was on the 18th and got to Bastogne, we had an awful time getting there, weather about like this.
[That day it was heavily overcast with snow. It had been raining and snow was wet.]
BL: So snowy, cold, slushy
CH: Yea, and the corps troops were trying to get out of Bastogne and we were trying to get in. And if that wasn't a real problem. But we got in.
BL: What were those troops like that were retreating from Bastogne?
CH: They weren't headquarters, they were corps, army corps. There is a level, an army. We were under General Patton. He had an army. Under him were corps. There were at least two divisions in a corps. And we had, they were responsible to the army. Then there is a division under that. And we were the next step down, a Combat Command. But these corps troops were trying to get out because things were not too pleasant and we had to get in there.
BL: Were they panicking at all?
CH: It almost seemed panic, yes, we were trying to get in. We got in about sun down. We found a, in one of the buildings we found was a hotel, Hotel LaPlune [spelling?], and 50 years later it was still there but wasn't operating. We were going to stop there and get a cup of coffee or something, but anyway, that was our place to stay and got our headquarters set up and then found a place to stay under cover.
BL: Were you under fire at that time as you came in?
CH: No, it came the next morning, the 19th. First thing in the next morning we got a call, "Get up! The Germans are just outside of town." We got our stuff together but they weren't that close. This was the 19th. See, the Germans coming here, here and here. [indicating the map] And our blue markings are trying to hold them back. Here O'Hara had part of a battalion, Cherry has part of a battalion, these are engineers. This is I think part of the airborne. Here's a German division. Two Xs.
They were hitting us from all sides. Actually, we could see that it was going to be kind of critical. Well that's the first day we were there.
BL: And what was your job during all this?
CH: I was working for the intelligence officer. Of course, I did a little bit of everything but he was trying to find out what was going on, what the Germans were up to. And of course there was a sergeant and I were his two helpers. And one of the points, what do I do, one of the things that happened when it got really critical, sometime after oh about the 22nd or 23rd, we got all the papers we had in the headquarters, put all those paper we had together and put them in an ammunition box. So, if, then I got an incendiary grenade and handed it to me and said, "Now if things get too critical, start burn them." That was my job, among other things. But that was, everybody did everything. It wasn't a line along a division. Now, this is the second day. You can see things are getting a little redder [red marks were German units] That was the day
[some mumbling that cannot be distinguished], certainly before the 101st airborne came in. We were there. In fact, we sat in front of the Hotel LaBrune and watched the 101st airborne walk into Bastogne and into position. Some of the airborne troops didn't even have guns. They had been in rehabilitation, hadn't been in battle. And one of the things we had, I think we had picked up about a half dozen rifles from the medical aid stations back in rest area just before that. And we had those in our half-track and we gave those to the 101st airborne to try to help them fight. You see, the thing is that the Germans were starting to . . . here's the front line, the blue, and one of the patrols is way over here. A company of, a battalion of Germans, here's a division, here's a battalion, we were outnumbered by
BL: And were you under fire that whole time?
CH: Yea. Fact is . . . Mostly artillery, we had . . . we stayed at the Hotel LaBrune. The first two nights we stayed in the upper floor, by the third night they had it all blown off. Artillery shells hit it. And you never knew when an artillery shell was going to drop. They were close enough and the powerful artillery they had was something else. The thing is, as you look at this, you see how the lines here on the 20th. These are little towns around this area around this area of Bastogne. At that time Bastogne was a little farm town maybe 4,000. Now here's the 21st. See what's happening? The red is getting closer and closer. And this line here is pulling back because they were really pressing us. And at that time the 101st had starting to come in but they were hitting us from the west as well as the east
BL: What kind of German troops were they? Infantry, armor, tell me what
CH: Everything. [Interviewee was looking at map pointing to symbols] Here's an infantry. That's an infantry. They cross that way. And that's a company. Here's armor. And here's a division, this two Xs. And here's another division, Volksgrenadiers. Panzer division, that means they are a tank division. They had everything thrown against us. And here's Panzer Lehr, armored division. And here's an armored concentration. And up here, too. Up here, all the way around. Here's 2nd Panzer Division.
BL: That much German armor and that much infantry, did it surprise you that it was that powerful?
CH: Oh they were powerful, extremely. They had tanks that made our tanks look like nothing.
BL: Like how so?
CH: They were tremendous. On top of that the weather was bad. Our tanks had rubber treads and they had anticipated this so they had steel treads so that they could dig into the ice and they could keep going. Our rubber treads would just sit there and spin and make a perfect target. Fact is, we came out
The figures I saw
We had about 180, we had about 80 tanks when we went in and came out with 3. It was devastating. This is the 21st. See how this line is getting smaller? They are coming around us, cutting us off. Cut off here, cut off, and all the way around. Volksgrenadier. Panzer Lehr. They are all the way around us. What our intelligence officer trying to figure out German divisions were here. Some of this information came from him. Some came from prisoners, things like that.
BL: Where you in charge of interrogating them?
CH: No, we had an IPW to do that. I couldn't speak German. They could. It's interesting to hear those fellas interrogate a German prisoner. Listen for valuable information and there was some valuable information they could pick up. They'd interrogate almost all the prisoners they got. There was a team of about six American soldiers who could speak German. The fact that I was attached to the intelligence officer and I had close connections with those fellas and I observed their activities.
BL: Were those German troops pretty good troops, do you think?
CH: Oh, yea. Germans are excellent soldiers, basically. Nothing slow about them. And they had machine guns that outclassed ours.
BL: How could they outclass ours?
CH: A 30 caliber machine gun, after you fire it so long, you had to remove the barrel and put a new barrel in because of the heat. Had to unscrew it and put another on in there. The Germans just threw a latch and took the old barrel out and put a new barrel in and, Bingo! . That fast. So there was a difference.
BL: They were pretty good soldiers then, uh?
CH: Yes. And of course in the snowy weather we had the olive drab uniforms, khaki type things. They had white uniforms; they had their tanks and half-tracks painted white to blend in with the snow. We didn't have anything like that. They just caught us not ready. How they got that many soldiers together in that little area we never knew. Our intelligence wasn't working too well. Of course it was foggy and the air force couldn't get in there to see what was going on.
BL: Was there any German air activity? Was there any German air force present?
CH: Well I'll get to that.
BL: Sorry. Get ahead of myself here.
CH: Try to figure this . . . they didn't have too much luck as far as . . . air force, but they had some. And they made use of it. See here's the next one [map] and you can see that we're trapped, we couldn't go anywhere.
BL: So you're totally surrounded now.
CH: Yea, all the way around.
BL: And this is the 23rd of December?
OH: Look at the red.
CH: Red all the way around here.
OH: Well that's the night before you were really bombed.
CH: The bombing is the next one. We . . . by that time we were pretty
we used basements to
Wherever we could find a basement we set up a headquarters and everything else and stayed in that basement because it was so dangerous. It wasn't safe to go on the roads and streets of Bastogne but they might have artillery shells, you never knew. Generally, everything we did was down in the basement because it was, the artillery was so strong. Here's the 24th. That was when we
this is the Americans. Here's blue parachutes. That's when the Americans dropped supplies to us. Ammunition, medical supplies.
OH: By air.
CH: By air. We set out there and watched these parachutes come down. Different colors for different types of things. They dropped gasoline; they dropped ammunition, food, anything that we could possibly need. Because we were running out. At the same time, I thought maybe they showed- yea, here we are [looking at the map] See the airplanes? Red airplanes? On the 24th
BL: Christmas Eve.
CH: Christmas Eve. We were down
that's when they
we were in the basement of the Hotel LaBrune and we could hear German planes. Their motors sound different than the American motors. We knew it was German planes. We were alert and quiet and didn't want to give any indication of where we were. All of a sudden you could hear the bombs drop. They didn't hit us but one of the places they hit was a medical station and on the sign on that, back when we were visiting there, my granddaughter looked up the one building and it said on there that this was a medical aid station of the 20th armored infantry division. 20th armored infantry battalion. Hit by German bombs and five Americans were killed and a Belgian nurse was also killed. My son said, [cannot make out] on there? Yea. I tried to put water on to try to put the fire out. There was no water system in Bastogne. Everything was tied up. But we got bombed yet, about six o'clock in the evening and then about, oh, about 9 o'clock they gave us another bombing. So we got bombed. Couldn't go anywhere, we were caught and
BL: Were you running out of things by this time?
CH: Ammunition was right down. Just to show how shortages were, on Christmas Day we were given two boxes of K rations and normally three boxes are a day's ration and we got two. I don't know what they had I took what they had, breakfast, lunch, dinner whatever it was and I think they Belgians had some coffee that they gave some us in the section and we got some hot coffee. That was our Christmas Day dinner. And I guess we were lucky to have that it I guess because it was getting critical. But we knew that, we heard rumors that was, that they were going to try to get us out. But there was a lot of fighting to be done. We didn't have much left anymore.
BL: But all the while you knew how critical that road junction was?
CH: Oh yea, we knew what it was.
BL: Did it ever occur, did the thought occur to you to surrender?
OH: Oh yes
CH: Yes. I remember they,
CH: That was on the 23rd, the Germans sent us a white flag unit over to see General McAuliffe of the 101st. Well he told them that they had to surrender or else they're going to blow the whole town up. And General said, "nuts." Well that's where it came from.
OH: You've heard of that haven't you?
BL: Yea, I've heard of that, yea.
CH: It wasn't funny to us at the time, I'll tell you. I was out . . . I wasn't in the building at the time, I guess, when the word came through, but the First Sergeant of our company came around and rounded up all the men, get inside, get in the basement somewhere, because they didn't know if they were going blow us off the map or not. But they did try.
BL: What was the reaction of the men when they heard that?
CH: I don't know, everything kind of blended, blurred together. The thing is, when you're in combat some of them go to pieces, I mean have battle fatigue and things like that and most don't and well, if they get us they get us. That's all there is about it.
OH: That's Carl's philosophy.
CH: That was the way I felt about it.
BL: Prior to this you had combat experience, didn't you.
CH: Yea, we had crossed the Moselle River at Juneville [sp?]. We lost a lot of troops there. But we were experienced.
BL: So you'd been under fire before?
CH: Yes, I'd been under fire; that makes a difference. That first time under fire is the worst.
BL: Tell me about that just a little bit, the first time under fire.
CH: The first time under fire we, they, of course we moved from Cherbourg where we landed, across France with the, across France with the advanced detachment. The reason I was with that, they had taken three of out of our company to get experience digging land mines. We didn't have any practice with that in this country at all. Wasn't until we got over there and they assigned three of us to an engineer battalion to practice finding land mines. And we found all kinds of them. They had land mines that we never heard of. Antipersonnel. And they had others that were antitank and they buried those things, those antitank ones, ten deep. And I guess when the Americans first got over there found these land mines and starting pulling them out. When the buried them ten deep the first line was attached by batteries to the other nine, so that when the first one went off they'd all go off. We lost a lot of personnel. We were told not to, if we found a mine, don't touch it. And they had antipersonnel mines that the mine detectors wouldn't pick up because they had, cement mines. It was a tube of cement about that long [indicated about 6"] with a hole in the middle about this big around [indicated about 1 ½"] and the charge was in that center. And it set in a cradle. So when you walked across it, it would tip it out of there and blow the thing. Take their leg off. They were miserable. You had to watch yourself. And they had booby traps.
BL: What would they booby trap?
CH: Anything. Door, you'd open the door and the thing would go off. And even on dead bodies, on the Germans. Somebody would try to pick up a dead body and they'd move it and it would go off. That was some of the things they'd try. We didn't have anything like that. That was some of the cute things they did. But this is the 24th [interviewee was once again pointing to the map], this shows how hard they were trying to get in here, to the south. Our airplanes were, we saw some strafing, you could see them strafing from Bastogne.
BL: Was the United States air force pretty active then?
BL: Pretty effective?
CH: They were effective during the daytime. At night the Germans would come with their bombers and in daytime the American flyers would help. They said that London was fogged in, ah London, whole England was fogged in they couldn't get off the ground. So they couldn't help us at night. Of course, imagine they didn't know that they. We knew they weren't flying and we weren't too happy about it.
BL: Let me see how much tape I have left here. Oh we have plenty of tape here. We'll have to change it after a while. But we have plenty.
CH: This is by the day. This is Christmas Day. You see there's activity yet. Hammered in [?] German Battalion, ah, company. This is an airborne unit. This is our ammo, right here. See this is a round circle, oval?
CH: That means it's an armored unit. B, Combat Command B, and there's a ten in there somewhere. And one X, that's the emblem of the unit I was in. Of course it's in Bastogne.
BL: Well I imagine by this time everyone was getting pretty tired.
CH: Oh well, we were just keeping going, that's about all you can say. Yea, but, see here
BL: What kind of tactics were the Germans trying? Was it just . . . Could you give me any sense of what it was, was it frontal attacks?
CH: Frontal, anything. Mostly frontal attacks; they were trying to drive us out of there. And here's airborne, X, tanks, infantry, everything. See they were attacking from all sides, see all the red around here? In fact there is a drive down this way from coming in, in here. Trying to get in. A little earlier they were trying to get down into us. It was usually infantry. And there was some tanks. I was talking about the condition of the men, couldn't tell you what day it was anymore, but it was nighttime, the 9th armored division had a unit that got there before we did, it was what they called a reserve command, similar to what we were. But I understand that they were just chopped all to pieces. And the commanding officer of that reserve command lost everything and he had nothing left and he was in our headquarters, they just put him there to keep him out of the way, and one night I was walking down the corridor of the hotel, this old hotel, and I ran into him. He started to jabber something and I have no idea of what he was talking about. Completely crazy. And there was a lieutenant nearby and said, better get him out of here, he doesn't know what he's doing. That was the last we saw him. That was an example of what could happen our officers didn't usually lose it as badly as he did, and they were pretty steady. We had real some problems later on with mean breaking under combat. I think I didn't know anything of real mental problems.
BL: What about physical problems?
CH: Oh, they were starting to slow down. We didn't have any, I think we may have had some wounded slightly, but actually we stayed pretty close.
BL: Any weather related problems like trench foot?
CH: Well, not, not too many trench foot but I had some of that before we got there but I'd gotten rid of it. I'd picked up a case of athlete's foot back in the states before we left but it just went away. The only thing that happened to me was I fell down, I don't know it you could call it falling, I was, it was during an artillery attack and I fell down on the floor as fast as I could get and I split my hand open. And it started to get a little infection in it and the medics put some tape on it and a little sulfa powder and that was it. Basically we were lucky. But you never knew where it was going to hit. There were five officers in one of the basements in Bastogne and a shell hit and killed all five of them in one shot. But that's how things went. Is it going to hit me or isn't it. You didn't worry about it because if it got you, you didn't know about it. My main concern I guess if you want to talk about, mention that, I think the first concern was being taken prisoner. If they took Bastogne we'd of all been prisoners. And goodness knows what they would have done because they were a little upset, you know, being held up. And also we heard of this Malmedy massacre that took place over here somewhere [motioning to the map] and that was where the Germans had massacred about twenty American troops. We knew about that and we were prepared if they got us; you never knew what was going to happen. And that was our real big concern, as far as medical problems.
BL: Was that shared by a lot of men, that concern?
CH: Yea, they were concerned, yea.
OH: Because of the massacre over here they thought they had surrendered and then were massacred. Right?
CH: And actually it was just one of those things that you had to live through, that's all, there wasn't much you could do. You got out, you got out. But I couldn't forget . . . Actually the 25th we were . . .
OH: This is when I learned where he was, on Christmas Day.
BL: Well, how did you learn where he was?
CH: You want to tell him that?
OH: Yea, I was, we were, I'm from southern Illinois.
BL: Were you married at the time?
OH: Yea, we were married. We were married; well we had planned to get married in September.
BL: Of '44?
OH: Yea, Carl was down in Atlanta and I had gone down and we'd gotten married. He called me and said, we were going to come up here and be married in Trinity Church Oshkosh, I was going to come up here. And he said, I think that we should get married, you should come down here and we'll get married down here now because they had told us to take all out identification off our uniforms and that means that we are going overseas. So, I went down there . . .
BL: By train or did you drive?
OH: I went by train and I went down there August the 26th, 1944 and we were married we wanted to get . . . we were thinking about economics, too, and we could save money you know and by the time he got back we could have enough money together to buy a house. So we did. And two weeks after we were married he was in France. Then I never saw him again for two years.
BL: How did you hear about where he was?
OH: So, I had come up here to be with Grandpa and Grandma Harrmann because, you know, we were both - I hadn't heard from him in six weeks. It had been six weeks since I had heard from him. And I knew something was going on, we knew there was a big German drive in Europe.
BL: How did you know there was a drive in Europe? Newspapers?
OH: Newspapers here. And I wondered where in the world he was. So at Christmas Day somebody cut out of the one of the papers, and one of the officers I knew was with the 10th Armored Division. And I said to Grandpa Harrmann, I know where Carl is now because this article in the paper about how they had put up a little Christmas tree, on Christmas Day they had got a little Christmas tree. And I said to grandpa that Carl's in Bastogne, but until then I didn't know whether he was dead or alive. So when I said terrible, it was that time that I found out, and the six weeks of not hearing from him, and knowing that he was in Bastogne, and knowing that there was a great big, well a lot of activity around there, a great many people were killed. They didn't say 80,000, but we knew there was a great battle. We knew there was a great battle there. And we found out later 80,000. Was that Americans?
CH: 80,000 casualties, 80,000 American casualties. Before they stopped fighting. That was this, plus they were chasing the Germans back.
B: So you knew he was there but you had no communication, none whatsoever.
OH: No, no. No communication with him whatsoever. I knew he was there but I didn't know if he was dead or alive. See, knowing whether he was dead or alive was a terrible thing, of course with his parents, too. And I don't know how long it was, it was several weeks before I heard from him.
BL: And how did you hear from him?
OH: Letter. I got a letter from him. I kept thinking, are they going to deliver me a telegram, are they going to deliver me a telegram? Are they going to deliver me a terror-gram?
B: You know, talk to me a little bit, Odessa, about telegrams.
OH: They sent telegrams, you know, if your husband or your son was killed.
BL: So of you saw the telegram delivery person . . .
OH: Oh, then I'd go panic, you know. But I never saw, I kept thinking, so far so good, so far so good, so far so good. I didn't have a telegram that he was dead. They usually wore dog tags and I knew that they would know, he'd be identified by dog tags, but I never got anything. Then I got more hopeful, more hopeful that he was alive then finally I got a letter from him. Knew he was alive, but you know a censored letter, everything was censored, I didn't know anything about, anything about these things he's telling you.
B: Was there anyway that you used to get your mind off worrying about your husband? Was there any thing that you did in particular?
OH: Well, I was working but, see, I wrote to him. I never missed writing to him even though - I came home and I wrote to him every singe day.
BL: Every day?
OH: Every single day [said with emphasis]. Of course, I don't know whether he got bored, but he said he didn't. Tell him about
CH: Any kind of communication. See, we couldn't write, we didn't have a chance to write a letter a lot of time, we were goodness knows where. And we'd write when we had a chance, but a lot of times we didn't even have paper or pencil to write.
OH: But I wrote every day. I wrote what I was doing. And he said he wasn't bored because he was interested in what I was doing. I was working.
BL: Where were you working?
OH: I was working, I'm from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, down near St. Louis, and I was personnel. I worked for AT & T in personnel. Personnel Department. I was just working. Just telling him some of the things I would do, I was doing. Just communication. That's all. We could send boxes every so often. Boxes to him, you know, from home. And every six weeks, I can't remember now how often we could send a box to him; I would send homemade candy, homemade cookies. And finally there was a canning factory there that, you know, canned like vegetables, and we, mother said why don't we send him some fried chicken? So mother fried the chicken and we took it down to the canning factory, you know seal it, and we sent him I don't know how many cans of fried chicken. And I guess when they got that they were just delighted.
BL: Did you get it?
CH: Yea. I remember we ate it when we were in Metz, France. Seems like a lot of things get blurry after time.
BL: What did think when you opened that fried chicken?
CH: Oh we were glad to get it. By that time we were in rest area again, we were going into action again, but we were glad to get anything, really.
OH: You know, some of the other girls were, Margaret [last name unclear], my friend, was in the same situation. Her husband was in France saving Paris but I can't remember what [unit] he was in, but he was in Paris, and we would get together after work at nighttime and make candy and cookies and you know box them up and send them. My brother had this idea, that he said this chicken was delicious and he shared it with some of the men and, I got a letter right back, send me some more of that fried chicken. [laughter] But the canning factory had closed and I couldn't send it to him. Of course at that time we didn't have plastics, you know and the way I'd have to fix things, I'd have to put popcorn, you know pack it with popcorn, you know use popcorn and then he could eat it, pack things in. So it was quite a, it was terrible, it was terrible. Just not knowing where, knowing he was in Bastogne and knowing that there was a terrible battle there and not knowing if he was dead or alive that was the worst part of it. But here, this good [indicating the map that Carl was holding]
CH: He's when the 4th Armored came in to relieve us.
OH: 4th Armored?
CH: Yea, up this way, see the 4th Armored Division? Tanks.
BL: And that was the 26th, the day after Christmas.
OH: Was that Patton, Carl?
CH: That was part of Patton. See, we were in Third Army. Patton was over, 4th Armored was part of his division.
OH: Patton came in to relieve them. They came in, Carl said they came in to see McAuliffe and all McAuliffe said was, "Glad to see you." Commander, you know.
BL: What happened when the relief column came?
CH: Well, we were beat. Tired and didn't have anything left. We were pulled out, I think about, I'd say we left, this is the 26th, I think there's a date on here, one of the last ones. We pulled out.
OH: Look at this wonderful one [map] Look, it's all blue. They came in to relive them.
CH: We were pulled out and
OH: That's Patton, isn't it Carl?
CH: No that's 4th Armored. This way.
OH: Isn't that wonderful?
BL: Yes, it is.
CH: They pulled us out. I've got the 28th, the little town west of Bastogne, farm town probably maybe 100 people lived there, and we were put there to get readjusted and more equipment, a rest area, and we stayed, we were there, oh, a couple weeks, but we still had the headquarters here in Bastogne although we were out, we had to have someone in Bastogne every day, I had that duty one day and had to go back. See they came up, but can't remember . . .but that was it, we were out. We were happy to get out of there, I'll tell you.
BL: I'll bet you were. I'm going to put a new tape in before we go on.
TAPE 2 of 2
BL: Fresh tape, nice clean tape. Now we're ready.
OH: They have a tremendous, the Belgian people have erected a tremendous World War. We were sitting there at the 50th wedding, 50th, it was out 50th wedding anniversary, too, 50th anniversary, that's a scene from this [pointing to a book on Bastogne showing a museum exhibit], and a man came up .. .
BL: Carl, do you think they did an accurate job depicting what it was like?
CH: Well, yea. They made one mistake. Somebody gave them some bad information. I happen to know because I was right there when it happened. Two tank drivers came into our headquarters and talked to the intelligence officer, we were all one group and all one division everybody knew every thing else, and said a train had come in and dropped some box cars off and took off again. And they were wondering if the Germans were bringing troops in to try and infiltrate the area. And Johnson, Major Johnson was the intelligence officer, went to see what was going on and, what happened was, there was nothing there, nothing to it. What happened was the situation was so fluid that the railroad didn't even know that the Germans were attacking and they kept their trains running and just dropped a couple of box cars off. And here [pointing to museum catalog] they seemed to think that they were trying to bring in troops, but that wasn't the case at all. When Johnson got back he told us what happened.
BL: Does anything particularly vivid stick out in your mind as a memory during that week that you were there?
CH: It started to blur. So many things were happening so fast that, but mainly, we were just there ready to move at a moment's notice because you never knew what was going to happen. All of a sudden they could launch a big attack against you and that's it.
OH: Another thing, Carl, I was sitting there by that [unclear something "world at war" may be the monument at the museum] the Belgian people erected that to the American people, the Americans. States are on here, every state, all the United States. Wisconsin is back in here. My grandson went up on top of it and we had his picture taken. We were sitting there and a man came up, probably about Carl's age, and first thing every body would say is, were you here? were you here? And he said, "were you here?" and Carl said, yes. He said, I'm from the 101st Airborne. So he was there, too. And he said to Carl, they made a mistake about the bombing. They had the bombing on Christmas Day and it was Christmas Eve and he had caught that, too. But it was . . .
BL: Were you involved in the push, then, to drive the Germans back?
CH: No, we didn't
OH: No, they rested.
CH: We were pulled out and put back in the rest area. See, we had the first [name of a Belgian town, unclear] little town, and we stayed there.
OH: They had done their due; they had held Bastogne. They held Bastogne.
CH: We left and they pulled us south. Our next push was toward the Rhine, first the Saar and then the Rhine.
OH: They took over, didn't they. They pushed them back.
CH: Well, they had the 11th Armored, too. They had been in combat before; but they, the 11th Armored was another one that used to take our place. We had no tanks or anything. I guess our company, our headquarters, was fortunate. I think we lost one half-track when a bomb hit it and destroyed it. I don't know if we lost any tanks or not.
OH: They did what they were supposed to do. They held Bastogne.
CH: I understand that there were instructions Colonel Lawrence had, stay there, hold all. Not Colonel Lawrence, Colonel Roberts. Colonel Lawrence was killed in an airplane accident.
OH: But that's what they did. They held it. They did what they were told.
BL: It's a great event in American history, something we can all be very proud of, what happened there at that town. Under terrible conditions.
CH: Oh, it was about the worst fighting conditions you could imagine, you know. And they weren't prepared for it. See the Germans had, you know, I told you about the white uniforms and whitewash, we had nothing, no supplies laid ahead or anything or something like that. They caught us off balance.
BL: You know what I'd like to do is back up for a minute if I could. And I'd like to talk about the years before the United States entered the war. Before Pearl Harbor. Did you, what did you know about the war that was happening? Did you have any thoughts about it? Or did you think the United States was going to stay out of the war? Did you think that we would eventually get in? Did you have any thoughts at all?
CH: I thought we'd be in it. I wasn't drafted right away. I was drafted in April of '42. We were in the war December '41.
BL: Were you here in Oshkosh at the time?
CH: Yea, yea. I was drafted from here. I, my army serial number, I could tell you that. 36224401. Three meant I was drafted, six meant I was in the sixth service command, let's see, sixth is Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Those two things can tell you right away what's going on. See I had some experiences before I got over there to Europe. I had a pretty good idea what was going on with all the records and how the records were kept. I was in the 10th Armored, in fact, I came up to Oshkosh for a visit wanted to meet my folks, we weren't married, and in February.
OH: See, we did it properly.
CH: February of '43 and, no '44, yeah '44.
OH: We were married in '44. I can't remember when we came up here.
CH: February of '44.
OH: Because your mother came down to meet my family, too.
CH: And I had to go back, had so many days on a furlough and I had to go back, and I got back on Friday night, got back to Camp Gordon, and next morning the Company Clerk came up to me and said to me, "Good bye." What's going on? I'm not going anywhere. Yes you are. You've been assigned to the 17th Machine Records Unit. Back then; I said, what's a Machine Records Unit? I never heard of that. You'll find out. It was in Atlanta. I knew something about Atlanta when we were ready to get married there, contacts and I knew something about the city. And it turned out that the Machine Records Units was part of a Corps. And they process personnel records. You've seen punch cards? Little holes? They use those to keep track of each soldier, each enlisted man and each officer had at least one card, each one. That's how they kept track of them. The 9th Corps at that time had something like a hundred thousand men and the records unit taken care of by Machine Records Unit of about 50 men.
BL: That's pretty amazing.
CH: But I learned a lot about the Army's and, and excellent background, and what they did and how they did things, while I was there. So I had better information that most people had on what a Machine, how they did things.
BL: What did you think of Pearl Harbor? How did you hear about it and what did you think when Pearl Harbor happened?
CH: You wouldn't believe it. I was listening to the Packers on radio and they interrupted the Packer game to tell us that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. It was on a Sunday. Of course, I already had a draft status and had been deferred because of poor eyesight and so I was still out. But I figured, they're going to get me now because it was just a matter of time. Took them until April.
BL: And Odessa, where were you when heard about Pearl Harbor?
OH: I was at Mt. Vernon [Illinois], you know. I remember I heard it. I didn't know Carl at that time.
BL: And what did you think when you heard it?
OH: Well, I was unimpressionable. Didn't think much about it. I was with my friends. You know, I was like, how old was I?
CH: Twenty one?
OH: In my twenties. Early twenties. I didn't get excited about it. I didn't, after Carl and I got married is when I, when he went overseas and when I was very impressed with the war. And it was the European Theater that I was always interested in, too. Not the Pacific. It was selfish of me, I guess, but I was just interested in where Carl was.
BL: Where Carl was, your husband was. What was the mood like in the country? After Pearl Harbor. Could you give me a sense of what it was like? Do you have any recollections or memories?
OH: Well, yea. You know everything was rationed. You knew that. We had food stamps,
OH: Couldn't buy much[?] , I had a hold of, I worked for AT & T in the Personnel Department and cigarettes were very scarce and every once in a while someone would have cigarettes. And the boys down stairs would call up and say, they have cigarettes, would you go over and get me some? Course they'd buy some and they'd, and then I could buy some, or the girls in the department could buy some. I remember I was always going over to buy some; I didn't smoke; to buy them cigarettes. Cigarettes and food was rationed. Meat was rationed.
OH: Sugar was rationed. We didn't have any big problems with doing without. But we used our stamps.
CH: What a waste of the Army's sugar. My Gosh, I stopped using sugar in my coffee because they put so much sugar in there I couldn't stand it and I used to drink it without sugar.
OH: Gasoline was . . .
CH: Yea, gasoline. Course, there again it was quite a contrast. Gasoline was rationed for the people but our tanks, a small one, a light tank got three miles to the gallon, a medium tank got one mile to the gallon. I don't what a truck got, probably about five. Stop and think about how much gasoline they, that could be used by an armored division.
BL: A lot.
CH: A lot, yes.
OH: Well that's the idea of Bastogne. Stopping the Germans from getting . . .
CH: The Germans . . .
OH: The American gas dump at Liege. That's why the American's had to hold Bastogne to keep the Germans from getting to Liege. To the American gasoline down there. That's how strategic Bastogne was. That's the whole idea.
BL: Well back at home do you think that everyone, was there a sense that everyone was pulling together? That people were unified?
OH: Oh, yea. We were Americans. Oh, yea. We hated the Japanese more than we did the Germans I think.
BL: You think?
CH: I think so. I was always glad I was in Europe rather than in the Pacific.
CH: Well first of all, it was just the idea that, the climate in that area, see they were fighting down in the jungle area, and it was, that was something else. I think a lot of soldiers probably got jungle diseases that we didn't get up in our area. We had the cold but we could stand that. We didn't have any jungle fever or anything like that.
OH: Europe was more like the United States.
CH: Yea, more like this country.
BL: But you hated the Japanese more?
OH: As I remember we did. They had kamikaze pilots, you know. Germans wouldn't do such a thing as that. You've heard of kamikaze pilots?
CH: Another thing, I think the Army tended to be a little more, be easier on the American, German-Americans, than on the Japanese-Americans. The Japanese were all put in their own Army units, where they were medics and things like that but wouldn't be in combat. They didn't trust the Japanese too far. There was a Japanese, what they called, Japanese group, 442nd Army Group made up of strictly Japanese. Except the officers, and they were assigned to fight in Italy. They wouldn't allow them near the Pacific front.
BL: Did you know anything, or hear anything about German concentration camps?
Had you heard anything at all?
OH: No. We were so surprised. Carl, I think he had heard about it. But here in the United States we, I didn't have an inkling of those.
BL: Carl what about you? Did you hear anything as you got to Europe?
CH: Well, we liberated a concentration camp group in Germany. Actually the camp had been liberated before we got there. The inmates were lined along the street in those, you know those striped uniforms, and they were just sitting there blank. No emotion. They had been released and nothing seemed to bother them and no . . .
OH: That was terrible.
BL: What did you think when you saw that?
CH: We were on the move, we were moving fast, we didn't have time to stop and think about anything. Fact, one of those times we moved, we started at night and were still moving in the daytime. And just getting summer about the time we ran into them. Some other group had come in there before we had. But we didn't have a chance to do anything, just keep on going.
BL: One of the things I'm interested in is, I'm curious if you have any combat experiences that you want to relate. You mentioned a little about the mines.
CH: Well, reserve was usually far enough behind that you never knew where you were going to be. Usually you had the front line, so, we got artillery [enemy artillery fire], we got plenty of that thrown at us. I guess our feeling there was, there was an old saying in the combat area, if you hear shell go by, you hear them whistle, you know, if you hear that you're safe. The one that's gonna get you you'll never hear. And, well, an example of something happened, in Bastogne . .
OH: Am I bothering you with this rattle? [folding maps]
BL: Yes, right, you shouldn't do it. I'd prefer that you didn't.
CH: I was in one place one day and I heard German 88 shells go over. They had a certain whistle to them. And that was a deadly, that was really an excellent artillery piece if you're on one side. It was built originally for anti-aircraft but they found they could use it for anti-personnel just as well. And they were throwing some of that stuff at us and I was there and I could hear them go over. And I went to the same area the next day and the whole thing, where I was, was all blown to pieces. Kindling wood. So I mean you never knew. There was no safe place.
OH: As far as combat, Carl told you he was in headquarters, you know.
BL: Did you know he was out of combat? Front line combat. Did you know that, Odessa?
OH: Did I know that?
BL: Or was it censored to the point where you weren't aware of that, really?
OH: I knew he was in headquarters. Didn't I?
CH: Oh, yea.
OH: I knew he was in headquarters but you want to remember that he had a college degree at the time and they used him where they felt he would fit in best, you know? The heads. And Carl was one of the heads. They put in him where they thought he would be more helpful to them, so he worked at headquarters.
CH: Well one of the worst, actually on the long time involved, but I think the worst almost, Bastogne lasted longer, but crossing the Saar River in Germany by Saarbrucken, we were trying to get across the Saar. The river flows into the Moselle. And Patton, they claim I read later, that he, that was one of the things he wanted to do to get across that Saar River. Aside from that, we were in Germany at the time and we had kind of a temporary headquarters set up, and some officer came in and said, General Patton's here. He came in and told the Colonel what he wanted done. I got a good look at him, I imagine he was probably from here about, oh the next room from here away from him [indicating about 20']. High squeaky voice. He was a big man. And he told, I'm not going to use some of the language he had, because it's
OH: Oh, he had colorful language.
CH: But he told him to get across the Saar River. And he again is an example of what a combat command could become, he told him he was going to give the Colonel all the infantry that was in the 10th Armored Division, there were three battalions. They were going to be under his command and he was suppose to get across the Saar. It turned out the Saar wasn't a very big river but it lies in a valley, it goes like that. [motioning with his hands to form a steep valley]. You had to go down one side and wind down, and then go back up the other side. When you're on this side trying to get down and the Germans are on the other side shooting at you. And to top things off we had an ambulance right in front of us. With big red marking on it. So they weren't shooting at the ambulance throwing mortar shells at us and they'd moved up a few, maybe 50 feet and stop. And the minute they'd stop that half-track, we went onto the ground. We finally got across the Saar but that was a
BL: So it was pretty heavily defended, uh?
CH: Well, it was strong because it was easy to defend because they, it lay in such a valley, and even after we got across and got on the other side they were still shooting at us pretty hard. Set one of our trucks on fire, among other things they, well they had killed one of the Colonels, our battalion commander, part of our unit, so that was really touch-and-go.
OH: Carl, the Germans were very much aware of Patton's whereabouts because he was the most feared of all the generals, right?
CH: Yea. Yea, that's right.
BL: Was it surprising to you that the Germans were still fighting?
CH: No, they weren't ready to give up. It wasn't until the very end that they gave up.
OH: I think that's what he means.
CH: Yea, they held out very long. Fact, we were down heading toward Austria, we were in the 7th Army at that time, we had cut south, and we stopped in this one town and they just had, they had mostly given up in droves because we must have had a thousand prisoners in that little town. There were a lot more of them than there were of us. But they weren't going to do anything.
BL: Did that surprise you?
CH: No, not really. By that time it was pretty well determined. They were starting to run out of gasoline for one thing. They had plenty of men left, it wasn't a question of manpower. There was no gasoline and equipment.
OH: That's why Bastogne was so important.
BL: Could you tell the difference between the Germans at that time as compared to when you first got to France?
CH: Yea, I think they fought harder. The invasion was pretty well,
it was over by that time. Any time we went east toward them they were difficult.
BL: That was in the fall of '44?
BL: So there was quite a difference.
CH: Oh yeah. They were still able to fight quite hard.
OH: The cities were all blown to pieces. That's only what you saw there.
CH: They did a lot of bombing, but still they kept their supplies up much as they could.
OH: The people to persevere.
BL: When you were back in the States in training, did you have a feeling that you were going to go over there and it would be easy, or did you...
CH: We never knew. We knew we were going to Europe, pretty good idea we were going to Europe but we had no idea what we were going to run into.
BL: You have any preconceived idea of how it was going to be?
CH: No, not really. It was gonna be combat, but you never knew what you were going to run into. They trained you but, some of things you didn't, there was know way of training, of knowing in advance what was going to happen.
BL: Like what?
CH: The Germans had different things they did. One of the things in training, you always, when you were out in the field, you always stayed in the woods. Camouflage, camouflage. We got over there and the first thing we were told, stay out of the woods. The Germans had developed what they called a tree burst. Very sensitive nose on the artillery. It was so sensitive it came and hit up near a tree, I think by the time you [ ], and of course it's better artillery piece than that, the ones on the ground. And you were safer in the open field than in a wooded area.
BL: They didn't teach you any of that?
CH: No. Just the opposite. In fact, an example of how it'd been drilled into army personnel - well, we had a problem - our division commander, and our combat commander were up in Washington D.C. just before we went overseas, a couple months. And they were coming back to Camp [Worden] by plane, and the plane hit [Lookout] Mountain, and killed the division commander and our combat commander. We knew the division commander, we knew him. General. Major general. But the one thing hit us was the fact that Colonel Lawrence was our combat commander - he was one of us. The reason I bring that up, they replaced them almost immediately with another general. And he brought with him his chief of staff, just like the movie on the president. Of course there was much changeover, but he brought his chief of staff with him. And [ ] chief of staff had to go. He was out. So we picked him up overseas. One night we were in France somewhere, not too far from the front. And Colonel Roberts was going somewhere and Colonel Raymond, the then-chief of staff, said, I think the Germans are gonna attack the new troops, let's go move out in the woods! So the lieutenant colonel, also named Roberts, but no relation, was shaken about it so he tried to stop it but he outranked him. So out in the woods we went. And by the time we got back later, we got back the next morning, [ ] the French town, they said Colonel Roberts was upset, to say the least. That was the last we saw of Colonel Raymond. But that was exact training - it was so drilled in, the first thing you thought, and it wasn't the thing to do at all. And other things [ ].
BL: So there were certain things that simply you couldn't train for.
CH: No. There were other things that we did, you've probably seen the GIs with the helmets strapped under their chin, we had ours strapped to the back of our helmets, and the reason for that was, when an artillery shell came in, and you had that helmet on, the vibration was so great, that if you had that strapped under your chin it could break your neck, so we strapped it in back. There again, that was something that changed overseas.
BL: Even though you were in headquarters company, did you carry a rifle?
CH: No, I had a carbine. M-1 carbine, much smaller gun. It was not a great weapon but...anybody working in headquarters had either that or...well, the two grades of officers - there's the company grade and the field grade. Field grade: major and above, they carried pistols. The company grade officers and all the rest of us in the headquarters carried carbines.
BL: You said that wasn't too great a weapon. Why was that?
CH: No, it was light - light weapon - small rifle, really, but much smaller shell. It doesn't... [ ] There again, we were around Cherbourg, getting read to go across France and I was supposed to go to the attachment and somebody came and said, go and see the first sergeant, he wants to give you some ammunition. See, we had rifles but they wouldn't give you any ammunition. When you see these fellas on guard duty, most of the time they don't have any ammunition. So I was given 10 rounds of ammunition. I knew then that things were getting pretty serious. And I was unrestricted, you do what's, if you had to fire the gun you fired it, and that was it. I never did. I had no opportunity to. But I had to carry 10 rounds of ammunition and a carbine. It's a small weapon. I'll look in the book, there's maybe a picture of it, I don't know if I can find it or not.
BL: What happened at the end of the war, Carl, when Germany surrendered?
CH: We were down in Austria, had just gotten into the Alps. We knew that things were falling apart for Germany.
BL: From signs that you saw or from information that you received?
CH: Both ways. The war was not over officially, yet. A German command car drove up to headquarters with a white flag. The German surrendered his unit to us. That was the end of the war as far as we were concerned. They wouldn't let us go any further, 'cause down in the Alps, those various roads are small, and sitting on the side of a mountain, and the enemy could stand on the mountain and throw things down at them. So we only got a short distance into Austria, and they wouldn't let us go ahead. They sent infantry troops on toward Italy through us, we couldn't go any further. That was about a week before the war ended. By the time the war ended, we knew it was all over.
BL: Did you have a party?
CH: Oh, we were glad.
OH: Did you have a party?
CH: We had several. I think there were all kinds of bottles of things that came up that had been hid for a long time. And they stopped censorship right away. That was it.
OH: Sometimes I'd get letters and I couldn't make sense out of them because they were blanked out.
BL: How often did you get letters, Odessa, were they sporadic?
OH: Yeah, they'd come in bunches.
CH: That's the way the post office, sent from overseas, they'd bunch them up and send them home. I'd write them every day. Of course once we turned them loose that was it, we didn't know what happened.
BL: How about you, how often did you get mail? How often did they bring it?
CH: You never knew. Here and there. I think when we first went overseas I imagine I had about 20 letters finally caught up with me over there. But we never knew when we'd get anything. Here. That's a carbine [ ] just now.
OH: That was quite a - everybody was crying, when we were talking about that, at that...
BL: Very emotional?
OH: People were there that had been there...
BL: I can understand that, I really can get a sense of that.
OH: Just think what those boys went through.
BL: Carl, do you keep in touch with anybody from your unit?
CH: I'm about the only one that I know of from Wisconsin who was in the 10th Armored. Most of the personnel in the headquarters, as an example, they were draftees. In Minnesota, a couple from North Dakota, and then the northeast part of the United States - Massachusetts, all the way up to Maine. Then there was a sprinkling of other ones all around the country. As far as I know I was the only one from Wisconsin.
This is about what the gun looks like, right here. The smaller weapon.
BL: So what happened, then, after the war? When did you get back to the United States?
CH: We were down in the southern area of Germany, in Bavaria, little town of Tegernsee, Tiger. We were the Tiger Division. That's where [ ] - they didn't know what was going to happen. The war in the Pacific was still on. I was working at headquarters. We had paper stacked up to the...were not looked at during the war because we were too busy. So I was going through those papers and trying to straightened things out. That was my job. That was a nice job, because nobody knew about it. I could work at my own pace [ ] always busy and all that. But anyway, we were doing that. The first sergeant came up to me and he said do you want to go to an MRU. Are you kidding? No. Sure I'll go. I thought so, he said, put your name in.
BL: What's MRU?
CH: Machine Records Unit. They had one in Munich. Part of 3rd Army Headquarters. He says, don't say anything to Major Johnson, the artilleries officer. He had told me before that, they were going to reorganize the division to go over to the Pacific. Not too happy about that. They had a couple that worked in headquarters that had been in a long time - they were regular army, they had been taken out, and they were going to do some promoting within the headquarters. He says you're gonna be my intelligence sergeant. Five stripes. Still not too happy. I want to go home. Anyway, the orders came through transferring me to 3rd Army Headquarters in Munich and I had to tell Johnson. Oh, boy. You can't go! You're too important! Well, company headquarters, here are the orders. There was an officer in the headquarters that had the ability to decide who goes where. He said, Want to go to Munich? Yes. Go ahead. So I ended up in Munich. That was a picnic. They never stood in a formation, the unit commander was a son of the American Red Cross president, his wife was a daughter of an army general, he had his own home in Munich!
BL: Well, that must have made you pretty happy, Odessa.
BL: What did you do at the end of the war?
OH: What did I do?
BL: When you heard about Germany surrendering.
OH: [ ] You came home on my birthday, didn't you?
CH: Well, see, it took them awhile to get around to it. I went to Munich and I was there three or four months waiting for shipment. And finally they took us to Marseilles, France port and we came home on a [ ] ship, boy that was a tub. And the weather was bad. We lost a couple days because of high seas and the waves - by the time we [ ] ship was gonna break in two, and everything else. And they landed in Boston on the 24th of December. And I called her and told her where I was. And by the 29th we were going from Boston to Fort Sheridan to be discharged and the 29th I was out. I was moving.
CH: Got home to see her on her birthday.
BL: Pretty good birthday present, huh.
OH: That was something. I was interested when we were there at the 50 year anniversary. Everybody had the same reaction. We had lived through a horrible time, especially the boys that were there, but I suppose the wives were, the British wives were in the same situation I was. They didn't know where they were, they didn't know whether they...We didn't know, this officer from the 101st Airborne I talked to in Bastogne, this is the greatest war memorial that's ever been erected. And this is the greatest battle that was ever fought. Carl and I didn't know that, but he said that history shows that this is the greatest battle that was ever fought. He said there was 80,000 men killed here. The Belgian people have a 10th Armored tank sitting right in the middle of their square there.
BL: You know, we just have a little bit of tape left, but I wonder if there's anything that either of you want to say, anything that you want to convey, when this education comes about, or this publication comes about, if there's anything you want in there...
OH: I wish people could see how the Belgian people appreciate what the American Army, the boys that were at Bastogne did for them, they held Bastogne to keep the Germans from getting the gasoline up at Liege. I don't think what the boys did at Bastogne is appreciated is as much as it should be. I think that's one of the greatest things that happened during the whole war. Because no telling how long the war had been prolonged if they hadn't held Bastogne. And the Belgian people know that. That's why this great memorial is there, and that's why the Belgian people erected it because the war would have been - there's no telling what would have happened if they hadn't held Bastogne.
BL:And Carl, how about you?
CH: Well, actually, at the time I didn't know it, but Bastogne was a battle ground for a number of other wars. WWI, the Germans came through there. And I had a three-day pass to Paris. And this Arche de Triomphe - there are markers in one of the arches, a tribute to battles of French Army. One of the [markers?] is Bastogne. That was a previous time, that wasn't WWII.
BL: What would you like us to convey to students today? Is there anything that you think important to put in that publication?
CH: I can't think of anything, can you?
OH: Except what I said, it isn't publicized too much, but I don't think it's appreciated as much...of course I lived through it and I know what happened.
BL: As I said, Odessa, we want people to know what it was like to wait for a loved one, too.
OH: Like I said, I hadn't heard from him for six weeks and then I found out that he was at Bastogne, I knew there was a great battle, and I didn't know if he was dead or alive...it was terrible.
BL: I really appreciate this interview, both of you, I really do. Thank you both very much.
|Oral History Interview with Carl S. Harrmann and Odessa Harrmann
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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