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Record 60/959

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Oral history interview with Harvey Rates. On October 6, 1941, Harvey was drafted into the army. His unit was the 251st Signal Construction Company, a non-divisional unit for much of its life. Harvey spent time in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, Tunisia and Algiers, Algeria wiring communications. Harvey's unit went to France, landing at St. Tropez. They were attached to Gen. M. Clark's 6th Army Group and worked their way up into Germany. Harvey briefly saw Dachau after it was liberated; he worked nearby. On October 6, 1945, Harvey was discharged from the service with the rank of Pfc. Harvey Rates Interview 24 February 2004 Conducted by Thomas M. Sullivan (T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; H: identifies the subject, Harvey Rates. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear). T: It's February 24th, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the home of Harvey Rates at 2018 Oregon St. in Oshkosh. Harvey is going to tell me about his experiences in the Second World War as well as his life in Oshkosh. Are you ready Harvey? H: Yes, yes. T: Let's begin then by having you tell me when and where you were born? H: I was born on 8th Street in Oshkosh and I didn't know that because when I was a young kid we moved from there because my dad was a stationary steam engineer and he working to the Badger and stuff like that, so we moved to 5th Street. And my mother always said, "You were born on 8th Street." Must have moved from there when I was just a baby. And I found a book, I've got a shop on Oregon Street, I found a little city directory that I was born on 8th Street in Oshkosh. T: I guess many people were born in the home then rather than in a hospital. H: Right, right. T: What was the date of your birth? H: December 18th, 1916. T: Were your mother and dad both from the Oshkosh area? H: Yeah. Well they were brought up on a farm. My mother was from around Eldorado on a farm and then bein single, she moved to Oshkosh and worked for Mrs. Fritsch; they had the wagon works. And then my dad, well my father he worked like I said, he was an engineer, a steam engineer. He worked in St. Louis, [Altman Taylor] Company. Big steam engines. You seen them already. And then he was what they called a field man. When they would sell an engine, they'd send him out with the engine, you know. And then he came back in fall, home again to Oshkosh. And not being married, he thrashed around the farmers. And so he must have met my mother on a farm. That's how he met my mother again. And all of their life they lived in Oshkosh here. T: Do you have brothers and sisters? H: They're all dead. I'm the only one in the family. T: How many brothers or sisters did you have? H: Well I had one sister and well, let's see, with me - three brothers. That would be five in the family. My oldest brother, well he lived in Oshkosh during the war. He was a master machinist. He had a shop next to Bell Machine. He done all work for the government, military work. And even after that he done all work for Leach Company and everything. And another one of my brothers was Melvin. He was a body man, expert body man. And the younger one was Fred. And them two, they were in service. One was in the Pacific and Fred was over in Europe there in a... T: Tell me a little bit about your childhood Harvey. Where did you go to school and things like that. H: Well I started school in the Franklin School on 6th Street in Oshkosh. And then when my dad worked at the Peoples Brewery, he was engineer at the Peoples Brewery so he, they had to walk to work. They had cars but they never run em in the winter so then we moved to Nebraska Street. 16th and Nebraska. And then I had to go to the Smith School. They had up to the 6th grade there. And then after the 6th grade we moved again and I had to go to the Jefferson School and I went there till the 8th grade. And then I had a motorcycle. It was during the Depression and stuff. I was trapping and things and going out in the country and trapping at my uncle's, skunks and different things like that. And I got cracked up on the motorcycle. I couldn't even walk all winter. Hobbling around on one leg and stuff like that. And the next year I went back to school, vocational school. And I took up machinist because my brother had machinist. My brother didn't even go through what they had there. He just made everything. He was that far ahead already. Just a young guy, that far ahead. He made everything for the teacher. Vises and things like that. Well than I had mechanical drawing and machine shop there. T: What year did you get out of Vocational School. H: Oh cripe. I had to go till I was 18 so what year would that be? T: Well, about '34. H: Somewhere in there. T: So we were right in the depths of the Depression then. H: Yes. In the depths of the Depression. T: Can you remember anything about the Depression? Did it hit your family pretty hard? Was your dad employed? H: It hit everybody hard. I know that we had Hoover in for the president. In my lifetime that's the worst president that I know of or even heard of. And then my dad even being an engineer like at the Badger Lumber Company and things like that, he even got laid off there for awhile there. And we hadda get - the government gave us canned things from Argentina - beef and all things like that. The neighbors got things. And some stuff they wouldn't eat and we'd trade different things. And then the DNR or something, they had fish traps and stuff in. And they have an ad in the paper, come and pick up lawyers and rough fish. And we'd go down there with a market basket on Otter Street because the city garage was down there then. And with a basket; "How many you want? How many in the family?" Well you tell em five, he'd load em all full of fish. You'd have fish. And well, we fished too, we were just young yet but we were living right on 5th Street, right near the river. Everybody fished white bass and fished you know, all the time. T: Do you think Oshkosh in general was pretty deeply affected by the Depression? H: Oh yeah. There were hardly anybody worked, I think. If you had a job, I mean nine out of ten that I can remember didn't even have a job then. Then I got on in a little later '30s when the Depression just was going over, I worked on the railroad. And the only reason I got on the railroad, we had like what they call a gang [five], stuck his hands together, you know. This one guy's brother, he worked on a section on the Northwestern. And then they had a… The foreman must have told him, if you know any good guys or something, we need about five or six guys. Because they hadda lay new steel from the CF tower out here through Larson, Winchester and all over there for what they call hundred and twenty pound steel. There's a big passenger train went through up into Minnesota every weekend. And then they had ninety-pound rail in and it wasn't heavy enough for that train. And I worked there for I guess it was 36 or 30 cent an hour. And you worked there six months you got laid off, that you wouldn't get any seniority. They laid you off after six months right to the day. T: They had it all figured out. H: They had it all figured out and then in the winter when it showed and that, we know it all ready, worked on the Soo Line on the Northwestern like that. We'd go down and take a shovel and shovel snow for 30 cent an hour, no overtime or nothin. Hadda clean off all the roads and crossings and switches and all that. 30 cent an hour. Through Paines and all them places. Yeah, that was rough. Oh, and I also trapped. I was a young kid. I trapped like muskrat and that. You had a big fur house here in Oshkosh. One of the biggest in the country. The [Percy] Fur Company. Right on Main Street. T: What was their name again? H: Percy. Percy Fur. Cause even when I was going to school, I wasn't eighteen yet. And I trapped like oh the North Park in Miller's Bay. There was all marsh there. I had maybe seven, eight, ten traps. I'd go out there on a bicycle in the morning and look at my traps, you know. And it was through the ice. And no rubber gloves or nothing. I'd come to school with my sleeves froze right to the [ ]. Couldn't get my shirts off. Like in spring when they're breeding and that, they're running and breeding and if you got lines set some days that have five, six muskrats. Four, three, and sometimes they'd snap the trap. But I got a dollar, dollar and a quarter for a muskrat. And if I got five of em a day, that's more than you made in a couple of days. Then I'd go down on Buehler's on Main Street and buy a ring of bologna for about fifteen cent. And hamburger at six cent a pound. And take all this stuff home to eat. Yeah, so that helped there. And then well that's like anything else. I liked to do that. Even after I got out of the service I done that too. T: When did you go into the service Harvey? H: October 6th, 1941. So that was before Pearl Harbor. T: And up until then, in the mid-thirties you mentioned working for the railroad; did you have any other jobs between then and when you went into the service? H: Yeah, just before I went into the service my brother had the machine shop and I was starting to do his work. But I was already registered and then I got my card and I told my brother. And some got deferred before Pearl Harbor. And he said well I can get deferred or something like that. And then I went down on the board; I forget who it was. [Weisheipl] I think was the head guy on the board. And he said, "Oh why don't you take it. It's only for a year." So I thought well what the hell, lose a year you know. And then they had that song, "Good bye dear," on the jukebox, "I'll be back in a year." That didn't happen that way though. T: In the late 1930's and early '40s there was war going on in Europe. Did you give that much thought at the time? Did you think that some day we'd get into that? H: Well, with Churchill and Roosevelt you know, Roosevelt buying Churchill the big cigars he used to smoke and buddy buddies. Even Pearl Harbor is, a lot of em say you know, it wasn't, you know. T: Did you or your pals worry about ever having to fight there or did it seem like it was too far away? H: No, no, we never thought we'd get over there, you know. Even in service when we were in Camp Kilmer ready to go, we all had to take a questionnaire, if we had any relatives or anything over there that we would you know, fight against our relatives or something. But not that I know but my father and my grandfather on both sides, they did come from Germany years ago. Same as most of us did, you know. T: Did you enlist then? H: Did I enlist? No, the government… T: You were drafted? H: Yeah, drafted. That was supposed to have been for a year but the compulsive training or something for one year. T: I see. Had you ever been away from home before you went in the service? Or was that your first experience away from home. H: That was my, I was around Wisconsin and that but no, not far away. Come home and eat and sleep. No, that was all a big change, you know. T: Tell me about after you were drafted. About your training in the service. H: Okay. Now this is something too, like when, naturally we got a card and we hadda go down a certain day from Oshkosh. And there must have been about oh, what the heck, maybe 30, 40 of us went down to the train depot here. And Volp, the tavern is right there. I don't know if you know about Nigl's tavern on 9th Street. Okay, Porky went down with us and we went over to Van's. We got a couple of hot dogs and beer and that. And the train came and we sat on the train. And Porky had a jacket on and he had all little half-pints of brandy and he was passing that around in the cars. When we got to Milwaukee, they had the band playing. The first guy off the car fell on his nose. (Laughter). Well then they, then I had a cousin down in Milwaukee. He knew I was coming down there. And they gave us, they told us there was hotel, I forget but it was for the evening before. The next day we were supposed to get examined I think, the next day. And he picked me up and we made all the bars down there. And I didn't get up in that hotel until, it must have been about two or three in the morning or so. And the rooms, I remember there was a cot in the hallway. I remember [ ] on the cot and all of a sudden a guy with a whistle comin through. Oh, and I got up. And he says, "Everybody out." And breakfast and stuff. I got down there so God damn sick; I was still lit up yet. I couldn't even see. I remember drinking V-8 Juice. That's the first V-8 Juice I had. Well then they took us down to the armory or whatever it was. We took, you take all your clothes off. They examine you and you go from doctor to doctor. And when we got done with that I couldn't find my clothes. I didn't even know where I left my clothes. But they still passed me. And Porky Nigl they sent home that time because he had bridgework or teeth or something. They sent him home on account of that. He after that, you know, after the war started everybody went but at that time, no. But me they took. And then they took us on the train to Camp Grant. I don't know if you ever heard of Camp Grant in Illinois? Camp Grant? We were supposed to only be there for a couple of days, you know. Well the first day we got our clothes and everything like that, you know. Then shots and that. And I remember havin a little alcohol in me. One guy speared me from one side and one on that and everything got black; I [ ] pass out, you know. Well then I got out of that and some of the guys left right away. I stayed in the barracks. They came down to see me every week and I was… And then we had, your officers are all West Point. And West Point ain't going to leave you set on your seat, you know. West Point officers. So every day was close order drill and ten-mile hikes, fifteen-mile hikes. All stuff like that. And I thought, boy when I sober up you can put a hundred-mile hike… What they can do I can do too, you know. A whole month. You know why I was there? They kept so many of us there who had a high I.Q. and bein a machinist, they wanted so many for the Signal Corps. I don't know if you heard of Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. It was exactly a month or more that they kept us there. T: Is that where you went after Camp Grant? H: Oh yeah. That was for my training there. There we had all people in from ah, oh movie directors and everything. There we had radar and every damn thing. And we were, I was, we were listed as telephone linemen. But we done everything. T: Was your training pretty comprehensive do you think? They really gave you good training? H: Oh yeah. Well everything we done we followed the Bell System. You know, Bell Telephone. And then after the war started we went on [finish] maneuvers in Carolina there. From, yeah that was from Fort Monmouth. They sent I think about thirty or forty or something like down to finish maneuvers. That was just about two weeks before Christmas. You see the 7th was Pearl Harbor, you know. And then we went down there. And then we couldn't get into the camp there where they were. They bivouacked us in the woods because they said there was some kind of a, the Army pulls this stuff, [ ] or something, you know. T: Where were you then when Pearl Harbor occurred? Were you down there in the Carolinas? H: No. Still out in New Jersey. T: What were your thoughts at that time? Did you think, boy this is it. We're really going to be in it? H: I was in New Jersey. We used to go to like on Sundays and that on the weekend, we'd go to Asbury Park or something along the boardwalk there. And we met some girls from New Jersey, Plainfield, New Jersey. And we'd go there week-ends. It was just like home there. We stayed there overnight. The family you know, they got used to me and my buddy from up north. And they'd go to church on a Sunday. And I said, "Well," I'd walk down the street with them, you know. And they'd go to church and there was a little drug store there. And the drug store, I smoked cigars, I wanted to buy some cigars. And that guy had his old ear on the radio. He says, "Now you're gonna go." I said, "Go where?" He said they bombed Pearl Harbor. Oh man! And then - I thought he was kidding - they had reports on the radio, all troops report back to your bases. We got a couple of quarts of beer and booze and that. We was about 30 miles from the camp. Then we went back at night and boy that camp was lit up and oh it was something, you know, for that. T: How long were you in the Carolinas then? H: We hadda stay there all winter because they finished maneuvers down there. Were in Monroe. You heard of Charlotte. This was okay, like about thirty miles south of Charlotte. We were camped there. We had what were called pyramidal tents you know, set up on, stretched over forms. And there was four or five of us in a tent; or four in a tent. And each one, and I had charge of one tent and then goin down the line. And we were there till oh let's see, that was from December to probably April because we had to take all of that stuff down and things like that. And then we came back in convoy. I guess even on some of that stuff was ahead of that convoy when they came back and [ ] and stuff. I know we stopped in Fredricksburg, Virginia the first night on the way back. The next night we stopped in Baltimore, Maryland armory. Always an armory, you know. And then we ate and they told us - this is in Baltimore - if you want to go out, go out but remember come back because we're leaving early in the morning. Me and another guy went out to Baltimore and they had those bars there, like little speakeasies. You'd go down like the gangsters used to, down below. Went down… T: You were going back to Fort Monmouth then? H: To Fort Dix was our home base. That was our home base then. Then we went to that one bar there, this was unusual too. And he was drinking beer and he had quite a bit. And he was falling asleep on the table there. And that must have been ten, eleven o'clock and then when he woke up, he said it was about 12 o'clock or so and I was chasin some girls around there. Then we had to get back to the Armory. It was maybe around 12, 1 o'clock. And we got a cab and asked the cab driver. I says, "I want the Armory." Okay, took us, left us off at the Armory. Everything was dark. We thought, you know that the trucks had left and everything. And we asked somebody else, oh a police car came around and we asked him. No, you couldn't hitch a ride. A lot of times you could hitch a ride, you know. Anybody'd pick you up. And he says, "They got more than one armory here." We got another cab and went to the second armory and they were waiting for us there. Oh and then sick the next day in them cold trucks riding back to, you know. Fort Dix was our, that was our home base. T: I see. When did you leave for an overseas assignment? Was it fairly soon or were you in the states for quite awhile after that? H: After that our company had instructions to get APO numbers. To pack everything. Everybody was going to England before they come over. So we thought we were going too. They took our APO numbers. All of our stuff was packed up and went over there in boat. We were waiting just to go. But they held us back twice. Then they sent us to Camp Pickett, Virginia. They sent us down there for some more, what they call amphibious training or something in that clay down there. A new camp down there. We were there about a month or so and then came back to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. That was debarkation or whatever you call that. And we were there maybe another two weeks, three weeks or so. Had a little more training. They kept us there. Couldn't even go out. And then I had one night or one day, what they call a company guard, you know. That's for the whole camp. Six on and six off and something. And I had that on a Saturday night. And these girls I knew, Plainfield was only about six miles from there. I was going to go over on a Saturday night. Got off of guard duty in the afternoon and looked on the bulletin board; K.P. I said, "What the heck. I just got off of guard duty. Now you getting on KP." "Oh take it. You get credit for it." "But that's beside the point," I said. Well then I went on KP and there they fed a whole battalion or something, you know. And on a Sunday in them camps there ain't hardly anybody there. Them that can go, they go, you know. And there was a few dishes. I was running the dishwashing machine, putting em in there and then somebody come in from our barracks over there. He says, "Rates," he says, "Come on," he says, "We're alerted. Packed up everything and then nothing going out of the camp, nothing coming in. No communication or nothing. Train pulled in there and got on. That was in the afternoon, you know. Took us to New York and we got off in New York on Staten Island. And there we got on a, waitin to get on a boat. Oh and we had a dog too that we took him with us. Supposed to take a dog on the boat. A beautiful police, what they call a… T: A sort of a mascot? H: You know why that dog came? In Fort Dix they were feeding steaks and stuff and the dog [ ]. And we weren't taking, and one of our guys took and got some medicine from the doctor to calm the dog and it took… And when you go on a boat, you know, take you in alphabetical order. And the guy ahead of me had the dog in a barracks bag. And his feet were hangin out and I stood aside of him. And when we get on there, they say, "Rates." And you say "Harvey L." And they check you off, you know. And he got on the boat and I got on the boat. And I was tired. And that was … And when we got on the boat it was SS. McAndrews, a banana boat. They were still welding machine guns on the deck. Guns on the deck. And then they got on the boat and I guess they had about two layers, I don't know how many on a boat. Must have five, six hundred or maybe more. And I heard down below us there was all ammo and stuff. If a torpedo would have hit us they would have been gone. T: What was the date that you departed from… H: From there? T: Do you remember when that was? H: Yeah. That was November something. I've got it wrote down. It puts it in November because the invasion of Africa was November the 16th and 18th over there. T: So this was November '42. H: Yeah. 42. Then we got in the boat and I got in a hammock and laid down. I was so damn tired and that. It was getting towards morning and getting late and you could hear the old what you call its squeaking in there. Holy Christ! I look out. About 60 boats. Cruisers, destroyers and dirigibles above us and planes and all this stuff. I said, "Now we're on our way." We didn't know where we was goin but there was rumors out that we were gonna hit Africa. And the only one that knew that would be the head of the whatever was the convoy or something. That knew, and he didn't tell us till the second or third day out or something. We got out so far and then over the PA system they announced we were gonna hit Casablanca. We got bandoleers of ammunition yet, and 'don't bother the Arab girls and stuff and people like that'. They're highly religious and stuff like that. T: At that point Harvey, what was your job? What were you trained to do specifically? You were in a signal company weren't you? H: Yeah. Pole line construction. Any construction. They had like switchboard operators and everything else. And photography. And we had, California, all your big shots were there too, from photography and all that stuff. T: But you could put up communication lines and things like that? H: Oh yeah, yeah. Oh hell, I'll show you a picture of that. We had ninety-foot poles we put up. That was for different invasions. Invasions and stuff like that. And then when we got over there, this was back in the states yet. We had telephones and I made splices of them from Fort Monmouth. One thousand splices. A thousand miles of wire, what they called that worked on frequencies. More than one conversation on one line. They had it there already, you know. Phones like that. And they had cable. We had fellows from Illinois Bell, Ohio Bell. Cable splicing. These cables, boy that's an art. You'd see big pairs of cables? Well we had them. They must have been in their twenties and I was let's see, 24, 25. They called me pappy because I had to take care of them younger guys you know. T: What happened when you hit Casablanca? H: Oh Casablanca. We couldn't get in there right away when we got there because assault troops went in and the Germans scuttled all of the ships in what they called the harbor where they come in. All of the ships were scuttled. And then there was the biggest battleship in the world, one of the biggest in the world at that time was the Jean Barque. It was a French ship and they fired on Americans. And when we got into that, that battleship was laying right on its side. Yeah, they took care of that, yeah. And no, we couldn't get in. We hadda go up and down even, in a convoy and finally they got in somewheres and we had to go down ladders and stuff to get in too, you know. Them Germans, they scuttled everything. T: What was the name of your unit at that particular point? H: 251st Signal Construction Company. But then after that, maybe another year or so, not long after, they put Heavy Construction. That's when we done all the heavy work. T: Were you attached to a division or were you non-divisional? H: Non-divisional. When we went over we were special services. I don't, you've seen em already with the red, white and blue. That was government or something. And then after we got into Africa there, then we were, yeah that was special services. But then half of our company went to Italy and we stayed back again. And oh, I didn't finish yet. We didn't get to Morocco either yet. So from Casablanca - we were there a month - we hadda put a lot of signal stuff in a big warehouse and stuff. There was an old sardine factory I think. And then after that we went to Oujda, Morocco. Oujda is up in the mountains in Morocco. T: Now was there any German opposition in that particular area or was it quiet? Had they been cleaned out? H: Well they had been cleaned out but they didn't know. There was so many that could take their clothes off, because when we got to Casablanca we had to even have double guard and stuff because the American troops that got killed going in there, the Arabs would dig them up and sell their clothes and shoes and stuff. And from there we went to Oujda, Morocco. We was there about a month. Then we were up in Oujda, Morocco. That was up in the Atlas Mountains. And we slept, I don't know - maybe I told you that - we slept on the ground in the snow all winter there. Then we were wiring up the coast in French Morocco, across from Spanish Morocco. That's where they thought the Germans would invade again through Spanish Morocco, hit us in French Morocco. That's where we had all the communication and then the engineers put tons of dynamite in the mountain passes there. They never came that way but that coulda happened. When you get that far, I'll tell you some more, okay? T: Okay. H: Then from there, that spring we went to Algiers, North Africa, no, Algeria. Algiers, Algeria. That's a big port city, Algiers. And that was Allied Force Headquarters. So we were special troops. That's why they held us back. That's where I talked to General Ike (Dwight D. Eisenhower) and all of my boys were there. T: No kidding! H: Oh yeah. General Ike, Patton, Vandenberg. All your blokes, your English and French. T: What were the circumstances of your talking to Eisenhower? H: Oh, they took over all the big buildings in Algeria like hotels and stuff like that. And we had more communication coming in there than any place in the world. All different kinds of communication. And I was routing circuits. I was in one building, then you got terminals [ ] in another building. And you're on phones, you know. "Pair one, pair two." Somebody was talking to me and I was answering them and I got off the phones. I turned around and General Ike was in back of me. He says, "Keep on what you're doing," he said. You know. He had his girlfriend there. What the heck, tall blonde with a Packard car. You maybe heard that before already. T: I heard a little bit about it, yeah. H: Oh yeah, yeah. Pretty nice guy though. T: A lot of the bigwigs had their bimbos, I guess. H: Oh yeah. Then we went to Tunisia too. We got that far. Well they probably finally cleaned out the desert there. And then what the hell happened. Oh then through the, that was over, the Kasserine Pass. Did you ever see Patton's movie? T: Yes. H: Did ya? You remember when the Germans killed all these Americans and these vultures were pickin on em? Patton came in after that with his machine gun and they killed all the vultures. Well we were supposed to get up and do something but we never got that far. But a German Panzer division, you know that's before they cleaned em all out of Africa. There was a bunch of Americans in the Signal Corps. They came in and killed the whole works in there. Yeah, that was in Tunisia. T: Did your unit experience any combat at that particular point? H: No. It's only like land mines and in Algiers and stuff, every night there'd be a German Messerschmitt would come over. A couple would come over and drop a couple eggs just to keep us honest or something. And we had a shelter we had to go in there. Oh, the second or third time they all said, "Come on Rates, you got an air raid again." It was about 11 at night. Well, the hell with it, you know. And they went and we had like a cave you get in. Pretty soon the shrapnel started comin through the tent and I thought I better get out of there, you know. T: I suppose that the German ordinance would be a problem. Things like land mines and so forth. You're travelling around laying wire and this and that. H: Well in France, that happened in France, you know. They'd, what they would do, we used a lot of the French wire too. What they call open lines. Open lines are the ones you see, with circuits and that. And they'd cut out a stretch of circuits and that and then they'd put a land mine in and one of our trucks, the whole front end was blown, a couple of guys were blown out in the field. One of our guys. And they did think one guy would lose his eyesight but he was just lucky. And then that was that. There was another [ ] in France there. The company was going to go up close to the German - oh that's when we were attached to the 6th Army Group. That was the French 1st Army and the American 5th under General Clark. That, I think this Clark that's running for president now, I think that's his son, isn't it? T: I don't know. H: I think it is. It's Clark you know. That was formed up in, they were formed up in Oujda, Morocco. He's the one that hit Anzio. You probably heard of Anzio that time when the Germans kicked the hell out of em there all winter. Anzio. T: When did you leave Africa? How long were you in Africa and where did you go afterwards? H: Okay. After we left Africa, see like I said, our company, half of it went to Italy and half had to stay back in Algiers to take all this stuff down again. Because we had 90 foot antennas and stuff, poles and stuff… They cost over a thousand dollars just to get em there, you know. So we hadda take all of that stuff down. Jack em out of the ground. All hard work but hell, I really liked that. And then we hit, where the heck was it in France? St. Tropez. An invasion of southern France. That was an invasion of southern France. St. Tropez, that's near Monte Carlo. We slept on the beach all night there because everything was mined. Some of the assault troops went through and they, we didn't know what was cleaned out, what wasn't and mined. So we, the next day we went, we took off our convoy and went all the way from St. Tropez up to Lyons, France. Lyons is a big city, you know. And all the while we went up there, it must have been two, three hundred miles - probably even more than that. The American bombers would come in and strafe and blow out a bridge or something like that and bottle the Germans up that were retreating. All the way up there was all this stuff, all Germans. Just a couple of armies. You can imagine what stuff was there. Just pushed off the roads. T: Did you have an opinion of the German soldier at that time? Was he a pretty formidable enemy or didn't you have any opinion regarding the German soldier? H: Well they, we never had too much contact with them. Only when we had a bunch of prisoners and that. T: I was going to ask you if you saw any prisoners. H: Oh yeah. Hell, I had a crew working for me. T: Was there any danger connected with that or were they pretty calm? H: No, no. Hell no. No, we went to the 6th Army Group. That's where, the only way you could get in was special service. We had special passes to get in there. They had some of these German prisoners and doin like KP and all the dirty work. And then they had a big map on the wall. American lines are here and German here, getting pretty close. I could understand some German and stuff like that. And they were lookin at that and, "Yeah, it won't be long now." And I had a crew of them. We had to put up a permanent communications from Heidelberg to Mannheim and all of them places even after the war there. And then we had, some of them prisoners had to do a lot of the digging and you know, putting the dirt back into the poles and stuff like that. And they didn't have nothin to smoke and that. I gave em some old pipe tobacco. Oh, they liked that. No, they were no problem. T: Didn't they have to be heavily guarded? H: We had guns with us all the time. But they wouldn't get away for nothin because they knew it was over with for them. They got food every day and a place to sleep and… T: I suppose so. Tell me about, you know you mentioned that they got food and a place to sleep. Tell me about how it was for you and your pals that were overseas. Did you get mail from home? Did you eat pretty good? What were the living conditions like? H: Oh, it's a good thing you brought that up. We got our mail probably a couple of months after we got there. But then you'd get the mail whenever they could get it to you. But we lived on dehydrated food and K rations all winter after living in Africa. You ever see any K rations? T: Oh yes. H: Okay. K rations and dehydrated stuff. And that Spam, I can still smell that stuff, you know. All winter. Then when we got in Algiers we started getting fresh stuff. Boats would come in and then we'd get meats and… T: You'd get fresh food once in awhile. H: Yeah. And then we had somebody go out and buy like maybe vegetables and different things too. But all winter that first winter that's all we had. Rations. Even on the convoy and that, you'd take your C rations and that and they'd put em on, clamp em on a exhaust system on a truck to get em warm and stuff like that. I know like when up in Morocco there, when they slept on the ground there in the snow, the Arabs would come around and I bought some eggs and I didn't even see any chickens anyplace, you know. Them eggs cost, I think it was 50 cent apiece. And I had six of em in my helmet. I was gonna make them and one night I heard something schlepping outside and stuff like that and some wild dog or something ate em all up. And then we had what they call a latrine out there too. And you know what a pup tent is. Two guys in it and then they had a raincoat out in front. And crunching under the shoes. And I thought what the hell, it don't snow in Africa. The hell, that deep of snow in the morning. The next morning here we were laying in it. And across the street by us was a French Foreign Legion and he called the guys all out and he says, "Here you guys are pissing and moaning," he says, "But look at the American soldiers laying over there." Yeah. Oh I got a kick out of them French Foreign Legion. He'd have some of them Arabs and drilling em. He'd be the big boots; he'd kick em in the hind end. They didn't know right from left. T: Tell me about some of your pals that you had in the service. We can always remember some guys that we hated, some guys that were just really decent fellows and then there was always some of the oddballs. The weird characters. Do you remember any of those people? H: I remember them. Because even before we went overseas we had one kid from Illinois and once in awhile we'd have gas mask inspection or something like that you know. They'd open up the gas mask and here out comes a rotten apple out of - oh did he get it that time. And before that though, we had a formation where they checked, we had 30-06 rifles and we got carbines but this was still a 30-06 rifle. You got open ranks and the officer comes you know, and Bang! Shot [ ]. That was the end of him. He didn't last long around there. And our company commander, he was a regular, he - well I shouldn't put it in there probably. T: Well, what was he like? Was he a tough customer? H: He wasn't tough. He was just an asshole. T: I see. Well there's a few of those around, I guess. H: I'll tell you what happened, you know. We were quarantined, you know, at one place in Fort Dix and stuff like that. And then we had bed check, you know. We wasn't supposed to leave camp and everybody was gone. After inspection everybody was gone. We took off that one night. We went to I guess, Trenton or so. And in the afternoon, a Sunday afternoon. And we had some beer and stuff there, and music and dancing with the girls. And then the guy says, "Come on Harvey, we better get back for bed check." I says, "To hell with the bed check." Here I comes back at night. Come to the motor pool about 12 o'clock. I goes, "challenged." Some - a new guy in our outfit, you know. And the next morning, "Rates report to the Orderly Room," over the P.A. system. So I went over there and he says, "Where were you last night for bed check?" I says, "I was in the latrine. We got paid, we got paid monthly. They had crap games - they had lights in the latrine. They'd shoot crap. Which I did. I stopped in there and went to bed." And I went back. Okay. Five minutes later it come up again, "Report to the Orderly Room." "Here so and so seen you coming in so and so." You couldn't lie out of that. And I was the only one of all of them that came from the south there that got a rating. There was me and Rip Collins, I think. Rip Collins I don't know if you ever heard of the baseball player. There was two of us of about 40 guys. They came out of chow one night and he says, "Congratulations Rates." I says, "What, what did we do?" And I had a specialist rating. You were a specialist. You know there was first and fourth and fifth and all of that. I and him, that was the only rating that we got there. He took that rating away from, that's the old man now. The commander. Took that away from me. Then we got technical ratings. I was supposed to get at least a sergeant's rating. Nothing. The most I got then was Pfc. Make it look good, you know. Oh, and his name was Brown. And then, oh we had a couple of guys from out east from I don't know where it was. Some of the eastern states, you know. They didn't care for nothing. They'd go out and drink and they hated him too. I guess they went over the hill a couple of times and he had them pounding rocks and stuff. Crushing up rocks. Oh, me too a couple, that time with them. And he was in that Oujda, Morocco, probably about as big as Omro and that. And he was across the street from them and his name was Brown. And they seen him and he hollered to his buddy and he says, "What's the color of shit?" He hollered, "Brown!" They were digging trench, shithouses in that hard… T: Do you know how you spell Oujda, Morocco? I could probably look it up on a map but… H: It's in some of my stuff too. T: I just thought you might know. When you were overseas, did you ever get a chance to take any leave? To go on a pass or leave? Where did you go? H: Twice in Germany. Even after the war, you see you were on a point system. I had enough points to go home you know, with all of that. But they kept us there because we had to build permanent lines and our company commander wasn't Brown anymore. They transferred him out of the company. It was Stahl. He was from Rutgers University. Electrical engineer, you know. He was a pretty nice guy. But they had a club there. Girls and drinking and stuff. They come in at night. You'd be on sentry duty, you know. They, just nice guys. And he's bucking for Major and hell, they probably never had it that good. But you know, a captain. And one of the guys that was, that really went up in our outfit. His name was Lt. [Heeken]. He came there with what they call a 90 day wonder, you know. They'd go for 90 days and then, what the hell, 2nd Lieutenant. And I think three or four of them, they came in our company just to make up for the officers. Then after we got in Africa, then he made 1st Lieutenant. He was with us even when the company went up to Italy. And he was with us and after that he transferred out of the company. He must have made captain somewheres, the company. And our 25th reunion, we were out east somewhere, he came to the reunion; full colonel. He stayed in the service. "Harvey," he says, "Why didn't you come in? I can give you…" I said I had enough of that. And he went back to his home state and he made general, brigadier general comin up from… Isn't that something? T: It's not everybody's cup of tea. H: No, no, no, no. And everybody isn't like that either. That's what I'm sayin, you know. T: Well I asked you where you went on leave. H: Oh yeah. Okay. And went on leave. From Germany twice I went to Lyons, France. Because when we got up to Lyons, no Lorraine, no that was Lyons. Here they call it "lions" but it's Lyons. And we got there and that's where we landed in St. Tropez yeah, and slept on the beach. And the next day we bivouacked in a park that night. It was a big park. More like Milwaukee with animals and stuff in. But they had big iron gates and stuff up there. And then Heeken was there. The fellow I was talking about. T: Well, Lyons was a big city. A fun place to go to? H: Oh yeah. Hell, the Germans cut out all the bridges goin over there. They were all layin in the water. And he told us, he was writin out our passes, he said, "There's nothin, but come back," he says. "We gotta get orders. We can't stay in this park, you know." And so he wrote us out some passes and he'd throw, write out your own passes. But he says, "Come on back." Then we got back. And we went to town, me and some Polish guy from New York that I chummed around with. Got off of there and the women were just, that is a big, lotta, oh they make a lotta textiles there in Lyons too. They come off of the buses and stuff. We were the first they seen. We whistled at em. Holy Cripe! There was 50 here, 20 there. One guy grabbed two by the… "Come on." I'd look em over. One looked better than the other one. We picked up a couple of girls and… T: Something like paradise. H: Oh yeah. Right. After all we went through, you know. Then we didn't even know the way back to the park. They had to show us… We had to crawl over the damn fences, them spike fences at night. Then we made an appointment with em for the next night someplace. And I didn't know any French or anything. A guy can remember that, "Rendez vous avec vous?" "Demi douce,." Or something. "Demaine." T: Tomorrow. H: Yeah. "Meet you tomorrow." Downtown somewheres. The two of em. Well then we got acquainted with… and we pulled out of there. And twice I went back there on a 6 or 7 day furlough. Because I had all this comin and I thought I might as well take it otherwise you know, that damn money, I didn't care for that. And hell, they took us out around all over. And I'd buy stuff for the girls, my mother and all them there. And they'd take me to stores and that was nice. (The first tape ends here). T: Where were you when the war came to an end, or when they dropped the atomic bomb. H: The day that they dropped the atomic bomb I was on furlough in Lyons. They had "atomic" in all the headlines and I didn't know what the hell that was. But I remember bein there. So, yeah then I was still in Germany. Because from Germany I went on pass to Lyons or furlough or whatever you want to call it. T: So the war was over in Germany then but you were still there. H: Oh sure, sure. T: What part of Germany were you in? H: If I can remember; I was twice in Heidelberg. And Augsburg and Mannheim and Stuttgart. These are just places I remember. And then getting towards the end of the war they had the Germans on the run and every day we'd be somewhere's else, sleeping under a truck or in a bombed out building or someplace like that. I know one night we was in a building that had been a textile, they made German uniforms and that. That was better than sleeping on the ground or anything. And you got a couple of blankets and that and I heard somebody talkin German. What the heck's goin on there, you know? Here we're in Germany and we was supposed to… Two German electricians, they were putting juice in the building for us. Well the closest that I come in Germany was, and then we were back in [Meercourt], France. Well, Meercourt and Epinal, that's where all your big battles were. And we were back in there. And then the company was going to go up toward the front, you know, for communication and stuff too. Toward the front. And then some of us had to stay back. So my squad, I guess it was about five of us or whatever it was. We flipped a coin. And I lost. Naturally an old French school building they rented for us, rooms upstairs. We ate with the 8th Air Force there. We drew rations every week and ate with them. And we'd get called out for that time when your bombers, the war wasn't over with then. You could even see the big flashes at night. The artillery and stuff. And then the B-17's would come over at night. And when they had squadrons coming over they'd throw out, you probably heard of this tin foil in the air. That'd throw off the German radar. And then that tin foil would land on our open lines if we were using the French lines. And short em out. Well then we had to go and between two points, you hadda get between two points and you hadda walk that three, four, five miles. And then you'd find it. Sometimes the frost and that wires'd be broke and isulators would be broke or something. But the closest we come to getting knocked out too, one night they called us out too. From the 6th Army Headquarters called you out. The wire chief, you know, whoever he is. And called us out and we went. What you call test points. You go up there and one of em I was telling you about, these phones with the "carrier system" they called it. Them were hot too. You touch them lines and they were even hot. But the other lines would open up and cut to the test point, get up on the pole and they were cut. So the Germans just had done that. If they woulda stayed 10-15 minutes longer, they woulda had six of us. So that's as close as you come to, you know. T: Yes. I imagine that's sort of scary. H: You darn right. And then our company, maybe you heard of the Battle of the Bulge. T: Yes. H: Okay. Our company was in Germany then. It wasn't all in Belgium. In Germany too. That one morning we were still in like Meercourt, France. And the company was up toward the front there. And they, the old man, the company commander or whatever he was, you called the old man you know. And he called headquarters for something to do and the line was open. So he got a couple of the guys and he says, "Go and see what the hell's the matter. I can't get through." It could have been anything; cut line or anything. Got through, I don't know how far. The Germans that were starting the Battle of the Bulge, they were already shelling over the company with their 88's. The aide, he come back as fast as he could. Lined all of the trucks up along the road there and threw everything on the truck and some dive-bombers come in. the one guy in town here, and he's still got shrapnel in his back. And a couple of German kids that were there, they got killed, you know. And stuff like that. And all night they were coming where we were. Back there where we were in Meercourt, maybe a distance of maybe 20-30 miles. But all night comin back. And then they would stop you on the street too at night. They had so many of these guys that dressed as Americans that were German that would come in and they would sabotage, you know. You stuff. M.P.s and stuff would patrol. If they'd catch you on the street, they'd question ya. "Who won the championship?" What this and that, they'd question you. If you were all right, they'd go, otherwise… Oh if the Americans caught em, something like a spy, they shot em right on the [ ]. You don't change into a uniform, you know. T: That would have been very dangerous business… H: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh and [Adolph]. I was right near there too when they… You probably heard when they had, that's all set up too when they were gonna, they killed him, that bomb in that building. And we were near there. Oh, when I heard of that. And I was praying he got out of that. (?) I knew the war would be over with right away, but it lasted a while after that. Oh Adolph. T: Did you get near any of the prison camps? H: Okay. The concen… T: Some GI's did and it was not a pleasant experience. H: Dachau. That was a big one. That was in France, no in Germany. Because in fact we had a crew that went out and they went through just as they liberated it. The Americans. They liberated it. The next day they told us about that. We hadda work near there. Some lines or something we were building. We went over there. And that's the way it was. They had piles of people piled up on, in the grounds, in the buildings and in flatcars. And then even had some guard dogs there. And everything that moved there, the Americans shot. They had a colonel and stuff that was the head of that camp there. These inmates that was already dead, they just pestered him to death. They stoned him and just pestered him to death. But I, I had pictures of that. I gave it to my son and then I don't know where the heck he's got that. I guess he didn't want me to. They burnt em up and I can still see some of the women with their heads hangin out of the, and hair, face and stuff; hair burnt off and oh! Then there's lot of people they says, "Well that's propaganda." Hell, that's no propaganda. T: You were there. You saw it. H: You darn right I seen it. Yeah, right. T: Another one of my friends saw Dachau and he said you can't fool him. When you were in the service did you make rank? You mentioned that you got busted back in the states. What rank did you come out of the service with? H: Pfc. Five years. T: Did you get any medals or decorations? H: Oh yeah. Hell, I got four or five battle stars and what the hell, here you can answer that. (Shows Tom a list). T: I'm just going to read these off for the record. European African Middle-Eastern Service Medal; American Defense Service Medal; five overseas service bars; and that looks like about it and that's pretty nice. The government recognizes you for that sort of thing. H: Then I've got letters here from our colonel too. Because when the war was over, that congratulated the company of all the work we done. And he was a regular man. He was a full colonel. He said of all the units he was in, it was an outstanding unit for the stuff that we done and the time that we put in and, you know. He had worked with many units and he said that was the top. And we also had what they call a presidential citation. You know what them are. We got that too. Had that on my blouse and jacket. And then to get home, they broke up the 63rd Division. I came home with the 63rd Division then. T: When was that, that you came back to the states? H: Well that would be in '45 and I was discharged October, I think, the 6th. That comin overseas and we were in Camp Lucky Strike waiting for a boat to get home. T: I heard about Camp Lucky Strike. H: Old Camp Lucky Strike. And then from there we were supposed to get into New York, you know. But that was full there so we went to oh, what the hell is that there, Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts. And we were there just about a week outfitting us. And then we come with a troop train all the way to Camp McCoy. A troop train, you know. That takes another week. They hit every stop and wait. You eat canned tomatoes and crackers with a can of sardines. That's about what you got. T: So you were discharged then in October of '45. H: Yeah. T: What did you do then when you got out of the service, Harvey? H: What did I do? Most of that I, just chasing girls around and going out. T: You came back to Oshkosh? H: Oh I come back to Oshkosh. And then my brother already, he had a machine shop and he bought a bunch of land on 6th Street there. And I helped him put up that building and things before I ever got married or anything. I didn't have nothin to do. And he built a nice machine shop on 6th, between 6th and 5th Street. Right next to Morgans. And that winter I fished all winter out in the lake out there. I knew fellows out there with a shack. And I liked to fish and hunted and trapped. So I fished all winter out there. So that was nice. And then what the hell did I… I worked all over in the plants after that. After you get married, you know, you can't sit on your… T: Did you make use of your army training in the electrical field or didn't you do anything along that line? H: No. I went to the Bell or what the hell is it? T: Bell Telephone Company? H: Yeah, put in the whatyoucallit? I think I filed an application there but they don't care for that. T: I would have thought that they would have just snapped you up. H: Oh yeah, but some of these places are hard to get in. Because you know, you got a friend [ ]. Take him. Where I should have gone though was, Novotny was postmaster here and I worked there as a sub clerk two-three times. And then I would go in there on probably on the second shift. And I says, "Ray," I says, "How come," I says, "I always got the," I says, "You call me on that last shift." He had what they called primaries, you know. Two, three primaries. And Miles Kimball, I think about 12-14 carloads of that stuff would go out of there. And that stuff all had to go out. And then they plug that place up at night and I had that all cleaned up by three o'clock in the morning or so. Then I'd go downstairs and the holdouts would be like Kansas City. That would be another route. Clean that all up. That's why he wanted me there, you know. He wanted me to, "I'll see that you get in there." But you're young. You think, what the hell. Another thing was Wisconsin Axle, you know. There I shoulda got… That would probably be the best place in Oshkosh to work money-wise, you know. And medication and stuff. And there they told me too because my older brother that I'm talking about, he was inspecting there at night. He'd go in on the third shift and he couldn't have been any more than 20 or 21 years old. Because I was real young then yet. And he didn't like going in on that shift and stuff like that. And I knew the superintendent there, you know. And so he told me, he says, "Harv," he says, "We'll put you down," he says, "If there's an opening…" It was pretty hard to get in there. If somebody died or something I think, you know. I had a boy there and then I hadda go to work and I went over to Leaches, you know. And I worked there I guess about five years. And we were organizing a union. We lost the second election and I was on the bargaining committee. You know a place like that don't like you if you're for a union, you know. T: I never really thought about it too much. I worked at Leaches during the war when I was in high school. I just assumed that they had a union there. But maybe they weren't unionized. H: Oh I worked there and then at United States Motors and US Motors. And worked for my brother too. He had a shop. But then after you're married and that, you know… T: When did you get married? H: When? Oh what the hell; I don't know. About second or third year I guess after I was home. T: How did you meet your wife? H: Where did I meet her. Oh I met her in a bar one night I think. Because I lived on 5th Street when I was a kid and all of my chums, and the Nigls in what they call the Highholder area, I knew all of them. So I went to there once. During the week. Very seldom that I went to anyplace, you know. And I went in there and I knew that one girl was a Meyer girl. I knew Hank. I don't know if you know Hank Meyer. He lived on 6th Street. Henry Meyer. And I said, "Give them a drink too." And they were, they were two girls, they were working to Oshkosh B'Gosh. And the one, Margaret, the one I married, she was in there too. And then I… And I had a nice sport car. Oh, and I says, "You wanna go somewheres and get something to eat?" Well she says, "Let's go out to Volp's. They got good beef sandwiches." So we went out to Volp's and I said, "Maybe sometime I'll call you." Okay. Want to go to movie or something. That's how it starts. From there on… T: I see. H: But I did know a lot of girls even in Oshkosh here. And I used to, on weekends when I came home I'd go up past Appleton, Little Chute there. T: Did you have children? H: Yeah. I had one boy and I've got, what the hell, three grandsons now. One is going to school in Madison. And one is going to Eau Claire. And the oldest one, he was in the other Desert War they had there. In '91? T: Oh yes. Desert Storm. H: Desert Storm. He was in attack helicopters. He used to come over to the house, we practically brought him up when he was young. Kinda wild kid, you know. He'd go in by my wife and I'd send him in there and they'd be washing dishes and stuff like that. And I'd say, "Do a little dance for her." And he'd start jigging around and she'd put him on a chair. And he'd come in by me and I'd say, "If you don't look out, we'll put you in the Army." And he says, "I'll never go in the damn Army." And then before he gets through with high school he came over by me that weekend and so and he says, "Grandpa," he says, "I'm going to join the Army." You know that kind of kid with the long hair and maybe smoking them left-handed cigarettes. A good place for ya. He never did but I just say a lot of em did. And I says, "I tell ya," I says, "Ask for the Air Corps or Signal Corps or something like that," I says. "You're mighty Marines," I says, "Anybody can strap a machine gun on their back and get their head blown off." Which is true, you know. On the beaches, so. Comparingly. And so he went into the Air Corps and then I didn't hear from him for it must have been a month or more. You know the center on Main Street here? I went over there and two guys say, "What can we do for ya?" I says, "I wanna enlist for another year or two." Oh, they pretty near died! I said, "Listen," I says, "One of youse guys [ ] my grandson. You signed him up and we didn't hear from him for…" "What's his name?" Told him his name and that. In a little while they had him on the phone. He was goin to school in I guess Virginia for [ ] there. And the commander, whatever it was, told him; he said, "Right after you get through with this, you call your [ ]." Whoever it was. He did then, you know. They had class there and I think there was about sixty or so in the class. He graduated the second highest in the class. He has got a good head on him but he's gotta use it too, you know. [ ] attack helicopters then. T: Do you think the war changed you Harvey? Thinking of how you were before the war and when you got out of the service? H: Well it makes you appreciate everything that you took for granted. When I got home or so, you appreciate every little flower, everything. And you know, everything you just took for granted. And even like these kids, I mean a lot of em go, they're wild and they come home, they go as a kid and they come out as a man too, you know. Discipline and stuff, you know. T: Were any of your friends from Oshkosh killed during the war? Guys that you palled around with? H: I can't think of any; oh yes one of em I knew real well. What the hell was his name. I think they torpedoed a boat or something over there. That was before I even left. What the hell was his name? My older brother knew him too. They all got drowned that time. In the Pacific. That was one. And some of my other friends. Meisinger, he went through India and that. He got out. And the other two that I worked on the railroad with, they were in a railway battalion through there. They were lucky too. They both kept em together too, see they had that experience. T: Do you think very much of the war today or is it something you've pretty much put on the shelf? H: Well, they always say you take and put these moneymen in the front lines and stuff and there never would be a war. Which is probably true. This one they're fighting over there is …. T: Is there anything else that relates to your World War II experiences that you'd like to talk about? Anything that you can think of - some memorable experience that we haven't discussed at all that you think we should talk about? H: I don't know of anything of any importance unless you can think of something that maybe would come to me. T: Well I think it would have to be pretty much up to you, Harvey. H: Yeah I know. T: Well it's been very nice talking with you. H: There's a lot of things I went through but I gave you all the high points, I think. T: Well I certainly appreciate your letting me come into your house and talk with you. H: Oh hell, it's a good thing you did. After all of that gets lost or something and you ask somebody too and they don't know. T: Well, we've got it on the record now.
Oral History Interview with Harvey Rates. -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Concentration Camp

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