Biography of Harold Whiting, Sr.
Demolition Man, 157th Combat Engineer Company, Seventh and Third Army, USA, WWII
I turned 18 years old in September 1943. On December 2, I was drafted in the army. At the time I was working in a mica mine in Gilsum, NH. I had the chance to get deferred, but I felt it was no worse for me to go than many others. At the time I had two brothers already in the service, one in the Cbees and another one in the army. I was sent to Fort Devens, MA. From there I went to Fort Belvori, VA. There I had 6 weeks infantry training. After this, we had 11 weeks of engineer training. Some of this was in the Blue Ridge Mountains in VA. This covered much training in explosives of all kinds, many long hikes and drills of all kinds. After training we had 2 weeks to go home and then report back to Fort Belvoir, VA. From there we were sent by train to Camp Renolds, PA as engineer replacement soldiers in an outfit in Europe. This was late June. There we were all given shots that were required for our trip overseas. We left Camp Renolds, PA the first week of July and were sent to the big city of New York where we boarded the luxury liner the Queen Mary. They told us we are double loaded so one night you had to sleep on the deck. The next night we were offered with 6 men, a 6'x8' room with 6 bunks. They told us there was 15,000 soldiers on that ship. I have since told this to some people. They say that there was no way this could happen. This ship could carry one division,
We left New York on July 18, 1944 and arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on the 23rd of July. We were to leave the ship by going down the side of it using rope ladders. At that time these ships didnt stay around in one place any longer than necessary. From the small landing craft, we went to, what I call, a cattle ramp. At this time the train was waiting. As soon as it was loaded, we started to roll south to where we were not told. I guess it didnt make much difference at this point. We were able to see most of Scotland and a lot of England. We arrived 22 miles from Liverpool at a camp. There we stayed with more training and hikes until the 14 day of August. We left there for south Hampton, England.
There we loaded on to another ship and sat in the harbor for 2 days. We were given rations for 7 days that included candy bars and canned food. We were our own cooks and dish washers. We went in a large convoy. I dont know how many ships there were as they appeared as far as you could see. Seven days later we saw land. This was Normandy Beach. There again, every thing was double time and we had to go down the rope ladder on this ship onto a Ici, that is a landing craft Infantry. These small ships went in toward the shore. As I remember, it was about 150 or 200 feet from shore. There were no docks of any kind, so down went the front of the boat. Then the fun started. With pack on your back, rifle in hand, we went through about 3 feet of water toward the 150 to 200 feet toward land. We were lucky that there was no shelling that day, like D Day. The same kind of boats were used, but they couldnt get as close to shore as when I went in. On D Day many drowned or were shot.
After crossing the water, we had boots and pockets full of water. Then we had to hike to a staging area by a large American cemetery. This was the 23rd of August 1944. Could have been the 24th or 25th. It was a long time ago. From this time I guess I must have blacked out. We moved steadily from place to place. I remember going through Metz, France. There was a city where the road used to be. This town was on a large hill. There were many guns set up on this hill in order for the Americans to take this place. It had to be destroyed. Right after the fall of Paris, I joined my outfit, the 157 combat engineers company, as a demolition man. From there I finally got my feet on the ground.
Our job was to maintain roads and bridges. Also we were trained to fight as Infantry. 157 engineers were part of the seventh army. This is what they call the forgotten army. They were activated at midnight and in battle at daylight they came up from Africa and Italy. We built many different kinds of bridges. The main one was the Bailey. This bridge went together with pins and bull strength - hard labor that is. Not only did we build bridges, we also had to use mine detectors. We didnt remove the mines. We marked them, taped off the area so other soldiers coming through would know where they were. One town, as we were leaving on the steps of an old store, the Infantry, I believe it was some of the 100th division, we waved to the soldiers that were taking a break. The infantry hiked most of the time. Later after the war around 1946, I worked in a woolen mill in Sunapee, NH. I got to talk to a gentleman about places we had been and somehow Bitchie, France camp up. I guess he must have told me what outfit he was in. When I told him about waving to the soldiers, he said that he was one of them - small world. We went on to build a bridge of wood under a steel bally so it was needed in another place from here. We continued to move forward each day. Something new would always happen as the Germans retreated. Many towns had every house and barns burnt. That is a part of their Scorched Earth Program.
I guess next we spent the winter at least most of it in a small town in France. I think it was Falsburg. This was on a very narrow road leading to the German front lines. We didnt move much all winter after the Battle of the Buldge. They expected a break through in the seventh army section. That is where all bridges were loaded with explosives. We had 24 hour guard duty. Remember the snow last winter. We had over three feet of snow and much of the winter 3 of us had 24 hour guard duty - 4 hours off and 8 hours on, day and night - and let me tell you it was dark and cold. We slept with our clothes on, on the ground in a very small tent about 6' x 8'. Our lunch was brought to us for the day and we had a salamanda oil stove. Five gallons of fuel a day was delivered and not by a fuel truck. This came with your lunch. To the left there was a eight inch gun and to the right there was another 8 inch gun. When one fired, you knew there would be another surprise. They could shoot twenty miles and most always hit what they wanted. The roofs on the houses were some kind of red clay type. Each time these big guns fired, we used to help the farmers put their roofs back together. The firing would lift up those clay tiles which sat on small strips of wood.
In the spring the Germans didnt get through so many supplies were coming in. We moved into Sarbrucken. There we had a supply depot and all kinds of supplies. Summer was coming along and the fighting front was moving. Many small towns, I cant remember, I guess the next place was the crossing of the Rhine. We stayed in trenches in a field for several days. Between the American and the German artillery, we had one fellow who made jokes - no matter where. When the German shell went over he would say hear that shell - it says you aint going home. Then when the American shell went over, he would say that one says the hell I aint!!! Well, we arrived at the Rhine river at about 5 AM. Our job was to build a landing for ducks (these were water propelled cargo trucks). There was a tank already burning from the early morning that tried to cross it but didnt make it to the water. I guess that was my lucky day as I was to leave for R-R I left that day for Nancy, France for 15 days. Those days sure went fast.
Sometimes we built wooden bridges. One town was in Bamburg, Germany. This bridge was about 500 feet long. It crossed a canal. The only other bridge was in the center of the town. It was a metal bridge and very narrow. We had to drive what they call piles. This is large logs pushed in the bottom on the canal. This is done with what they call a steam shovel. Yes, I said steam shovel. The only one I ever saw . My job was to fit the caps on the top of the piles. Then they would be driven into the bed of the canal until they hit solid ground or bed rock. Then the timbers and planks would be installed. When one section was built, the steam shovel would walk out onto this part that was built. Then we would build another section until we reached the other side. Soon as this bridge was complete we would move onto another project which might be fixing a road or another bridge. There was always something to do.
As you watch pictures of war scenes on TV, they are mild. Many German artillery pieces were hauled with horses. When the shells and bombs from the US hit, they left most everything in their path where it was - thousands of trucks, tanks - you name it. They were there, beside the road. Not a pretty sight. The only good thing was it meant the war was coming to an end.
Severne Pass was another site that was a small town. The only way to get to the next town was through this pass over the mountain - one very narrow road and a very steep hill. This was in cold weather. There was a tank trap at the edge of the town. That is a deep v shaped ditch that a tank would get stuck in. In the road were log barricades. On the other hill they had a large gun set in cement that was pointed in the direction of the large field and road. The only trouble for the Germans was that somebody told the Americans how to get around the site so they took a different road way down next to the Swiss border which allowed the army to come in from behind them without them firing a shot. Most of our moves were at night with no lights at a very slow pace. If a plane was spotted in air, all trucks stopped and everybody got away from the trucks. Under the seat of our truck we had 360 lbs. of TNT primer cord and caps and all tools to do most any job that came up. This was our home away from home. We slept under this truck. We ate under it - you name it - all was done under the truck.
The Danube was another challenge. We built a heavy pontoon ferry to take tanks across. The first thing we did was to cross in a motor boat. Then we dug a hole with shovels 6 to 7 feet deep. In this hole we put a large log with a cable anchored around it. Then we had another hole. These logs were hooked together. That is what you call a dead man. Then the cable was hooked to many trucks and trailers on the other side. The first machine across was a D4 bulldozer with a winch. Then the bulldozer was hooked to the deadman. Then we started moving tanks for the rest of the day. The Danube and the Rhine are something like the CT river in Claremont. Well, after the Danube we moved fast. We changed from the seventh to the third army. We were close to Austria. At the end of the war, I spent the summer in Salzburg, Austria. My company went to Lintz to guard the ships that Bert Teague took command of in 1945. While in Salzburg in 1945, I had a chance to go to the big glacier Mount Glockinhelmer. To get there we had to go up the side of a mountain. There were twenty set backs. This road had sharp turns, that a 6 x 6 had to stop and back up to make the turn. That day we went through the French check point and also the English, also under a mountain.
Well, it came time for me to come home but the Army said we need men in the Pacific so I signed up in France for three more years. Then came the big bomb - they didnt need so many men so I got discharged in France and boarded a ship in Iaharve, France around December 6, 1945. Fifteen days on the Atlantic Ocean - hit bad weather all the way. Most everybody on the ship was sick. I arrived at New York harbor at around 8 PM. I went to Fort Dix, NJ by ferry boat. I left in a few days for Fort Devens, MA. This was June 6, 1946.
Well, it was good to get back home to Lempster after being gone for 30 months - 18 months overseas. Well I never thought much about medals. I was just glad to get home. Then when Billy Harold got his medals in Goshen, I wrote to Judd Gregg and sent him my discharges. After 60 years, I finally got my medals.
Would I go again, sure as God made little green apples! I just cant understand why I didnt get a good conduct medal - can you?
Written to the best of my memory,
----- Harold Whiting, Sr.
Hwhiting AT aol DOT com
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