Heroes: the Army
"...We arrived at the Rhine river at about 5 am. Our job was to build a landing for "ducks" (water-propelled cargo trucks). There was a tank already burning from the early morning that tried to cross it but didn't make it to the water..."
Harold Whiting, Sr.
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 7th U. S. Army, 157th Engineers Combat Battalion, Company C.
- Dates: Dec. 2, 1943 - June 6, 1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: Sgt.
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Gilsum, NH
Harold Whiting in uniform
World War II
As Seen by an 18 Year Old Soldier
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, New Hampshire. 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, Massachu-setts. From there I went to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. There I had six weeks infantry training. After this, we had eleven 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 two weeks to go home and then report back to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. 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, Pennsylvania 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' x 8' 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. [15,000 soldiers is an accurate figure.] This ship could carry one division.
We left New York on July 18, 1944 and arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on July 23rd. We were to leave the ship by going down the side of it using rope ladders. At that time these ships didn't 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 didn't 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 Southampton, England.
In Southampton 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 don't 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, ten weeks after D-Day.
There again, every thing was double-time and we had to go down the rope ladder on this ship onto a LCI -- 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 couldn't 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 late august 1944, though I don't recall the exact date.) We continued to move steadily from place to place. I remember going through Metz, France, site of the infamous Battle of Metz. Metz was a series of 17 interconnected forts that hadn't been taken since 451 AD. The town was on a large hill with many guns set up on this hill. In order for the Americans to take this town, it had to be destroyed.
Right after the liberation of Paris, I joined my outfit, the 157th Combat Engineers Battalion, as a demolition man. From there I finally got my feet on ground. Our job was to maintain roads and bridges. Also we were trained to fight as infantry. At that time, the 157th Engineers were attached to the Seventh Army. This is what they call "the Forgotten Arm." 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 type was the Bailey bridge, which was designed to be shipped in pieces and quickly assembled on site. It 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 didn't remove the mines, though. We marked them, taped off the area so other soldiers coming through would know where they were.
As we were leaving one town, we waved to some infantry soldiers who were taking a break on the steps of an old store. (I believe it was some of the 100th division.) A year after the war was over, I was working in a woolen mill in Sunapee. I got to talking to a gentleman about places we had been and somehow, Bitchey, France came 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.
Back in France, we went on to build a bridge of wood under a steel Baily Bridge so it could be reused in another place. We continued to move forward each day. Something new would always happen as the Germans retreated. Many towns had every house and barn burnt. That was a part of the German 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 didn't move much all winter after the Battle of the Buldge. The Commanders 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 three of us had 24 hour guard duty - 8 hours on and 4 hours off, 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. It came with your lunch. To the left there was a 8-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 tiles. 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.
By the spring the Germans hadn't get through, so many supplies were coming in. We moved into Saarbrücken. There we had a supply depot and all kinds of supplies. Summer was coming along and the fighting front was moving.
I can't remember many small towns but 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 a German shell went over he would say, "Hear that shell? It says you ain't going home." Then when an American shell went over, he would say, "That one says the hell I ain't!!!"
We arrived at the Rhine river at about 5 am. Our job was to build a landing for "ducks" (water-propelled cargo trucks). There was a tank already burning from the early morning that tried to cross it but didn't make it to the water. I guess that was my lucky day as I was to leave for R and R. I left that day for Nancy, France for 15 days. Those days sure went fast.
Sometimes we built wooden bridges. One town where we did this was in Hamburg, 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, which are 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 compared to what I saw. Many German artillery pieces were hauled with horses. When the shells and bombs from the U.S. 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 with shovels, we dug a hole 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 wench. 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 Connecticut River in Claremont.
Well, after the Danube we moved fast. Our unit 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. My company went to Lintz to guard the ships that Bert Teague (from Goshen, New Hampshire) 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 switchbacks. This road had sharp turns, with an area 6' x 6' in which to stop and back up to make the turn. That day we went through the French and also the English checkpoints, also under a sign saying "We need men men in the Pacific." So I signed up in France for three more years. Then came the big bomb - they didn't need so many men anymore, so I got discharged in France and boarded a ship in La Havre, 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, New Jersey by ferry. I left in a few days for Fort Devens, Mass. This was June 6, 1946.
Well, it was good to get back home to Lempster after being gone for 30 months, 18 of them overseas. I never thought much about medals. I was just glad to get home. Then when Billy Harold got his medals in Goshen this past summer, 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 can't understand why I didn't get a good conduct medal. Can you?
Written to the best of my memory,
-----Harold Whiting, Sr.
SIR BAILEY'S BRIDGE
The Bailey Bridges that Harold Whiting helped build during World War II have quite a history. The bridge is the ingenious invention of Sir Donald Bailey, an engineer who worked in the British War Office. Bailey wanted to design a bridge that could be easily trans-ported in pieces and quickly assembled on site, wherever it might be needed to replace a flooded-out or bombed-out bridge.
According to Rick Pitts, son of a WWII combat engineer and webmaster of a site for the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion, "The bridging equipment was indeed a hodge-podge of parts but designed to be carried by trucks and erected by man-power with only simple hand tools&emdash;rope, pulleys, jacks, hammers. When put together with pins, braces and decking all assembled on well-greased rollers, the whole, properly counterbalanced, was slid across the gap, again by man-power (Lots of grunting here). With the counter-weight removed, it was jacked down to spread footers, ramps were installed, and Voila, there was a bridge."
As Harold describes, the combat engineers were sent to wherever a bridge was needed to transport military vehicles and equipment across rivers. This was important because the Germans destroyed so many bridges and overpasses as part of their defensive strategy. After the War, President Eisenhower credited the Bailey Bridge as one of the three pieces of equipment that most contributed to the Allied victory in Europe.
Lempster's Rudy Adler, a civil engineer, told The Owl that Bailey Bridges are still used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for civilian purposes to quickly replace or erect new bridges, especially in floods and new construction.
And Harold Whiting tells us that in 1955, when the Sugar River flooded over Route 10 in Lempster, a Bailey Bridge came to the rescue.
Special thanks to Rick Pitts of Weare, N.H.
Check out his site at 150th Combat Engineer Battalion
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
Combat Engineers Association
World War II Causality Search
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Harold Whiting. Our sincerest THANKS for allowing us to share his story!
The above story was revised and edited with the use of
The Lampster Owl, 'Sno Problem 2003-2004, pp. 14-17.
Original Story submitted on 4 January 2004.
Story added to website on 5 January 2004.
Story modified on 11 January 2004
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 16 February 2012...1432:05 CST