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Interview with Harold Conan Hammil [6/28/2002]

Larry Ordner:

This tape is made June 28, 2002, with Harold Conan Hammil, H-a-m-m-i-l. He is a retired chiropractor. His address is 1103 Cedar Street in Lawrenceville, Illinois, a native of Fairfield in Wayne County, Illinois, served in the United States Army, Combat Infantry, the 34th Infantry Division, 135th Regiment, the Third Battalion, HQ Company. He was a Private First Class from 1943 to 1945, went into the service at age 19, saw some principal service at Anzio Beachead, Rome, Florence, the Po Valley, the Alps, to Brenner Pass, a winner of eight awards, including the bronze star. This tape is made with Larry Ordner from Senator Richard Lugar's office. Well, Harold, you were 19 years old and living in Illinois. You had probably just finished school at that time, right?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes, I had, on the GI Bill.

Larry Ordner:

And tell me, did you enlist, first of all, or were you drafted?

Harold Conan Hammil:

No, I drafted in the infantry. I tried to enlist in the Air Force, and I found out I was colorblind between blue and green.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

Harold Conan Hammil:

So I was colorblind, and I was afraid to go in the Marines. They're a pretty tough outfit. So I ended up in combat infantry, which was just as tough.

Larry Ordner:

Then can I ask you, when the draft notice arrived at home, what was the reaction there?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I was glad. No, no, I was glad to go in the Army. Everybody else was going in, and I was real glad to go in.

Larry Ordner:

What was your family's reaction? Did they anticipate that?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Well, sadness. My dad said -- when I got ready to go on the bus, my dad said, Harold, he said, I'm sorry you're going. I wished I could go in your place. My dad said that. But he was injured with a broken leg in World War I; he didn't get to serve then. A horse rolled over on him, and it broke his leg. But one of the nicest things my dad ever said to me, and he's dead now with cancer, was, Harold, I just wished I could go in your place. But I'm glad he didn't. I'm glad I went.

Larry Ordner:

Well, where did you go for induction?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I went to induction in Chicago where most all of us went. There was 100 of us went up, and 99 of us passed. One of our football coaches, who was a college graduate and a coach, had had one kidney injured in football, and he was turned down. We turned down 99 -- we took 99 out of 100 passed, and we thought that he would be staying home. And three months later I saw him in my Army camp down in Camp McCane, Mississippi, in the special services getting movies and entertainment for the boys, so we passed 100 out of 100 because we were scraping the bottom. And as a lot of people don't know, we lost the first year of World War II. Germany beat us in North Africa, Tobruk, and _____ and North Africa and Indonesia. Also I know McCarthur lost the Philippines in the South Pacific. We lost severely the first year of the war; most people don't know that. History doesn't say that, but we did not start winning until after the second year we was in service. But Germany did beat us in North Africa and Indonesia.

Larry Ordner:

Harold, where did you go for your basic training?

Harold Conan Hammil:

At Camp McCain, Mississippi, out of Grenada, Mississippi

Larry Ordner:

When you left to go down there, I assume you went by train?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Uh-huh.

Larry Ordner:

Did they tell you where you were going?

Harold Conan Hammil:

No. We did not know where we was going.

Larry Ordner:

Just knew it probably was getting hotter on the ride down.

Harold Conan Hammil:

And I want to tell you something about my draft which I think is quite humerous. They kept calling me back for my draft for examination, same day, one bus load up, and I had to go to this examine line three times. So finally they called me in and they said, Hammil, you have failed the physical exam in the Army three times, said you have third-degree flat feet, varicose veins in your legs, one ruptured testicle, wear glasses, and you were born without ear drums, which I was, this was all true, but the captain looked at me and said, but I'll tell you one thing, you're just too damned healthy looking to be walking the streets. We cannot send you home. We're going to put you in restrictive service, and he stamped a red rubber stamp on it and it said restricted Army ground service only, which is infantry, and that's the last I ever heard of it. That's the honest to God truth.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness.

Harold Conan Hammil:

And I said I failed the physical exam three times but I was taken, and I'm glad I was taken, but I'm not filing for any disability for that at all. I could put in a claim for busted ear drums, but I was born with it.

Larry Ordner:

But I guess I'm amazed that their definition of restricted service still allowed you to be in the infantry.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yeah, the healthiest branch of the service you can get.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Harold Conan Hammil:

But I failed it three times, but they used the word, and I apologize for using the word damn.

Larry Ordner:

That's okay.

Harold Conan Hammil:

But I want to quote a direct quote there. He said, Hammil, you're just too dammed healthy looking to be walking the streets, which I was. I was football captain and track captain. I was six foot one, weighed 190 pounds, and I did look pretty good then. But out of the 100 people that went up, eventually 100 of us passed. Normally on a physical exam there are going to be 80 or 85 percent out of 100 that passed. We were scraping the bottom then. We were losing the war in the Philippines and in North Africa and they needed everybody they could get, so they took everybody that could look warm.

Larry Ordner:

Where did you go for basic?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Basic training was Camp McCain, Mississippi, near Grenada, Mississippi, south of Memphis, Tennessee.

Larry Ordner:

Now you were in very good shape.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

So really it was not -- it probably didn't seem that rigorous.

Harold Conan Hammil:

No, it was not rigorous to me. Many a time we would pull a 25-mile hike with a full gear pack and the guys would complain, some of the city boys out of New York, Chicago, they would complain about the hike, but I was raised up on a 200-acre farm and I was used to walking. And a lot of times I would come in and leave my pack on my back and do a one-arm push-up just so the boys would see how tough a competitor I was I think, played football, basketball, track, wrestled a little, weight lifted, which I still do a little, and I used to do one-arm push-ups with a full gear pack on after we got in from a 25-mile hike. I was in very good physical shape. In fact, they wanted to train me for the heavyweight boxing in that company because they said I was the biggest and strongest boy in the company, which I didn't realize and I still don't think I was, but the company commander said, we'll take the biggest and strongest boy in the company and make a heavyweight boxer out of him because we need a boxing team here. And that guy said, well, it would be Hammil, and I didn't think so. I thought there was other boys I didn't want to mess with in there, but he picked me out. But I did not take the training then. We got transferred up to -- the whole division was moved to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and then from then on in two months we were shipped overseas to Norand(ph), North Africa.

Larry Ordner:

Where did you leave from, Harold?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Larry Ordner:

Really?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Hampton Roads, Virginia. I think they call it Hampton now, though. Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was a great _____.

Larry Ordner:

Nearest town just down from Norfolk?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Uh-huh, yeah, and it was a great one, and we landed back there.

Larry Ordner:

What kind of ship did you go over on?

Larry Ordner:

So this was a commercial ship that it was their own ship, right?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I imagine it was leased from the company. It was a Kaiser ship.

Larry Ordner:

A lot of ships were pressed in the service.

Harold Conan Hammil:

It wasn't a Queen Mary or anything like that.

Larry Ordner:

Roughly how many people might have been on that ship?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Roughly at one time --

Larry Ordner:

Are we talking hundreds?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yeah, we're talking about 3,000.

Larry Ordner:

Really?

Harold Conan Hammil:

4,000.

Larry Ordner:

How cramped were the quarters?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I think the bunks were three or four high on five decks. And it was -- of course your decks were sealed off in sections. I think there was about 16 sections to it _____ flight deck but a regular deck. And any time a torpedo hits a ship, that section is not supposed to try to save the boys that's in that section, you lock it down, and everybody in there is drowning, of course they're going to suffer, two or 300 in order to save two or 3,000. So in case a ship is hit, there is some cells or pods in there with so many people in each one, if that cell or pod is hit, the Navy has automatic orders to lock and seal that door down and the boys in there are automatically left to die in order to save the rest of the ship because you've got to save -- lose a few to save more. Fortunately, we were not hit.

Larry Ordner:

On the trip over was it a steady course, did you have to take a zigzag course?

Harold Conan Hammil:

No. Oh, we took zigzag all the time. I would sit in the back of the ship, I think they call it, oh, I don't know, the back of the ship, and we could see in the foam the zigzag that we were making it so that it -- we'd zigzag every three minutes. They say it takes five minutes for a German airplane -- or a submarine to zero in on ya, it takes five minutes for him to get complete zero in on you, so we zigged every three minutes. Then you have a big long _____ that's mounted on the back of the ship so if an airplane gets hold of it they clip that and the bridge will go up and it has cables underneath it so that would catch the rings of the airplane _____+ and we'd knock it down.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness.

Harold Conan Hammil:

But we never had to raise the bridge.

Larry Ordner:

Were you part of a large convey of ships?

Harold Conan Hammil:

No. We were -- as far as I know, we was the only one.

Larry Ordner:

Really?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Just one only each time. A convoy would attract too much attention and they just shipped you one at a time.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness.

Harold Conan Hammil:

And another thing is the kitchen, mess hall, you cannot throw trash out during the daytime because the seagulls and fish followed you and that _____ the Germans the idea that they're following something, an American ship or something, so all trash was thrown over after dark at night from the kitchen, boxes, _____ crates and food was thrown over after night. It either sank or was eaten up by the fish that follows ya, because of course you can't leave a trail of trash on the ocean.

Larry Ordner:

So the trip probably took extra days because --

Harold Conan Hammil:

Eight days. It takes eight days. _____, North Africa. And I was sea sick the entire time.

Larry Ordner:

I was wondering about that.

Harold Conan Hammil:

I don't have ear drums and I have a little motion sickness all the time anyways, still have, and I was an acting corporal there and I had to send up two guys in the kitchen every night out of my cell and I'd have them bring back me a sandwich and apple every night because I could not hardly get out of my bunk. I was sea sick the entire time. I think I lost, if I remember, eight pounds on the way over. I lost a pound a day in eight days. We landed in Norand, North Africa, where one of the original landings had taken place a year earlier.

Larry Ordner:

Well, when you got to Africa, on the African continent, were you kind of sent to a holding base --

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

-- for a period of time?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes. It was called Camp Canastel. It's a town, a little villa out of Norand, Africa, and King Edward and from Windsor, the Windsor who married the Simpson who abdicated his throne in '36, I think 1936, this was their honeymoon spot, and we used it as a hospital where we got our shots. And it was called Camp Canastel, C-a-n-a-s-t-e-l, Camp Canastel at Norand, and all of the soldiers who go in there go in at Camp Canastel and then we do a wait there until the other divisions would get a shortage of infantrymen and we were sent so many hundred to this division, so many -- as replacements, replacement ____ they called it, replacement depo, sent hundreds of them to one division and then another division come it was sent, another hundred of us would go out there, and a year later I would bump into boys that I had been at Camp McCain, Mississippi, which I hadn't seen for a year and we would be fighting through a town from house to house and someone would holler, hey, Hammil, and I would look up and there was some guy that I hadn't seen for a year and they transferred to another division. We were hunting Germans running down the street looking and shooting at windows and doors, and this happened to me many a times.

Larry Ordner:

So then after you -- what was really your first base assignment over there? After you left that initial location, where were you sent then?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I was sent to the 34th Division.

Larry Ordner:

Okay.

Harold Conan Hammil:

And they told me, they said, now, this is going to be a clean-up detail. Said we just had a big battle here a couple days before and there is a lot of American soldiers and German soldiers laying here dead and left all along this trail. We're going to bring a bunch of recruits up here tonight and we don't want to scare them, so we want you to put all the German soldiers and lay them over on this side and the American soldiers on this side of the trail so they can't be seen from the trail scaring the young recruits. And I looked at him and I said, well, I'm one of the young recruits that's coming up. I'm one of those I'm not supposed to scare, and he said, clean up the bodies. So I did. I got my job.

Larry Ordner:

So very soon after arriving there you had to do that very gruesome work?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness. That had to be -- for somebody at age 19, that had to be --

Harold Conan Hammil:

Well, I had turned 20 during my year in the service. I was 20 then. I had alreday been in service almost nine, ten months.

Larry Ordner:

But what a horrible thing to have to do.

Harold Conan Hammil:

And I picked up my first dead GI and I made a mistake of picking him up. I picked him up by the thighs, and the skin and the flesh came off in my hand and I looked there and I looked down and there was maggots running up and down the arteries and veins on my hand from this dead soldier and so I soon dropped him and picked him up by the ankles and drug him over and threw him down in the ditch where they told me to throw them down in the ditch, and the next guys that I picked up was three pieces. There was about 20 or 30 pounds of him in each piece, and I didn't know how to put him together, so I took my raincoat out of my ____ pack and cut a little fork off a little bush, a tree, and I raked him up in a raincoat and tied it in the four corners and tied that in a knot and I threw him over in the ditch, but I made a mistake when I threw him over. I wanted to see what it looked like when they hit over in the ditch, because the other guys had been throwing dead bodies over there too. So I leaned over to see what it looked like, and that was one bad mistake. When he splashed them other GIs that had been there decaying, what we call protein putrifaction now, rotten bodies, I got splashed with old dead GI remains all in my face, hands, shoulders, everything, and stink, it was terrible. So I soon learned when I threw them GIs over in the ditch, don't look to see where they're going to land, jump back and you keep moving.

Larry Ordner:

I take it those remains just would stay there, right?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I don't know what they did. I carried a lot of what they call stiffs, dead GIs or bodies. I don't know what they did with them. I never -- the GRO, which is the Grave Registration Office, GRO, of course we'd get so we'd call them the buzzard squads, so the buzzard squad or GROs would come up and they would take them back in big six black trucks. They had six black trucks, and throw them up in there, and what they do with them, I don't know. But many towns, if we fight in the town for a week or two, there would be so many dead bodies the whole town would stink and you could smell it before you got to the town. If you was driving a Jeep into town, you could smell it three or four or five miles before you got to the town with the dead bodies, Americans and Germans and Italians also, and we would take -- we would get orders to go out on buzzard squad and take all of the bodies and put them back into town so that the GRO boys could pick them up because it just got so bad. And we all hated to do that. I would just as soon go in combat and fight as to carry dead GIs, because every time you look at one you say, well, there is me tomorrow or an hour from now and we could look like that, because you see yourself in every body that you carry.

Larry Ordner:

And you can see families back home?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes. That's the bad part. Some of those boys, their mothers and dads would visit us in camp and I got to know them, and as soon as you see that boy dead, you could just see his parents that you knew --

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Harold Conan Hammil:

-- that you knew was going to get that dreaded message, and you felt so sorry for their parents then because it's too late to feel sorry for the boys.

Larry Ordner:

Well, how did it happen that you were sent to Italy then?

Harold Conan Hammil:

We didn't -- during the war, most people of ethnic ancestory were not sent back to that ethnic country.

Larry Ordner:

I see. I didn't know that.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yeah. If you were an Italian, you probably weren't sent to Italy; or if you were a Phillipino or Japanese, you wouldn't be sent to the South Pacific.

Larry Ordner:

I didn't know that.

Harold Conan Hammil:

They tried to keep the ethnic boys away from their homes, but this did not always work. I had a good, wonderful Italian sergeant in St. Louis, he's dead now. They tried to, but they weren't -- there was so many of the ethnic boys, Italian boys, and I lost a lot of good Italian boys, but they tried to send those into Germany and other countries rather than Italy, but this was not true because some of the boys actually in our town we fought in would find a distant cousin or relative from that very town. This was a rare duck, but it did happen. But some ethnic boys did have to go to their ethnic country that their ancestors came from, but they tried to prohibit it though. That's okay, leave it on.

Larry Ordner:

Let's see, where were we, Bill? Harold, pardon me. Tell me about Anzio, how you ended up there.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Anzio, I did not make the initial invasion. That was made by the 36th Division of Texas, Ardie(ph) Murphy's division. My division was not an invasion division. After it was invaded, my division, an occupational division, we came in and then cleaned it up. Then the 36th Division went in through Southern France, they made invasions, then they would be pulled out and then other _____ divisions would come in and we -- the boys was on Anzio, which was this real small piece of sandy beach, and we were on there from January the 24th, 1944, until May 11, 1944. It was three and a half months. And on Anzio alone, there was 5,000 GIs killed in Anzio alone in three months, and they said there was 15,000 killed in all of Italy. I don't really accept those figures. The death toll in World War II was probably the greatest, outside of the Civil War. It was -- the greatest number of Americans ever killed in a war was the Civil War because the north and south were all Americans; anyone who was killed in the Civil War was an American. The Civil War has the greatest percentage and the most soldiers ever killed and more Americans. But I still think that the Army doesn't recognize all of those deaths. I still think our death toll is larger than what the -- and I have the VFW magazine, which I have a life membership to the VFW, the American Legion, and the Elks, and I still think that the numbers are greater than what they put out in the public. They said only 15,000 was killed in Italy, and I was there two years and I'm very sure there was more than that. There was 5,000 killed on Ansio beachhead which was a three-month battle. They couldn't -- in Anzio the Germans, we had the sandy beach and the Germans had the mountains, and they could look right down on us. So we had dug our foxholes, and if you wanted to urinate or defecate in a C ration box or anything or a C ration can or C ration box, you couldn't throw it out of your foxhole. I mean you couldn't reach out and dump it, you would get shot in the arm. You had to figure out which way the wind was and then throw it up and throw it away from you as far as you could without throwing it in another guy's foxhole. Once in awhile some new recruit would come in and we would tell him, don't be so particular, wait until dark. Don't throw your urine or defication away in the day, but you put your arm out there or stick your head up, you're going to get killed, which they were just a few hundred yards up there on the mountains. They could see us. They could look right down on us. So we had to stay and hide in the foxholes all during the daytime, and at night we could go out and go and patrol looking for Germans, get a bowel movement and do what you wanted to. But we had real fancy foxholes that would be six foot down and then we would dig back and then put two guys to each foxhole, and that way one guy could be on duty and the another guy off duty and you had company and you could talk and everything.

Larry Ordner:

Were you able to sleep at all?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yeah, yeah.

Larry Ordner:

How was that?

Harold Conan Hammil:

That was all right. You don't sleep and eat as much as you think you would. You're not hungry when you're shooting or someone is shooting at you. We would go two or three days at a time and never get a C ration can to eat, but we don't miss that so much.

Larry Ordner:

You had rations, right?

Harold Conan Hammil:

We had rations, but there is not many cooks brave enough to come up and bring it to you.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Harold Conan Hammil:

We had a lot of times during the mountains we would have to go back to our own kitchen and steal out of our own kitchen and then the flap at night and _____ and steal food and candles. We liked candles back in those things. We couldn't get enough candles and C rations because the cooks, they can't bring a Jeep to you, it makes too much noise, and we had what we -- ammo bearers, which we did a lot of ammo bearing, and we'd go from one foxhole to another and always backtracked. You never approach another foxhole from the front or the side, because that's where the Germans come from. You go to one foxhole and you get some drinking water out of a five-gallon can and some ammo, you walk back and then over, and always, always approach him from the rear, and never call him by name. If you call him, say, hey, Joe, hey, Joe, where are you, some German may hear it and as soon as you leave the German will say, hey, Joe, where are you, Joe, so you never call him by name. And when you leave one foxhole, the other guy will tell you exactly where the other one is, this side of that bush or on the other side of the bush, but you're always back and come in from the rear and behind. I don't care how much walking it is, you never come from the side or the front. We had that happen and we had one boy shoot up another guy, one of our buddy's, right in the forehead because he came from the front. He got lost and _____ directions, lost from one foxhole to the other, an ammo bearer, and he got shot right in the head. He came in from the front, and you can't do that. Because everybody was happy, trigger happy, and they don't want shot and their folks to receive that message any worse than you want your buddies to receive it, but that's the only thing a lot of times that keeps you going is I can't stand to see my mother and father receiving that telegram. A lot of times that keeps you going, and we did have a few suicides, and the Germans had one trick. Some American boys, after they'd had so much combat, they couldn't stand it anymore, and they said, well, we'll go -- the Germans would drop leaflets out of an airplane where you could sign your name and address and rank and serial number on it and if you take this and fill it out and go walk over to the German lines with this in your hand, they will take you as a prisoner of war and you're safe and you're through the war forever, you don't have to fight anymore. That's German propaganda. So some of the boys would have enough of combat and they would fall for it. They would fill out that little application on a little circle or disk, that's what it looked like, about the size of a 45 RPM disk, and they would carry it over. And as soon as they would carry it over, say two of them will decide to go over, go over the hill, pretty soon you would hear two bullet shots. Instead of being safe, they had shot them and killed them. So the boys got real smart that want that wanted to _____ war and go to the Germans. So they said say four of us wants to go. We will send one guy over and he tells the Germans that if you don't shoot me and we wait 30 minutes exactly by our clock, then the four other guys will come over, but if they hear a shot and I'm shot, they're not going to come over. The Germans would say, no, we won't shoot you, just stay here for a half an hour, 30 minutes, and then the other guys will come over, and they'll be safe. So they did, they'd wait for them. About 30 minutes later the other four boys would think it's safe and they would go over there, and then pretty soon we would hear five shots and so this happens. They shot _____ patrol guy, plus the other four, so that stopped a lot of our desertions. There were deserters. After being in a combat for a year or two, sometimes you'll do anything to get out of combat, and then you have what we call SIW, self-inflicted wounds. So the German artillary shells are coming in, you'd stick your head down in your foxhole feet first, you stick your left ankle out, leg out, so when an artillery shell goes off, it just cuts off one leg, but it's always on the left leg. A right-handed man will always stick his left leg out or his left arm. A lot of times they'll crawl down a foxhole and stick his left arm off waiting for schrapnel to cut his arm off. Going home with one arm is better than not going home at all. This is the way that combat, you have to live. You don't live like a human being. You're not a human being. You're a rodent or a rat or an oppossum or coon or a snake, but you're not a human being when you're in combat. A combat soldier, nobody wants to kill. No one is a born killer, but there is two branches of service, those who are taught to kill and those who are support troops. We always admired the support troops. They think they're having a hard time because they don't know any different, but when you're out there killing, you're not a human being. All of us are Christian boys, all of us prayed. We prayed from the first minute you're in combat until twenty years later. You never quit praying. But those who get killed are also praying too. I think I saved my life by praying and was born again by Jesus Christ, but I know the boys who got shot, they prayed just as hard as I did. But we are not born killers. No infantryman is a born killer, but there are times when you want to go to the Germans and there are times when you won't shoot them. Many times we never shot Germans, no. We never shot a German -- our platoon boys, we never shot a German unless we absolutely had to. We would take them prisoner at all times. When we would see them on patrol, we would turn our guns sideways and they would turn their guns sideways. That means I won't shoot you if you don't shoot me, and we walked past each other within, oh, 50 yards, just watch each other, and then keep our rifles turned sideways, not towards them, and they'll do the same thing.

Larry Ordner:

What do you think prompted that?

Harold Conan Hammil:

I don't know. Nobody wanted to fight. None of us are born killers.

Larry Ordner:

They didn't either?

Harold Conan Hammil:

No, they didn't want it. I captured -- I speak a little Italian, and funny thing, when we had captured Germans, they had been in Italy five years and we had been there two years, and we didn't speak German and they didn't speak English, so we'd interrogate them and our mutual tongue was Italian and I had done a lot of interrogation in Italian and all of us did our interrogation in Italian, most of us learned a lot of Italian by doing that, but the Germans didn't want to get killed any more than we did, but we had to do -- once in awhile we had to shoot them. A lot of times there would be on a narrow road we would have to go along and the Germans would leave a German soldier back there with a toe _____ of dynamite, what they called a toe (life) To blow a bridge or something, and we would have to send scouts ahead to kill him. We had to do that, because if you fell on that detonator or something like that, or surprised him, he would go ahead and do his duty. So we had to kill once in awhile, but we're not natural born killers, and you're always sick. You never eat that day or the next day after you kill a German soldier, you're never hungry, because you feel sorry about it, but eventually there has to be deaths in war. It is war, and I regret that I was in a killing division. I didn't want in it, but all the boys who were in that kind of combat for a year or two all have mental conditions, and we don't usually go to our division reunions. We don't want to see each other that much because somebody is going to start a story that is going to take that -- our memories back _____. And I've gone to division reunions and I was the only one there once and I went and talked to another headquarters company and they said, no, you're from the line company, which is combat line, in front, front line, and I said I was line company, and line company boys very seldom have much of attendance because in the first place most of them were killed or they were separated to different divisions and sent out as replacements and those who come back were wounded or have combat neurosis or bad memories that they don't want to talk about. So when you do meet your old Army buddies, no one talks about combat. You talk about your kids, your grandkids and your dogs. That's all you talk about. You spend most of your time looking at pictures of your buddies. You're glad to see him, but you don't want to revive any memories, no, no.

Larry Ordner:

Well, you saw service in areas including Rome, Florence, Po Valley, Apennines.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

And I know that each were so distinct in their terrain, weren't they?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Uh-huh. I can about tell you the month of each one of them.

Larry Ordner:

Really?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Uh-huh, 60 years later.

Larry Ordner:

You mentioned something to me about being at the Vatican.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me about that, please.

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes. We was _____ up from Anzio beachhead, which is just north of Rome, and we had been there for about five months fighting into Rome and finally -- we finally made it into Rome and we were the first battalion to get into Rome. And during the German occupation, which was five years that Germany had occupied Italy, the Pope in his method of protesting German occupation refused to have a public audience at two o'clock every afternoon. He refused that for five years. So after Rome was then liberated June the 6th, actually we liberated it the day before but that's the entrance we made was June the 6th, 1944, about a month later the Pope sent word to the division that he would like to have some of the boys who had liberated Rome to come back and be in his first audience, this is Pope Pius XII, be in his first audience in the Sistine Chapel. Well, I was one of the boys picked. Even though I'm a Protestant boy, I was one of the boys picked to go back, and I think this should have been mostly Catholic boys but I don't know because there was about 200 of us in there, in the Sistine Chapel, and then Pope Pius XII came in and greeted all of us, the Catholic boys kissed his ring and he spoke to us. He had very good English and welcomed us and thanked us and everything like that, and it was very nice. And I watched him speak from the balcony at St. Peter's Cathedral many, many times, and I loved Rome. I don't like it as well as Florence. Florence was my favorite city. I attended one semester at the University of Florence. After the war was over, we had seven months of _____ occupation, went home on the point system. And being single, no kids, no wife, I didn't have a lot of points, even though I had more combat than most of them. So I put my application in at the University of Florence, Italy, and I was accepted on the GI Bill. I went one semester at the University of Florence, Italy, old English literature, _____, psychiatry and football. I played on the all-Fifth Army football team for one whole season. We won seven out of eight games. But Rome is a nice town, and of course it's a commercial town. Every Italian there has a littled two-wheeled cart and he sells the Italian souvenires. He has his own spot, and generation to generation, three or four generations, ____+ has that same spot. You'd better not get in that either.

Larry Ordner:

What were some of the more memorable moments though perhaps from that point on that you --

Harold Conan Hammil:

You mean the happier moments?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah, tell me some of the happier moments because those certainly --

Harold Conan Hammil:

Ooh, I didn't have too many happy moments there. Most of my happy moments, none of them happened during the war. When the war was over in May _____, we had stayed until December. So then the Fifth Army had a bed and breakfast base at the Grand Central Station in Italy, called Centrale Stazione, which means Central Station, and the Fifth Army put bunks in there for us and had a kitchen for us, and all of us at the university and all the GIs, we had a card, we had a Fifth Army card, and any time we was in any town, we could go up to an Army base and get free food. And I traveled to a number of the towns. I went to Venice, Italy, two or three times, and I enjoyed it very much. And then I met a lot of people in Florence. I knew a lot of people in Florence, students, and played football with some All-Americans there. We had three All-Americans on that team, and only two of us had never played pro ball. We had some boys from the old Chicago Cardinals, which is St. Louis now, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. We had a lot of pro boys that we played a lot of football with, and we enjoyed it very much. Then we had a USO center there in Florence. And the girls were very nice. And they wanted the American boys because we had sandwiches and chocolate and cigarettes and peanuts and everything. We didn't have any trouble getting the girls. They were very friendly to us. But that was most of the enjoyable times. If ____+ after the war was over and ____+ the occupation, and I went back to some of the towns that I had fought in in the mountains and the countryside and talked to the people, but they were very bitter. They had lost everything, and they didn't really appreciate some of us.

Larry Ordner:

After the war and you got to return home, were you able to use your GI bill?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Oh, yes. I was home -- after I was home in December, I applied in March for the chiropractic college in Davenport, Iowa, where the chiropractor from my hometown had graduated from and I applied there.

Larry Ordner:

What was the name of that school?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Palmer's Chiropractic College. D.D. Palmer, he is dead now, but he founded it. He was a personal friend of mine. Excuse me. And I graduated from there when I was living in Fairfield, and I opened my office in Lawrenceville, which is still in operation. I sold it and retired in 1980. I sold my clinic and practice in 1980, and it's still in operation with another local boy. And anymore, I don't drink anything anymore. I started mowing the yard, raising flowers and vegetables and playing some golf, but I'm in good health and everything is _____ pretty well. I don't have much arthritis or anything.

Larry Ordner:

Well, looking back, because it's been so many years since you were in the service, but how can you -- what would you tell to someone who might even 50 years from now hear your words on what you described that you went through? What would you say to a future generation of Americans?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Well, I have always one hope, when the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, Japan, I said, hooray, the infantry is over, we don't have anymore infantry people, combat infantry, but I was wrong. They still need combat infantry to clean up and mop up and occupate. I wouldn't recommend any person to go into combat infantry. I like the service, and if I had a son, I would hope that he was in a noncombat service, but -- killing people is a terrible, terrible thing. I wouldn't want any relative of mine to be in combat. War is wonderful if you don't have to kill people, but then that wouldn't be a war. But I wouldn't -- I had two nephews, my brother's boy, he was in South Pacific Naval _____ and his two brothers were in Vietnam, but they were both airplane mechanics. Now I approve of that, but when I found out they were in Vietnam, I almost got sick because I figured, uh-oh, there is a couple more infantry boys and there is nothing worse than the infantry. 87 percent of all soldiers killed in World War I, Korea, World War II, and Vietnam, 87 percent are infantrymen. And when you go into combat in the infantry, I think you have -- I think we figured we had 15 percent chance of coming back. The regular combat infantryman has about a 15 percent chance of coming back. And I wouldn't recommend it. I know we have to have the infantry, but in my personal opinion, I don't want my family to go through it. UNKNOWN SPEAKER: I just was seeing how you were doing because one of the veterans found out that you were doing this and he was a POW in Vietnam for five and a half years and we didn't have a Vietnam veteran, and so I thought maybe we might be able to slide in.

Larry Ordner:

Can you just summarize what you feel about your service and what you were part of?

Harold Conan Hammil:

Yes. When you're fighting and killing, you have to play tricks on your mind. You have to say this is a just war, God is on our side, everything right should survive and everything wrong should restore itself and this is a just war. The German occupation, we cannot tolerate that. The first thing they did was close all of the churches, destroy all of the Jews and the Jehovah Witnesses, which a lot of people don't realize that Jehovah Witnesses were one of the most persecuted, my mother is a Jehovah Witness, one of the most persecuted bunch in Europe, same as the Jews were, a lot of people don't know this, but -- I forgot what you asked me.

Larry Ordner:

Well, we were talking about maybe _____.

Harold Conan Hammil:

And I always have to say this is a just war, it is just and for our side and God is on our side and we are trying to keep our parents, our family, brothers, sisters, and everybody in America from being under the Nazi rule or the Japanese rule. That's the thing what you have to say. I am doing my part, my duty, maybe more than most people, but at least I see the light down the end of the road, we're out to destroy Naziism and the Hitlers and we have to destroy the Japanese people and this is what we're doing. Even though we're having to kill to do it, we do have to destroy the German Nazi party and the Japanese party, so this is a just war and God is on our side. You have to kind of justify your own things that you don't really want to do. Nobody wants to shoot to kill. Funny thing, when you kill a person, you never look at the -- you're _____, you never look at their face when you kill them. If you look at their face, you won't kill them because they've got a plead there that you don't want to see there. So the killing area is from shoulder to in-seam. This is your killing zone here. Never look at him in the face or you'll never shoot him, never pull the trigger. You're looking right here. Never, never look up. If you do, you'll never -- you'll have a plead there that you know that you're going to have yourself or would have yourself, and he looks just like you. The Germans look just like -- I'm half German myself, a little Irish and a little French, but never look to hit him in the face. The killing zone is his torso. All you want to see is his torso or his back. It doesn't hurt to shoot him in the back, as long as you shoot him. But don't aim towards their head or don't look at their head. Their head is movable and it's got a helmet on it, and the chance of killing in the head is -- it won't happen. The odds are against you. So your killing zone is here to here, front or back. But we have to keep thinking that this is a just war, that God is on our side and we are defending what we think is right and destroying that which we think is wrong, and you have to believe that the rest of your life.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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