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Interview with George Harris [August 15th, 2002]

Larry Ordner:

This recording is made August 15th, 2002, of George David Harris. Mr. Harris resides at 918 West Drive in Oakland City, Indiana. He is a native of Boonville, Indiana. Served in the United States Army in the 112th Ordinance Company attached to the 34th Division. His highest rank attained is that of tech sergeant; served from March 14th, 1943, to December 27, 1945; entered the military at age 19. Saw service among these locations, and there were others: Fort McCullum, Alabama; Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia; In Africa, Salerno; and the Italian invasion, Casino, Naples, Anzio Beachhead, Rome, Porus (ph), Milan; up to the Swiss border. He's the awardee of five bronze stars. This recording is made with Larry Ordner, Regional Director for US Senator Dick Lugar.

Well, George, thank you so much for being part of the Veterans History Project. I appreciate you're coming in today. You grew up in Boonville, Indiana; you were born there, right?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

How long did your family live there?

George Harris:

I was eight years old we moved to Buckskin.

Larry Ordner:

Where is Buckskin, what county?

George Harris:

Gibson.

Larry Ordner:

Gibson County, Indiana, near Princeton. So when you were -- did you go to school here, there?

George Harris:

I went to school, graduated from Mackney (ph) High School.

Larry Ordner:

Mackney. Okay. And so what were you doing at age 19?

George Harris:

I was working in the coal mine.

Larry Ordner:

In a coal mine. In this area?

George Harris:

In Elmsville, just south of Gilbert.

Larry Ordner:

Was it all underground at that time?

George Harris:

Underground mines.

Larry Ordner:

Wow. That was hard work.

George Harris:

Hard work.

Larry Ordner:

Terribly hard work. How mechanized was that?

George Harris:

It was mechanized. They had all the modern machinery at that age. Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

So were you drafted?

George Harris:

I was drafted.

Larry Ordner:

So what was the reaction at home when the draft notice came?

George Harris:

Well --

Larry Ordner:

It was no surprise, though, was it?

George Harris:

No surprise. My father was a veteran of World War I, and I had a brother in the service at that time, and I had another brother that went in after, he was in the Navy. And it was just expected.

Larry Ordner:

Uh-huh.

George Harris:

We just knew it.

Larry Ordner:

Right. So you then left for induction and where was that?

George Harris:

I went to Indianapolis, Fort Benjamin Harrison.

Larry Ordner:

Fort Benjamin Harrison. And then basic training?

George Harris:

Forth McClelland, Alabama.

Larry Ordner:

Did you go by train?

George Harris:

We went by train.

Larry Ordner:

Did they tell you where you were going?

George Harris:

No. Never told us anything.

Larry Ordner:

Let's see, at the time of year, I guess --

George Harris:

March.

Larry Ordner:

You left in March here, you no doubt noticed the climate getting warmer as you went south.

George Harris:

It was warmer, yes.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. So you hopped off that train and suddenly you were in Alabama.

George Harris:

In Alabama. The red clay.

Larry Ordner:

How -- were you all prepared for basic training, you think?

George Harris:

Yes, I think I was. I was in good shape.

Larry Ordner:

How rigorous was it?

George Harris:

Well, they told us that we were the first bunch of the 18-year-old draftees that had come in, they was gonna use us as guinea pigs and it was strange.

Larry Ordner:

And why?

George Harris:

They wanted to see what we would do and what we could take. And we done it.

Larry Ordner:

Are there any instances that really stick out in your mind as being great remembrances of basic training?

George Harris:

Yeah, one.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me about that.

George Harris:

It was -- we run the obstacle course twice every morning, and I could do that standing on my head. And this one morning I thought I'd get -- I'd join them the next time around. And two other guys joined me. And they didn't come around again. Looked out and the whole bunch was marching away. So they said, let's catch up. I said, you can catch up if want to, I'm waiting till dinnertime to go in. And nothing was ever said.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right? I guess you were just waiting for the moment, weren't you, by that time?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

That something would be said.

George Harris:

I wasn't gonna try to catch up.

Larry Ordner:

Roughly how many men might there have been in that __ that was going to war?

George Harris:

There was four -- there was four platoons, 12 -- and four squads --

Larry Ordner:

So it was fairly easy --

George Harris:

That's -- there's a bunch of people.

Larry Ordner:

-- easy to be missed in that case?

George Harris:

Yeah. I know they missed me.

Larry Ordner:

No one ratted on you?

George Harris:

No. And I don't know why. Because I was a squad leader, I was first man in line. But nobody ever said a word.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

George Harris:

And another thing I did was at the end of the training period we were 38 miles from -- out from camp, and was forced to march in with one canteen of water. And I was getting thirsty and it got dark. So we passed a farmhouse and I got four canteens, my own and three others, and they -- I took my pack and my rifle, I went to the farmhouse and found a well and I was drawing up a bucket of water. Old farmer came out and help me fill the canteens. I run to catch up and we all took a sip, man, and we come in and find __.

Larry Ordner:

During basic training were you guys given any aptitude tests to determine where you were going to be plugged in?

George Harris:

No.

Larry Ordner:

Or was it pretty much a given at that time if you were in the Army you were going to be in infantry?

George Harris:

It was infantry, I went over -- I went overseas as an infantry replacement and they lost my records. So they sent me up to headquarters and it was like I was -- all the tests and everything, that we took in Evansville when I was inducted and I ended up in ordinance __. The rest of them went to infantry, 36th division.

Larry Ordner:

Your specialty was going to be ordinance.

George Harris:

I was -- I was an automotive mechanic and -- but my experience working in a coal mine as a mechanic done this.

Larry Ordner:

I see. So at least application of similar experiences there. How did you feel about that?

George Harris:

I felt great. I'd rather be in ordinance than infantry.

Larry Ordner:

So you were at Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia. Was that on the coast?

George Harris:

Yes. Newport News, Virginia.

Larry Ordner:

Newport News.

George Harris:

Port of deportation.

Larry Ordner:

And then you sailed for Africa?

George Harris:

Yeah. __.

Larry Ordner:

Was it on a former commercial liner?

George Harris:

It was on an LST that was built in Evansville, Indiana.

Larry Ordner:

You crossed on an LST?

George Harris:

Yes, sir.

Larry Ordner:

Did you really?

George Harris:

Twenty-one days.

Larry Ordner:

That's a long time on an LST, isn't it?

George Harris:

It is. And we all --

Larry Ordner:

Slow, isn't it?

George Harris:

Huh?

Larry Ordner:

It's pretty slow, isn't it?

George Harris:

It's slow. Yeah. And we -- we -- there's a hundred -- hundred and -- I think 108 soldiers on there, just a skeleton crew of the coast guard crew and they turned it over to the Navy when they got there. But we had to bolt the furniture down on it.

Larry Ordner:

Well, that had to be kind of a unique feeling, going over on something that was made in Evansville.

George Harris:

And my wife was a welder on that base.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right? Now, how'd that make you feel?

George Harris:

Well, I didn't know at that time that she was welding, was welding on it. I wasn't married then. We went to high school together and -- but she -- she was a welder.

Larry Ordner:

Evansville had quite a roleplay in --

George Harris:

Oh, yes.

Larry Ordner:

-- in military preparedness in terms of all the manufacturing.

George Harris:

They made airplanes, ships, a lot of ammunition. A lot of ammunition in Evansville.

Larry Ordner:

Hundreds of women went to work in that year. Yeah. Remarkable place. But still a great affection for the LSTs at the Evansville.

George Harris:

There's one coming back down here.

Larry Ordner:

I understand that.

George Harris:

I want to go see it.

Larry Ordner:

Sure will. Well, you landed in Africa. You had training in Alabama. Do you think that that prepared you for anything for Africa?

George Harris:

It prepared somewhat. But after -- after we joined this outfit, I don't know why they did, but they give us two weeks of -- the whole company gave us two weeks of wrangler (ph) training.

Larry Ordner:

Why was that?

George Harris:

I do not know. They never told us. We just took it. But it paid off, I think.

Larry Ordner:

What was the status at that time of the African campaign when you were out there?

George Harris:

It was over.

Larry Ordner:

It was over. I was wondering about that. So why did you land in Africa?

George Harris:

It was a staging area for -- to invade them, Italy.

Larry Ordner:

Okay. Now, Italy posed a lot of problems, didn't it? Because of the strange -- because of all the touring there, mountainous --

George Harris:

Mountainous, you never seen such mountains. Cold, cold, cold. Hey, when you're wet, you get cold. Rained a lot. And it's hard to stay dry in a hole in the ground.

Larry Ordner:

And Italy was some of the absolute fiercest fighting of the war, wasn't it?

George Harris:

It was, yes.

Larry Ordner:

It was just horrible. Can you tell me -- now, you were in some absolutely major areas where there was just enormous combat and enormous losses. Can you kind of walk me through your time in Italy and what that was like from the time that you were part of an invasion?

George Harris:

Well, when we went in on invasion, I can remember {cough} excuse me, the electric bulldozer made a trench to lay the bodies in. That seemed horrible.

Larry Ordner:

And that's what you saw when you got there. My goodness.

George Harris:

{Cough} Excuse me. I can't help this.

Larry Ordner:

That's okay. It's just the two of us here.

George Harris:

Never done this in my life {cough}.

Larry Ordner:

Don't give it a thought. That's okay.

George Harris:

{Cough.}

Larry Ordner:

I'm sure that's got to be an absolute horrible sight to see. Nobody knew what in the heck you were going to be getting into over there, did they?

George Harris:

{Whisper} No. We was close to -- if something got knocked out we were supposed to be prepared. But it's hard to work on a piece of equipment when you're being shot at. And Casino, that was the bloodiest place, oh, it was bloody. The Germans were trying to get into that town, there was just no way we could take it. That was the reason --

Larry Ordner:

That was very mountainous, wasn't it?

George Harris:

Oh, yeah.

Larry Ordner:

And how do wage war when they're dug in on mountains; how do you do that?

George Harris:

Uh-huh. You get whipped. See, the -- we tried and tried and finally used artillery on it and bombed it. They wasn't all that ____, couldn't take it, they just went underground, come out when -- they come out when they'd blast us and that's when we went into Anzio (ph) thinking that blow off the sudden (ph) front. They could take it, but they -- they never could and finally bypassed it, just wrapped around it and -- they was flying from the back side of the mountain with the tunnel through. Wasn't no way.

Larry Ordner:

What was the turning point in the Italian campaign, do you think?

George Harris:

When we -- after we left off of Anzio we moved pretty good.

Larry Ordner:

What was that like in Anzio?

George Harris:

It was rough.

Larry Ordner:

How did you -- you went through days and days there continuously, I mean, that was just nonstop.

George Harris:

We had probably three-mile inland, and there's a range of mountain around our beach. We had three-mile -- about three-mile deep in penetration and five-mile of beach. And the Germans' setting up there looking down their throats. And they would talk to us every day.

Larry Ordner:

Really.

George Harris:

Telling us, you know ___. One time they told us get ready -- they trying to break our morale, I guess. Told us said get ready, tonight we're going to drive you back into the sea, but we didn't move an inch. I had on a machine gun that night. We spent the afternoon pulling all the tracers out of the belt and replaced them with live shells. Because you shoot trace out there, they can -- they know where it's coming from. And we had it all zeroed in and just crisscross it. I thought we were gonna burn them machine guns. They shooting artillery pieces point blank ahead, we was shootin' everything we could, but they didn't move us. We finally walked out of there. We ate C rations.

Larry Ordner:

For purposes of the tape, can you tell me what that was like? What'd that consist of?

George Harris:

Well, you get tired of it. They had beans and weiners was pretty good, beans and weinies, the stew was all right; the hash was horrible, it was too dry. And --

Larry Ordner:

I understand some of the rations, some of the rations, I don't know which it was, but some had, like, sausages and they were made at Fort Ranch (ph).

George Harris:

We didn't have any of them up there. We had -- that was C rations.

Larry Ordner:

Okay.

George Harris:

And we run a truck and punch a hole in the can, lay it on the manifold of the truck would kind of heat it a little bit.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

George Harris:

And you couldn't hardly step anyplace up there without stepping on a piece of shrapnel. And everything that goes up's gotta come down, and shrapnel everyplace. And we was living in underground, we'd find anything we could to cover the hole and then to take the dirt we'd come out of the hole, put on top of it to protect us from the shrapnel falling down.

Larry Ordner:

So it just literally rained shrapnel?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness. Can I ask you how, or were you guys able to, to keep your morale and your spirits up? I mean, it'd be horrible to try to --

George Harris:

It wasn't -- it wasn't trying, you just tried to survive. You did about anything.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. How many days would you say during the Italy __ campaign that you were faced with just day after day of combat? How many days would you say?

George Harris:

Well, on Anzio it was every day.

Larry Ordner:

And how long was that?

George Harris:

Well, let's see, we went up there winter, January the 22nd till May the 25th.

Larry Ordner:

Wow. My goodness. Did you sense at all the progress you were making?

George Harris:

Well, we weren't making any progress. We just sitting there trying to hold them. Well, we went in, we went in to Anzio, we had it made. I mean, we didn't do anything, I was fishing. And we went too far. We didn't have enough to -- to hold what we had. And they was thinking that troops from the -- around Anzio, the Casino area, they put them off to come up there, but they didn't. And they brought troops out of the Northern Italy down there and they pushed it back on the beach. We just sat there and held it. They had an artillery piece, they go -- it was on the railroad tracks, and they bring that out and shoot. And you could see it come across the sky. Had a booster on it, take it a little farther. They were shootin' at the ships in the harbor there. And when you'd look up you'd have big shells going through the air and, what in the world is that thing?

Larry Ordner:

You had to have some -- I mean, and you were just really, just literally dug in there most of the time?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

I mean, it had to be absolutely miserable conditions.

George Harris:

We -- it rained a lot, and the ground would get wet, we'd dig a little deeper hole in one corner and water'd drain into that and we'd bale it out with our helmet.

Larry Ordner:

I suppose there were times where, I might be completely wrong, there were some times where you were just literally having to spend hours and hours and hours of just trying to pass time, weren't you?

George Harris:

Yes. Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

That's awfully difficult, too.

George Harris:

Very difficult. But I had one thing in my bannock.

Larry Ordner:

What's that?

George Harris:

If I could get to sleep, they could shell the hell out of us and never heard it.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right?

George Harris:

But if I was awake when it started, I could not go to sleep when it happened. I was a sound sleeper, I guess.

Larry Ordner:

That's fortunate.

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

That's amazing you could sleep through that. Hmm.

George Harris:

That company was replaced a hundred 20 percent. And I'm one of the few that survived it.

Larry Ordner:

My goodness. That's a horrible number. Horrible.

George Harris:

They got all killed and wounded and killed and whatever, you know.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

There was a turnover a couple times __, but, you know, I don't know why or anything. It just -- just happened. But after we bilked out of there, another silly thing that I did was -- was we were going through Rome and -- Rome was an open city. But I gotta tell you, the way you react, there was three Germans in a three-story building throwing hand grenades out. And me and -- me and another guy, I don't even know him, we got in back of a fountain, there's a lot of fountains. We got in back of that fountain to try to protect ourself. About that time here come a half strike and a major, throw it over the side. He didn't come to the door, he just throw it over the side, and said come on, let's -- we got to get him out of there. And he hit the door and broke it down, he was a big man. And me and this other fella followed him in there. Why did I do that? But they must have run out of hand grenades because they took 'em to the roof and two of them, man they quick, and this one he put up a fight, and I remember, picked him up and threw him off the building.

Larry Ordner:

Wow.

George Harris:

But if I had had to think about that, I wouldn't have done it, would I?

Larry Ordner:

Probably not. What were the conditions in -- say in Rome at the time?

George Harris:

Rome, it was -- it was -- there was no fighting much. Big guys should have been done, Germans should have been done. We went through there, that was the only incident we had.

Larry Ordner:

Mussolini was already --

George Harris:

No, Mussolini was still alive.

Larry Ordner:

He was still alive at that time?

George Harris:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

Where was he, you think?

George Harris:

I don't know where he was at that time, but I saw him.

Larry Ordner:

Did you really?

George Harris:

In Milan, Italy.

Larry Ordner:

Oh, my gosh. Tell me about that.

George Harris:

We moved in there and we weren't supposed to be, but we didn't know where he was at. And went in on the south and Milan wasn't destroyed, on the south side it was a few damaged buildings, most of it was in pretty good shape. We went in there and -- a courtyard, a __, and it had walls around a lot of this stuff, a little courtyard in there, and there was Mussolini, three other people, and Mussolini's mistress hanging by their ankles, just hanging.

Larry Ordner:

You saw that?

George Harris:

I saw that. And I had a picture of it, but somebody took my picture. And somebody gave me the picture, but --

Larry Ordner:

And did you -- how long did it take you to realize who that was?

George Harris:

We knew immediately.

Larry Ordner:

You knew immediately.

George Harris:

Immediately. And the Italians, I couldn't quite understand that they'd walk up and spit on him or stick a knife in him and that kind of stuff. I mean, the man was dead, why do that? When we went into Milan we'd have our vehicles and we would ride on up, you know, and everything's going great. And about, oh, maybe two mile, I don't know, all of a sudden there was people lining the road on each side throwing flowers on our truck and whatever, and they would have give us anything that they had and whatever. And it was -- that was -- that was --

Larry Ordner:

You were truly liberating --

George Harris:

That's -- that was joy. I remember the other time we were going up through there and I was driving the truck pulling a 500-gallon water tank, water trailer on it, and went through a little village and they didn't have any water. They were out of water. Too much bombing and shelling and all the wells were dry and everything. So I stopped and they seen water, and here they come with everything they had, and they drained my truck. I didn't care. And Lt. Graybill come along and said what are you doing? I said, I'm not doing nothing. I'm sitting here and they're taking my water. And he said, when it's empty, go get them some more if they need it. I got them another trailer load and then he said, when you get them water, get us some.

Larry Ordner:

And they came first.

George Harris:

And they came --

Larry Ordner:

And then -- wow. That's a very telling comment, isn't it?

George Harris:

It's good.

Larry Ordner:

It is. I was wondering, sometimes I know I've heard mixed statements depending on how the Americans were, how they were regarded by citizens of another country.

George Harris:

Well, they -- Italy, they liked us.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

I mean, they -- I guess there's some that didn't, but majority of people, they welcomed us.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

And that there when we went into Milan, that was the only time I experienced anything like that, but it was -- made you feel great, it really did.

Larry Ordner:

What was it like to be in an area which, you know, so many great old structures that you've always heard about, suddenly see them, it was a time of war?

George Harris:

Well, we -- the Coliseum in Rome?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

That was, you know, something we read in history and all.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

I got to see that.

Larry Ordner:

See the Vatican?

George Harris:

I saw the Vatican and -- we couldn't go in there.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

They said it was the Pope standing up there in the balcony and I looked at him through a pair of binoculars, but whether it was or not, I don't know.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

George Harris:

And I went up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Larry Ordner:

Really?

George Harris:

Yeah. And that -- it was a motivator, everybody wasn't working. And that stairwell is round and spiral staircase just goes around up to the top. And it leaned so much, as you were walking up at one part you felt you was walking down.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

George Harris:

And then Langhorn, we hit Langhorn and there was a German brewery there. And the Germans had done -- they took off, they was gone. And we filled up everything we could with beer. And the MPs come up and put it off limits, said that would have to be tested before it could be used, it'd probably been poisoned. I told 'em, I said, if it's poisoned, my mouth is gonna be dead {laughter}.

Larry Ordner:

I suppose that tasted pretty good after what you had been through, hadn't it?

George Harris:

Oh, yeah. And we would -- whenever we could, we'd take it down to the Air Force and they'd fly a mission with it. We'd give 'em two five-gallon cans and they'd fly a mission with it and when they got back in they'd bring us one can.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

George Harris:

That cooled down.

Larry Ordner:

I bet so. I bet so. Well, so you finally ended up near the Swiss border.

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

Is that pretty much where your World War II campaign ended?

George Harris:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

Was it just -- now, that was -- let's see, was that really -- that was at the end of the war?

George Harris:

Yeah. The Germans had -- they surrendered.

Larry Ordner:

And by then, by the time you discharged the war in the Pacific was over, too.

George Harris:

Yes. And we got to the Philippines, it was bad.

Larry Ordner:

I do want to go into that. Now, you were -- you must tell that story how you ended up in the Swiss border thinking then that --

George Harris:

We were coming home.

Larry Ordner:

You thought you were going home, take that story from there, though. What the surprise was.

George Harris:

We -- we could, in fact, have stayed in Langhorn, Italy. And we was aboard a ship and we was coming across the Atlantic and we thought we were coming home. Nobody tell you where you're going or anything. We sighted land one evening, man, we was getting excited, you know; Panama Canal. And they said they wouldn't let us off the ship that night, but they did, and let us -- put us into a stockade, but there was a PX in there we could buy snacks and stuff. And there was marine guards all around the outside of the fence to keep us in there. But then we went through the Panama Canal the next day and on to the Philippine Islands. And then they got onto the LST, I was on there going to Okinawa to join the invasion going forward in Japan. We were five days out of there and --

Larry Ordner:

My goodness. Now, what did that do for morale at that time?

George Harris:

Well, it -- I asked this nigger, can we just fly us? And he said that we were experienced -- experienced invasion troops. And I said yes, but my gonna run out on me. And that's when he said your life's not worth a nickel. But it was.

Larry Ordner:

What a horrible comment.

George Harris:

Yeah. Well, I asked him, you have something to say? Then we were riding back into the Philippine Islands, turned around took us back. And then that's when __ on the island, there was a bunch of Japanese that wouldn't surrender. And we had to go up and get them. Because most of the people that been in combat was already gone. And we was pretty well combat-ready. So had all of own equipment and everything. And we went up there and got 'em out. And that was, oh, that was bad. They'd -- it was in these caves and we had Japanese prisoners and we had American people who speak Japanese tell them the war was over and to come on out. And some of them tried it, but they wanted to shoot 'em in the back when they come out. So we had to take flame throwers and go in and burn them out and that's horrible. Really horrible __ kind of things.

Larry Ordner:

But you didn't know how many they were, where they were?

George Harris:

No.

Larry Ordner:

It was literally flush them out and kill them, wasn't it?

George Harris:

Yeah. We had the flame thrower take care of them pretty much and they come out on fire. You don't want to see anything like that.

Larry Ordner:

No. No. Well -- and then I guess it surprised everyone, the bombs.

George Harris:

Yeah. That was a big surprise.

Larry Ordner:

Did anybody have an inkling that that existed?

George Harris:

Well, they -- I thought I was the dumbest person aboard that ship. They said an atom bomb. I didn't know what an atom bomb was. I read about it. I never seen that kind of thing. You better believe I knew it was a bomb, or what it would do to you.

Larry Ordner:

Did you guys understand, comprehend the massiveness of what had happened?

George Harris:

Yes. 'Cause we figured we didn't have to go in there and we didn't.

Larry Ordner:

So it was -- it was either stop or turn around, right?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

How close to an invasion were you, you think?

George Harris:

I don't know. I really don't know. I think it was soon because, man, they were -- had their little lines ____. That's all I know.

Larry Ordner:

What an invasion of Japan would have been.

George Harris:

Oh, it would have been --

Larry Ordner:

That would have been --

George Harris:

It'd been a whole lot more people lost than there were in them two cities that were bombed.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Yeah.

George Harris:

I know that people criticized President Truman for authorizing or dropping that bomb, but I was proud of it.

Larry Ordner:

It was very decisive.

George Harris:

Yes. That ended it. That put a stop to it.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. When did you finally get to come home?

George Harris:

I got home December the 27th.

Larry Ordner:

When did you get word, I guess, that you were going home?

George Harris:

Oh.

Larry Ordner:

Where were you?

George Harris:

I was at Manila in the Philippines, and it was in November, right after Thanksgiving. I don't remember the date.

Larry Ordner:

So that was a good time of year to get word like that.

George Harris:

Yeah. And it was 110 degrees the day I left the Philippines, and got home it was five below zero and about ten inches of snow.

Larry Ordner:

Where did you land back in the states?

George Harris:

Seattle, Washington.

Larry Ordner:

Seattle. And then you got a long train ride?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

And family knew you were back in Seattle?

George Harris:

No.

Larry Ordner:

No? They didn't know. Oh, my goodness.

George Harris:

They didn't know where I was until I walked in the house.

Larry Ordner:

How'd you get back? You took a train to where?

George Harris:

Evansville, Indiana.

Larry Ordner:

You took a train to Evansville.

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

And how did you get up to Gibson County?

George Harris:

There was a fella that I met on the train that was from Evansville and he said when we get to Evansville, I'll take you to Elmsville (ph). So his wife met us at the train -- he called her when we -- and she come to the train station and picked us up, he brought me to Elmsville to my brother's house and he took me on --

Larry Ordner:

How nice.

George Harris:

On to Buckskin.

Larry Ordner:

So can I ask you what it was like when the door opened?

George Harris:

It was surprise, but they was surprised to see me, but they didn't know -- well, they knew that something happened because they hadn't got no -- no letter or anything from me. And they was more or less expecting it. But it was a happy -- happy reunion.

Larry Ordner:

I'm sure it was a good Christmas.

George Harris:

It was. Two days after Christmas, but it was just like Christmas. And, uh, I went to -- after there, why, it was just about eight o'clock. So I took my dad's car and went to Summersville and seen my girlfriend.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Was it hard to become a civilian again?

George Harris:

Yes, it was. They said I was mean.

Larry Ordner:

Can you tell me about that?

George Harris:

My wife said I was mean. And I said, well, I didn't realize I was. I went to a movie and -- not long after that, and I shouldn't have went, because it was a war picture. And a plane come down and strike 'em, I hit to hollering in the theater.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right? It's very telling, isn't it? That this --

George Harris:

You just react.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

I want to show you something here. See that little girl in the picture?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

George Harris:

That's my wife. I carried that picture all the time I was in the service. We weren't married at that time, but she's my high school sweetheart.

Larry Ordner:

It's a wonderful picture.

George Harris:

And I was home two months and she'd already marry me.

Larry Ordner:

Wonderful picture. So what did it take to finally -- I know it's something you don't ever get over, but I guess you learn to deal with it, don't you?

George Harris:

Yeah. I talked more about it today than I ever have in my life.

Larry Ordner:

And that's very common, I think. I've heard that over and over. I've heard after we're done some guy will say, well, I've never told anybody. It's pretty common. Yes.

George Harris:

I don't know why I broke down there this afternoon.

Larry Ordner:

But that's -- but, you know, I think it's good. 'Cause --

George Harris:

Well, I have compassion for people.

Larry Ordner:

You still have those deep feelings about this and that's just a normal human reaction. That's nothing to be ashamed of at all, to respond that way.

George Harris:

I know. There used to be an old bus run up and down Highway 57. My mother went __ one day, she was hired ___. And coming home there was two ladies sitting in front of her and they was talking, they hoped ____, but this time they would have made enough money to retire, he ripped them off with their purse. My first brother was in a German prison camp in Germany. I had another brother in the South Pacific, and I was in Italy. She's with them both.

Larry Ordner:

Had to be awfully hard on the parents.

George Harris:

Yeah. Then I had another brother and he went in the Air Force at the time of World War II and come out, but he joined the Air Force Reserves and they called him for Korea. Then I had another brother that went in the Navy again. So there's seven boys in my family and five of us was in the service.

Larry Ordner:

When you were home were you able to use your GI benefits in any way?

George Harris:

Yes. I bought my first house from GI benefits.

Larry Ordner:

Did you really?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

When did you go in the postal service?

George Harris:

'53. I was working in a coal mine and a deep mine and __ was taking over and I got an opportunity to go to the post office and I went.

Larry Ordner:

And you retired.

George Harris:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

Looking back all these years, now, it's been a long, long time, hasn't it --

George Harris:

It has.

Larry Ordner:

-- since the war. But how do you look back and think of the treatment that the US was able to do then and what the US prevented, maybe, and what you were part of, part of an enormous effort?

George Harris:

They -- I think it just -- that -- it more or less created what we have today, technology and everything. It just -- it opened up the world. I really believe it did. A lot of progress since then. In my lifetime there has been more history than all history before us. And today I feel well blessed. __

Larry Ordner:

There has been, when you think about the enormous change happening in the last hundred years.

George Harris:

I remember living on the farm, we used horses and mules. Finally we got a tractor. We threw a big one when we got that tractor.

Larry Ordner:

That so?

George Harris:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

That so. Well, thanks so much for doing this interview. You had some absolutely wonderful things to say and I think down the road you'll be very, very happy that you did this. You have things that need to be said and you said them so well. I appreciate you doing this, being part of the program.

George Harris:

Like I said, I'm kind of sorry I broke down.

Larry Ordner:

Do not apologize.

George Harris:

I never done that before in my life. But it brought back a lot of memories.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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