The following is the second chapter of the book “MY YESTERDAYS, the autobiography of Harold A. Holt” published in 2005 and is submitted by the family and used with their permission.
Harold was born in 1926, in Marion Center, PA, the son of Verner and Eva Jane Holt. He was a 1944 graduate of Marion Center High School, Marion Center, PA. His uncle needed his help on the farm, so got a 90-day deferment for Harold.
I - FALL 1944
September 11, 1944 is a day Vida and I remember as she started a three-year Cadet Nursing Program at Indiana Hospital and I entered the Army. That morning, my parents and Vida took me to the Indiana County Courthouse. I said goodbye to my family and Vida and with other fellows loaded on a bus that took us to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In Pittsburgh, we were inducted into the service. Next the Army loaded us on a train going to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania where our processing took place. We were issued clothing, given various shots, and assigned for training. I was assigned to Camp Croft for training.
Infantry Basic Training normally consisted of 17 weeks. However, we received only 13 weeks of training because men were needed so badly on the front lines. The training got us in physical shape and taught us how to use small arms and how to follow commands and orders.
The physical training included a lot of exercise, push-ups, and walking everywhere we went. We trained on the M-1 rifle, 30-50 caliber machine guns, and small mortar and hand grenades. I felt I could take the M-1 rifle apart and put it back together again in my sleep. We learned how to read maps, follow commands and give orders. I didn’t realize how important this training was until I got in combat.
When we arrived for Basic Training, the Sergeant said we were the worst looking bunch of fellows he had ever seen. When we left he was crying, saluted us, and said we were the best bunch of fellows he ever had to train.
Before heading overseas, the Army sent us to Fort Meade, Maryland where we received a 3-day weekend pass. I used it to go home to see my folks and Vida.
I had written home that the army food was very bad. I remember Dad telling me when I got home that the food must not be too bad because “you gained 20 pounds!” It was hard saying good-by not knowing what was ahead.
After returning to Fort Meade, it was on to Camp Shank, New York for shipment overseas. It wasn’t until then that I knew for sure that I was going to Europe. We were given shots for overseas, issued clothing and equipment.
When we loaded to leave for Europe, we were surprised to find that our ship was the former luxury liner, Queen Elizabeth. Although everyone said it would be a 14-day trip, we traveled across the Atlantic to Glasgow, Scotland in 6 days. There were 15,000 men aboard plus staff and we were fed only twice a day but the chow line never stopped.
We went on to Birmingham, England for several days and then to South Hampton. The English Channel was so rough when we crossed on a small ship that many fellows were sick. We then loaded on launching barges to go ashore at Omaha Beach, LeHavre, France.
II - AN INFANTRY MAN
We traveled by truck to Belgium where I joined my outfit at Bastogne. It was January 13, 1945, cold with snow on the ground. My outfit was the BIG RED 1,1st division, 18th Infantry, 3rd Battalion, I Company.
The Company Commander gave us the instructions that he never ever wanted to see us without our rifle or our helmet on our head. He also did not want to be saluted while we were on the front lines. I was given a grenade launcher and a bag of grenades.
Each company had two scouts. After the first couple of days, I was made a scout and partnered with Green, from New York State. We became very close buddies. He was a great guy and we worked well together.
Infantrymen normally worked in pairs; two fellows would dig in and stay in the same foxhole. Most of the time, Green and I dug a foxhole together. If we were not paired up, we still stayed near each other.
Green and I took turns of two hours on guard/watch and two hours to sleep. Sleep was a problem and many nights we only got four hours of sleep. The Germans would sometimes send a couple shells over our way at night to keep us on edge.
I will never forget one time we had gone a long time without much sleep. I led the first group to go in to take a big town. After checking out my assigned building, I sat down in a doorway and fell asleep. The Company Commander came along in a few minutes and said “Holt, it is time to move on”.
In our job as scouts, Green and I made contact with other units of our regiment and went on patrol together. Sometimes at night, six of us would patrol together. The purpose of the patrol was to find out what we could about the Germans — their positions, amount of equipment, and number of men. One night the map was wrong and we got way behind the German lines but were fortunate to get back out okay.
The four biggest concerns of an infantryman were a fear of being captured, fear of not having enough ammunition, fear of not getting enough sleep, fear of not having enough food. The army tried to get us a hot meal once a day but often that was impossible. Sometimes three or four days passed between hot meals.
We ate mostly C-rations and K-rations. C-rations were canned food — pork and beans, stew, ham, eggs. K-rations were like a candy bar. A lot of the food they cooked was processed — Spam, powdered milk, dried potatoes and eggs.
The infantryman traveled pretty light not carrying much equipment. I carried two grenades, 3 or 4 bandoleers of rifle ammo, half a mess kit, wire cutters, a shovel to dig fox holes, and a couple of C or K-rations. We pulled the pins on the grenades and taped the handles so they wouldn't accidentally go off.
I carried three pairs of socks so I could change frequently. Changing socks often prevented from getting frostbite, as there it was cold with snow when I joined my outfit. I also carried a New Testament and notepad in my shirt pocket.
III - ON THE FRONTLINES
It is a hard thing for me to write about war. Men are shooting at each other. There were good days and bad days.
We had some very heavy fighting when we got near the German border. The Germans had the Siegfried Line which was composed of big pillboxes with lots of guns and ammunition.
We advanced through the line pretty easily but then ran out of ammunition so the Germans were able to drive us back. When we tried again, they were ready for us. Although we managed to push them back, we suffered many casualties.
It wasn’t too long until we took Bonn, Germany. That was the only time I slept in a building. We had a four-day rest there, got a shower, and received clean clothes. It had been about four weeks since I had showered and changed clothes. I suppose we may have had a little body odor, but I don’t think anyone noticed since we lived outdoors!
We got mail about once a week and mail was very important to me. Vida and my folks wrote often and once in awhile I received a letter from other family members and friends. Vida sent me a box of cookies but by the time they reached me, they were all crumbs but we still enjoyed them. I tried to write often but could not say much in the letters about where we were or what was going on.
Occasionally, we were given candy and tobacco. Green chewed tobacco so I traded my chewing tobacco for his candy. One time, we had been going with little sleep and Green claimed that chewing tobacco would help keep me awake. So, I took some. We laid our rifles on the edge of the foxhole and did a lot of spitting. Our spit ended up covering his rifle. I helped him get it cleaned up and after that; he never offered me another chew.
Germans had blown up the bridges over the Rhine River. The river was deep and swift so we used boats to cross it. Just after crossing, there was some heavy fighting. We had dug in on a hill overlooking a railroad yard that the Germans did not want to give up. They tried three times to get in among us and finally succeeded. We had to call back for our own mortars to shell us.
During a German counter attack on March 18, 1945, I was in my foxhole firing my rifle. Then out of nowhere, a German bullet hit the side of my rifle at the trigger housing. I didn’t know anything was wrong until I went to put a clip in my rifle and realized my thumb was broken.
When daylight came, I saw the blood all over my front. The bullet had also hit the skin on my jaw and the side of my neck. I went back to the aid station where I was treated and a splint was put on my thumb.
We had lost some men and two fellows were captured only 25 feet from Green and me. So, I went back up to the line, as men were needed to keep fighting. This illustrates how things went some days.
On the brighter side, the weather started to get nice. However the milder temperatures meant rain and mud replaced the snow. As we got further into Germany, the weather kept improving and we began traveling longer distances.
As we went into towns and cities, we sometimes rode on the outside of tanks. I really didn’t like this. The tanks had colored panels on the back so our fighter planes would know we were U.S. troops. However, one day the wrong color was displayed and our own planes strafed us. The only person hit was the tank driver.
IV - A DIFFICULT EASTER
It was a short night before Easter Sunday April 1, 1945. At 3 A.M., the men began to take turns going back for a church service and to receive communion from a Jewish rabbi who had the service. This was my only church service while on the front lines. At 5 A.M., we were given a hot breakfast before heading off to take a town. War was a seven-days-a-week deal.
We were riding outside the tank as it traveled down a narrow road when the Germans opened fire on us. The tank stopped, the hatches were closed and those on the outside had to run for cover.
As we got off the tank and started to run into the town, Green was right in front of me when a sniper shot him in the head. He fell but I had to keep on running and made it into the town.
After we took the town, I went back to check on Green, and was told he had been killed. That was very hard on me, as we had become very good friends having lived and worked so closely together.
The weather grew warmer, mud dried up, and the fruit trees blossomed. As we continued moving across Germany, we liberated several slave labor camps and factories. These contained mostly Polish fellows who hugged us for freeing them. We kept running into very stiff pockets of German resistance and had heavy casualties.
V - A COSTLY BATTLE: APRIL 18TH
April 18th was a beautiful day. We took over a big town with a factory that the Air Force had blown up. I was surprised that the bricks didn't seem to be out of place, but that was the way it happened at times. It had locked in slave laborers whom we freed.
After taking the town, we moved to the outskirts. The Germans had blown up a bridge over a deep, wide gully. This prevented our tanks and equipment from being able to cross over to the other side.
It was about noon so I ate a can of C-ration. Then the Company Commander asked me if I felt I could cross this big gully. As I started out, others followed and we soon entered the forest.
There was a fire lane about 10-15 feet wide with wire on both sides. A German tank sat on a road looking down on this fire lane. Our job was to get across the fire lane and use grenades to knock the track off the tank. Several of us made it across the fire lane and then waited for more to join us.
When I stood up to move forward, a German burp gun hit me. One bullet hit me in the calf of the right leg, a second one in the stomach and a third one in the left shoulder. It was about 1:30 P.M. I later realized that the thing that saved me was that the bullet that hit me in the stomach hit the
cartridge belt first.
My Army training really paid off because when I called for Medic I think I could have been heard in London. It took the Medic about 90 minutes to reach me. I slowed the bleeding by lying on my left side but still lost a lot of blood. I had no feeling in my left arm (as the artery and nerves were cut) and my stomach was burning.
When the Medics arrived, they asked if I could walk. As I tried to stand up, the blood poured out of my jacket sleeve and I passed out. When I came to, I was on a litter being carried by two Germans. This scared me until a fellow GI quickly stepped up beside me and assured me he had an M-1 rifle on them. The Company Commander came to see me at the aid station.
It was after midnight by the time they moved me back to the 44th Evacuation Hospital at Naumburg. This was only a big tent with a potbelly stove. Patients just stayed on their litter on the ground waiting until the doctor could see them. If they got cold, they received another blanket. I don't know what I smelled like, as I hadn't had a bath since we were at Bonn about six weeks earlier.
When they took me in to operate, the Doctor asked, “How old are you?” I said, “What time is it?” He said “1:30 A.M.”. I then told him, “Today is my 19th birthday”.
Some months later my Company Commander responded to my letter asking him about some of the other men: “You asked about some of your friends, Holt — some of them were not so lucky. Weiss was killed just a little while after you were evacuated. Cope got hit about 200 yards down the road from where you were hit. I haven't heard from him. A sniper got him in the small of the back. Peck got hit at the same place but not bad. He came back and I guess he's on his way home. And the last time I see Perky he was still here. I expect he's gone home by now. Also in that hotbed where you were hit, Bryant was wounded but came back, Lohr was wounded but came back, our medic was wounded but came back; and one of McGurgans men was killed. That is all I can think of.”
The fighting that day had been intense.
VI - RECOVERY
The nurses could do almost all the tasks of a doctor except operate. I had three operations that week at the Evacuation Hospital. A woman with the Red Cross wrote a letter to Vida for me. Vida received the letter and told my folks before they received word from the War Department.
On April 26, after a week at the Evacuation Hospital I was flown to Halle, Germany and then on to Worcester, England. That was my first plane ride.
I had two operations at the 53rd General Hospital at Worcester. Finally, one Saturday evening, I was told I would be flown back to the States the next day. However, when I got up Sunday morning, I felt sick.
I was diagnosed with appendicitis, which required another operation. This kept me from heading home for two more weeks. I was down to 120 pounds by the time I left England.
On June 13, I was loaded on the St. Paula at Southampton for the trip to New York City. I was one of six litter patients in a cabin with a nurse on duty around the clock to take care of us. We received good food the whole trip. This included getting ice cream, which was a real treat and the first I’d had while in the Army.
After docking in New York, we were taken to Halleran General Hospital on Staten Island. Everyone was given a free phone call home. When I called home, I learned that Kate was visiting her friend Cleora (Peters/Schrecengost) who lived on Long Island. So, Kate came to visit me.
On June 25, I was transferred to Thomas England General Hospital in Atlantic City. It was one of three hotels on the Boardwalk that the government took and converted into hospitals. I had physical therapy 3-4 times a day and was finally able to eat regular food again.
On July 4th weekend, I made my first trip home on a 3-day pass. Kate came by train from New York to Atlantic City to travel with me on the train trip home. It was wonderful to see Mom and Dad when they met us in Johnstown.
We stopped at Indiana to pick up Vida and she looked as beautiful as ever but I was concerned as to how she thought I looked. Mom had a family get together on July 4, mostly with the aunts and uncles.
I got home several times while in the hospital and always got to spend some time with Vida. While she was in nurses training, she had to be in by 10 P.M. so we didn't stay out late. Vida and I continued writing to each other and even talked about getting married some day.
I had my last operation in October 1945 when they attached the nerves back together in my shoulder. In physical therapy, I had whirlpool and electric shock every day except Sunday.
The hospitals in Atlantic City were closed in March 1946, as most of the fellows were well enough to go home. I was sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. for the remainder of my therapy. While here, I was surprised by a visit from a Pennsylvania Congressman. We had a very nice visit while we had lunch together.
I have always been thankful for the good care I received while I was recovering. On August 19, 1946, I received a medical discharge.
I was proud to be able to serve my country, grateful for the experiences I had, and thankful that I was able to get back home. My faith in God helped me endure the difficult experienced I had to go through.
Although my arm continued to be pretty useless, I learned to do things with it through the years. But even today, I still do not have feeling in that arm.
Harold had enrolled at Pennsylvania State University and following discharge began classes in September 1946. While still attending college in August 1947 he married Sarah Vida [Hill]. They eventually had six children. Harold graduated from Penn State in 1950 with a B.S. in Agricultural Economics.
Following college, Harold worked briefly as a dairy farmer in Marion Center, PA and then in the milling business for several years in Vandergrift and North Apollo, PA and a year in Harrisonburg, VA. His 27 years with the Pennsylvania Cooperative Extension Service were from 1959-1969 as Assistant County Agent in Huntingdon County, PA and from 1969-1986 as County Agent in Snyder County, PA. He was active in the local 4-H and FFA programs. Following retirement, he served with the Northeastern Farm Credit Board. He belonged to American Legion Post 52.
He was a committed father, proud grandfather to his 31 grandchildren who live in Pennsylvania, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Oregon.
Harold Holt, 80, went to be with his Lord and Savior on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006, at his home surrounded by his loving family, following a battle with cancer.