Musselman, Harold (Part 2)

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  • Interviewee: Musselman, Harold
  • PDF Interview
  • Date: June 25, 2014
  • Additional Interview Dates:
    • June 18, 2014
    • July 16, 2014
  • Place: Washington, NJ
  • Interviewers:
    • Molly Graham
    • Mohammad Athar
  • Transcript Production Team:
    • Molly Graham
    • Kathryn Tracy Rizzi
    • Carol Musselman Kain
  • Recommended Citation: Musselman, Harold. Oral History Interview, June 25, 2014, by Molly Graham and Mohammad Athar, Page #, Rutgers Oral History Archives. Online: Insert URL (Last Accessed: Insert Date).
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    Permission to quote from this transcript must be obtained from the Rutgers Oral History Archives. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Molly Graham: This begins a second oral history session. The interview is taking place on June 25, 2014, in Washington, New Jersey. The interview is being conducted by myself, Molly Graham, and …

Mohammed Athar: Mohammed Athar.

MG: We wanted to pick up where we left off last time, which was with your training.

Harold Musselman: Well, the first part of my Army career was with the 102nd Division down at Camp Maxey, Texas. It's an experience when you're not used to it because everything is on the double; you're running all over the place. I was overweight, but that didn't last that long because we started double time, double time. Every place you went, it was on the double. During that period of time there, they sent me to machine gun school for fifty-caliber machine guns. So, that was part of the training. Another one was that we had to go through training for truck driving, which was no big deal for me because I drove a truck from the time I was a kid at home with a neighbor of ours. But there were a lot of boys there who came from the city; they had never been behind the wheel of a vehicle. That was an experience to see how they took over.

I was in basic training there until the Army Specialized Training Program [ASTP] came into being, and they went through the records to see who had enough gumption to qualify for the ASTP program. They called me in and asked if I wanted to go and what I would be interested in. I said, "Well, I'd be interested in French language." They said, "Well, we'll see about sending you down." I guess it was Texas A&M, but instead, they sent me to Syracuse University [for] mathematics. Math wasn't one of my top priorities, but it was interesting because it was a preliminary to engineering.

Before I went up to Syracuse, I was assigned to an airstrip that we had there for--at that time, they were sergeant pilots, but later on they were all commissioned second lieutenants, because they were flying observation planes. I worked on those planes for a while with them before I went up to Syracuse. I was up there--I don't know how long a period of time. I went to Syracuse, and I took math courses up there. Then, they sent us down to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was sent to the artillery replacement center down there. During that period of time, that was in the old CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] camp, and you would be held there until you were assigned to some other place. They were old Army barracks. They had a board in the bottom, and you could look right down through it. It got cold down there in North Carolina. It was at North Carolina [that] I had an operation on my back, and I spent I don't know how long in the hospital down there. If you've never been to an Army hospital in World War II, they had a real long centerpiece like that, and then they had ramps off the side of it. That was the hospital wards. If you've never had a spinal--at that time, that's what they gave me, a spinal--you didn't raise your head up off the bed for a day or two until it got out of your system because it gave you a terrific headache if you did.

I finished there. That was a period of time that I had been redlined on pay. I didn't even have enough money to send my mother a Christmas card because I was redlined. So, you didn't have any money. They didn't pay me until I got back to a regular unit and went from there. I was assigned back to this artillery replacement center. From there, I was sent over to the 272nd Field Artillery. We went to the headquarters of it, and they held us there until they decided which one of the outfits it was going to be down the line. So, they assigned me and two or three others guys over to the headquarters of the 272. From there, we were broken down into each battery that needed a man or something like that. There was even one fellow with us, he had been a college professor. I think he went to B battery. I went to A battery. Someone went to C. But that was our training. From then on, it was individual outfits. I'm trying to think. Did I ever show you the picture of the outfit?

MG: I think you did show us one of those pictures.

HM: Yes?

MG: Can you remind me what year you were in training?

HM: 1942. We were in training there at Fort Bragg. But the original outfit was a 105-[millimeter Howitzer] outfit. Then, they changed them over to the 240-millimeter [Howitzer] at Fort Bragg. We did the training there until it was time for us to ship out overseas. It was interesting with the people you met in the outfit because most of them were Southern boys. We had one full-blooded Indian, and every time he'd go to town, he'd get drunk or something like that and the MPs [military police] would have to bring him back because he was a handful.

From there, we shipped off to Fort Slocum in New York. We spent time there until they decided when we were going over. I think that Fort Slocum today is a housing unit. It's out on an island out on Long Island. They changed it into some kind of a housing unit out there now, but it's right in Long Island, right on the Long Island Sound. We had storms come in there, you could see the waves breaking up to the top of the buildings, but, fortunately, they were all brick buildings at that time. It was a permanent Army post at that time. We were there until one night, they loaded us up on a lighter, a small boat. We didn't know where we were going, but we ended up somewhere on the East River or the Hudson River.

In the dark of the night, we walked up a gangplank, and we didn't know what we were going to. That's when we loaded up on the Queen Elizabeth I. We were assigned to a deck unit or something like that, where we had our quarters. What used to be for two people, they had us in bunks and layers, I remember there were four or five bunks in there and they were tied together with rope. It was when you were in there that some of these guys would pull the rope, and the top man would come down face down on the guy below him.

We sailed out of a New York Harbor. We waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty as we went by because that was the end of it. At that time, they were patrolling the East Coast for German submarines. They had landed people out on the beaches. But we sailed over to Scotland without an escort. All the heavy artillery and everything went in a convoy. They had baby flattops. They had converted small ships into aircraft carriers. They escorted these other planes through there. You got out on the deck on this thing, and you'd see those planes coming across that. We had a gun crew in the front of the Queen Elizabeth. They were Navy personnel; they were trained to fire at enemy planes if they came over because we went around by Ireland and right into the Clyde River in Scotland. I don't know whether it was a chain-link fence or something like that, but they swung it open, we sailed in, and they closed it up again. That was so German submarines couldn't come in and do damage in there. So, that's where we unloaded, in Scotland.

MG: I wanted to ask a little more about your training. Can you tell me more about the math classes you were taking?

HM: Well, let's see, we took algebra. I'm trying to remember which ones. I know that we had algebra. That was one of them. Trigonometry. Those are the only two math courses that I remember, but there could have been others. Along with that, we had some geography class or something like that. It was up at Syracuse University. While at Syracuse, I was able to thumb a ride home on weekends to get away from the school. I didn't know what trig [trigonometry] was used for until I got with the outfit and we started plotting positions for guns and stuff like that. You finally found out that mathematics was very important in laying those guns, so that you hit the target that you were aiming at. In our outfit, each battery had a survey crew to lay their guns. We only had two guns to each battery. There was a message center at headquarters, and anything you plotted from above had to go there and then they laid the guns where they wanted the targets fired. People today can't imagine--there was a man down here, going up a pole, and I'm up through here, and the target may have been across the river. That's what you were aiming at. Everything that was laid went through the message center at headquarters, and then they'd fire it down to the gun itself. Well, where do we go from here?

MA: I had a question about machine gun school. When you were there, were you trained as a loader or a gunner?

HM: Where?

MA: At machine gun school.

HM: Machine gun school?

MA: Yes.

HM: I was a private, but they wanted somebody at the school that had been around firearms before. I had to learn how to take the gun apart. They took us out on the range to fire those. If you didn't open your mouth to get some air pressure in there, you were hard of hearing for a couple of weeks after you fired those things. They're loud. They took us out on the range, and they had dummy tanks going across in front of us. We had to shoot at them, while we were on the range.

Jumping back, I told you about basic training. The first week in camp, they took us on the thousand-inch range to fire five rounds, so that we could walk guard duty with live ammunition. There's something else there, just an incident. If you took a vehicle out of a motor pool down there, took it out, and got it dirty, every time it came back in the motor pool, it had to be washed. The grease on those guns was water soluble. You had to grease those guns and everything when you brought it back in.

You'd walk guard duty at two o'clock in the morning, something like that, to see that everything was under control, nobody was causing any problems because you were responsible primarily for the PX [post exchange]. Do you know what a PX is? That's where they sold the GIs candy, gum, beer. The beer, by the way, was what they called three-two [3.2 percent alcohol] beer. It was basically non-alcoholic. But that's what the guys would do. They'd go up to the PX and sit there and drink that three-two beer. I could never stand it. I never was a drinker or anything of the kind. As a matter of fact, my mother would never allow alcohol at home while we were kids growing up because she always said that her father had been a boozer and she didn't want her kids growing up that way.

MG: Did you have experience with firearms before training?

HM: Oh, yes. My brother was a trapper when he was in high school. He ran a trapline at four o'clock in the morning; he'd be out and come back. I learned to handle firearms at home with him. But you didn't touch a gun; the gun sat in the corner. They were there, but nobody handled them. Well, one time, my mother kept roomers. I can remember one doe season in Pennsylvania that she had I don't know how many young game wardens living in the house with her. She packed them lunch in the morning, and they went out to check on the game. She always had something to do. We had a garden. My brother and I were on a cross-cut saw; we cut up railroad ties to burn in the furnace because a ton of pea coal [small pieces of anthracite coal] cost about three dollars. We'd get maybe two or three tons during the course of the year, and that's how you kept warm in the house. We didn't have a furnace as you know it today. This was a pipeless furnace. It was a big open stove down in the basement, and the heat came up and heated the house. All the cooking at that time was done on a cast iron stove. Of course, as a kid, one of my jobs was to take ashes out because the ashes were collected, at that time, by a horse-drawn junkman up in the alley. You had to have the garbage up there. He hauled it away back to a dump.

When I was a kid--you talk about shooting--we had a .22. We used to go back to the dump and shoot rats. Even after I came down here, here at the borough dump up here--the kids used to go up here after school and shoot rats at the dump. Those kids that used to come to school carrying their guns with them, they'd put them in a locker. After school, they'd go out and they'd go hunting in the fields. We didn't think anything of it. We thought it was part of the way of life. I don't know why some of these do-gooders, as I call them, would try to get the firearms taken away from them. For instance, one of the boys from Broadway down here brought a gun in one day. The end of the barrel was curled back. I said, "Nick, what are you going to do with a gun?" He said, "I'm going to sell it." I said, "You can't sell that gun. It's dangerous." I looked down the tubes; one of them had a bulge on the side of one of the barrels and the other one was curled back like that. He took it down someplace and he cut the end of the barrel. He sold that gun for five dollars. Somebody bought it; that was his. His family was from down on Broadway. I think his father had been a steelworker for Bethlehem Steel or something like that. That's the way the kids were when I came down here to teach.

The kids on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, when we lived down there, they went out on the boats. They were oystermen. Have you ever seen an oyster tonger? Well, it's like a big rake. You go along the bottom, fingers like that, to scoop up the oysters and bring them in. If the fathers were out on the boat, those kids had to pick strawberries and stuff before they came to school in the morning. They'd fall asleep in class. You never had any problem with them down there. What else?

MG: You talked about the physical conditioning of training. How did the Army mentally prepare you?

HM: I don't know. The inspection, this one time that we there, the captain came up through. He came to me, and he looked at my pants. They were baggy. He said, "Send this man to the tailor to get your uniform," because they were particular about uniforms. So, that's the story of basic training. It was constant. They had you on the go all the time for some reason or other, either that or taking you to the theater to show movies on different things. They had contests up on the stage [with] men from different groups to see who could take a gun apart and put it back together the fastest and have it in firing condition. After all, nobody's going to take a gun apart for you in the field; you're going to do it yourself to find any blockage or anything of that kind. So, that was part of your training all the time. They had movies all the time on stuff, Pearl Harbor had been in there and everything else. They had filmed anything that they could to give you an inkling of what was going on.

MA: Did they tell you anything about what you'd face in the field, like the enemy?

HM: Well, the big thing is you walked down the road, you'd see somebody covered up under a blanket there, you know somebody had been killed along the road. If you have ever been to France, back in the fence row [hedgerow] country, those fence rows back there are hundreds of years old. The farmers back there use them to pen their cattle. The Germans used them--they cut things under the roots like that, set them up with machine gun spots to fire at our boys as they went up through. It was some smart GI that figured out how to put teeth on a bulldozer blade, and they'd cut the roots right out from under those things and cut those fence rows down. That was, you might say, American ingenuity on a lot of these that happened, that the guys would figure something out.

In our Army, if one of your sergeants or something like that got killed, you lost one or something like that, the next man had been trained; he moved up to that position. Not with the Germans. In the German army, when a man got killed, they didn't know what to do as far as the command was concerned. That's the difference between the Allied armies and the others because it was a case of basic training and what you were trained to do all the time. Of course, you go there, that cold weather--well, first, before that, we went through a stretch of hot weather in France, dust and everything like that, clouds of dust. You couldn't see a vehicle in front of you. You ever see the little blackout lights that are on a vehicle? The little light that was on the front of the vehicle, just like two little pinpoints of light, they're called blackout lights, because when you drove at night, that's what you drove by. You couldn't go with headlights because you were attracting enemy fire. Coming across, in the early days in France, we had so much dust and everything like that, and at night, you were traveling by those little blackout [lights].

MG: Earlier, you mentioned you had an operation on your back. What happened?

HM: Well, I had a pilonidal cyst at the base of my spine. While they were in it, they did hemorrhoids. They kept you in the hospital for a while, and you went back to your outfit. I was still draining from that pilonidal cyst. They even sent me overseas while I was still draining. They didn't keep you for the full time. That's not like it is today.

In Europe, the fall of the year came, mud, cold weather, rain, everything like that. As a matter of fact, we were on the Siegfried Line, firing. One time, we were only allocated ten rounds of ammunition a day for the guns. You could see Germans walking on top of their lines over there, and you couldn't fire because you were only allowed those ten and they had to be a good target. A man wasn't the best target.

Our boys from down South, we were in the Ardennes in the freeze. There were those miniature deer. The Southern boys went hunting because we all carried a gun. Those boys were sharpshooters, believe me, when you got them on the range. They always said they were squirrel hunters, and they probably were. I told you about the one guy in the outfit on his service record, occupation, they always had your occupation there, and he was occupation, bootlegger. I met some of them after the war at the Army reunion. One of them came down with a pint jar …

Carol Musselman Kain: Quart jar.

HM: Quart jar. He said, "I want you guys to sample some good white lightning." It was just as clear as water. You'd sample the stuff there, and it was.

CMK: Now, in Gatlinburg, they actually have a moonshine distillery. You can buy different flavors of moonshine.

HM: Kentucky was a dry state, still is.

CMK: Yes, it is still. They make Jack Daniels in Kentucky. Well, no--Jack Daniels comes out of Tennessee, but the county that it's in is a dry county. Wild Turkey comes out of Kentucky, so the whole state can't be [dry].

HM: Jumping back there to basic training, Lamar County in Texas was a dry county. We were on the border of the Red River. Right across the Red River was Tennessee. The guys, on weekends, would go and cross the Red and get it. They'd bring their booze back, whatever it happened to be.

CMK: Get loaded up there and try to drive back.


MA: You said you were at a CCC camp before you were put in a unit. What did you do at that camp?

HM: CCC camp? It wasn't that. I was up at Worthington State Forest. I was a Park Ranger up there from 1960 to 1966.

MG: I thought you said you were in North Carolina.

HM: When I was at North Carolina, there was nothing there. This was all here after I was in residence here, and I taught school here.

MG: You mentioned when you were in Syracuse, you hitched a ride home to New Jersey?

HM: Yes, I hitched a ride home to Pennsylvania. It was trouble getting a ride because people didn't have gas. You didn't have people on the road.

MG: What did you do when you got home?

HM: We just visited. You had about twenty-four hours or something like that, and then you were going right back up the road up to camp. All the way home, I thumbed a ride. I remember one going out of Scranton at the hill. I got a ride about halfway up to Tobyhanna, and the guy dropped me off there. Here I am in the middle of the Poconos in the middle of the night, cold and no traffic. It just so happened that this one night, a guy was driving an Army ambulance. He saw me along the road, picked me up, and brought me right down to Stroudsburg and I walked home from there. But you just took your chances. Today, you don't pick people up along the road, but back then, a GI in uniform was picked up and taken wherever he was going.

MG: Were you able to see your girlfriend before you went overseas, the woman who became your wife?

HM: No. I'm trying to think when I saw Kay that one time I was down. She was still in school, but I didn't have that much time at home because I was traveling. But I was in correspondence with her. When I left, my freshman year in college, I was supposed to take her to a Christmas dance. That's when I got drafted, before that. I sent her a letter from down in Camp Maxey, Texas. I said, "Our date is off because I'm down here, and you're up there." That was it. But I corresponded with her all the while I was overseas. I went five years on paper. Some of the Southern boys got married before they went overseas. I said, "No way." I said, "I don't know what condition I'll be in when I come back." When I got back, she had already graduated from college and was teaching.

When I got out, I got out in December right before Christmas. In January, I went back to college. I took the next two years in college. Sometimes, I'd go up to where she was outside of Scranton on a weekend or something like that, but that's how you corresponded. You didn't have a vehicle. You caught the milk train going out of town and rode that up to Scranton. But you could get a bus from the train station over to Taylor, where she lived.

MG: I want to ask now about the Queen Elizabeth and your trip overseas. What else do you remember from that time and the other men you were onboard with?

HM: Well, the thing I remember about it was that in the mess hall, you got in a big line going down through it. It was a British ship. Every time we went, it was mutton. I don't know how it turned out that prior to my going over, my future father-in-law was in the Navy. He was forty-four years old. He joined up because he said he couldn't afford to keep his daughter in school on Army pay. So, he joined the Navy, and he was forty-four years old. He was a machinist on the railroad. They were well-trained men. As a matter of fact, I've got his apprentice contract with the Lackawanna Railroad in here now.

In France, as I said, the dust period, and then you went into the fall of the year and the mud and everything else. That was the time [telephone rings] going into the winter over there, you had wet feet all the time. Your footgear was leather turned inside out; it absorbed water like you wouldn't believe. If you could keep a dry pair of socks someplace on your pack, you could go. Then, we went into winter, and it was a different story because the Air Corps wasn't flying because [of] cloud conditions. They weren't flying. If they got a clear break, they'd make a bombing run, but that was it. But then it got cold. It was ten below zero and two feet of snow. My fingers were frostbitten. I still don't have any feeling in the end of my fingers.

So, we spent the winter there. I'll tell you how methodical the Germans were. Every day about ten o'clock, we got strafed by German air force planes that would come right over the hill, right down, strafing. We had fellows on machine guns, too. Our supply sergeant got hit [on] that one position, on one of those runs that came over the hills. So, that was our period of time there during the Battle of the Bulge. [Editor's Note: On December 16, 1944, Germany launched a surprise offensive in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium with the goal of reaching the port city of Antwerp and splitting Allied forces in northwestern Europe. The battle became known as the Battle of the Bulge for the salient or bulge that the German advance created in the American lines. American forces responded with reinforcements, and fighting in the Ardennes lasted until January 25. The Germans suffered 100,000 casualties out of half a million men committed and lost nearly all their tanks and aircraft. American forces lost 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing in action, making it the bloodiest battle of the war for the United States.]

MG: What time of year did you arrive in Scotland? What were your first impressions of the area?

HM: Scotland is a lot of little redheaded kids. Well, they'd moved all the children out of London. There were a lot of them that were brought over to Canada, and even some of them here in the States were put in American families. There were little kids running all over the place over there in Scotland.

When we got off the boat, they took us right to a train. If you've ever seen a British train, even today, they had those doors that opened to the outside. They got I don't know how many of us in one compartment. That was it. You couldn't take your pack off because there was no place to put it. From there, we were on those British trains down from Scotland on down to the Midlands. They called it the Midlands. That's where we went to camp, down there between Birmingham and Coventry.

It was while we were there that I saw that there was not much left of Coventry. It was flattened out by the Germans. They were flying those buzz bombs over to us at that time. Each one of those carried a thousand-pound warhead. When that fire was coming out of the tail, which was a propulsion shot, when that shut off, it took a nosedive down and you wanted to be close to the ground and laying down because [it was] a thousand-pound warhead. They were firing on Antwerp at that time because that's where we were getting supplies in through. London was buzz-bombed. That's when they came out with the V-2. That's the one that they shot way up in the stratosphere or something. You couldn't see it. I saw them shoot that thing one time. We were up on the line and saw it go up. It disappeared. But that's the one that came over, and it destroyed part of London. I think I read someplace after that they found the warhead from one of those in the streets of London when they were cleaning up. The whole part of London was devastated. That was it. Nobody was left there. They had moved them all out. That's the story on the V-2s. They would send them over eight, ten at a time, almost like a flight of them. They were heading for London, or they were heading for Antwerp, trying to get our dock facilities.

That's actually what the Battle of the Bulge was all about anyway. The Germans were trying to get back to get the gasoline and everything that we had in supply because those German tanks were running out of fuel, and they had to get across. In Belgium, there was the Albert Canal. They wanted to get the bridges across there, so they could get right on through. They never made it because our truck drivers, anybody was taken right to the gas dumps we had, loaded them up with gas, and took them out. One of our fellows told us that they were going out one end, and the Germans were coming in the other. The lieutenant threw an incendiary bomb in the gas dump, and it went up just like that. The truck drivers were told, "If you get a flat tire, you don't stop. You just keep going," because they were loaded down with gas. You ever seen these jerry cans?

MA: Yes.

HM: Well, I've got one up in the shed. It's a five-gallon can. Practically every vehicle had an auxiliary can on the side of it there in case they ran out. They were sold as surplus in this country after the war.

MA: I just had a question about your voyage to Scotland. You said you didn't have an escort on your voyage. Did your ship come under submarine attack, or was there any threat of submarines?

MG: You didn't have an escort going over.

HM: About every half mile or so, the ship took a zig-zag course all the way across. I remember one time we went right through a convoy that was on its way over. They only traveled at five or six knots speed-wise. We went right through them, and that's when these escort planes flew out after us. We had some escort there because we were right off the coast of Ireland and had to go up into the North Sea, right on up to Scotland. They had to open up the gate for us to get in.

MG: Do you remember what time of year this was?

HM: Well, I think probably, if any time, it was in the spring of the year.

MG: 1943?

HM: When was the invasion? 1944. Yes, we were in, from 1943.

MG: How long did you stay in England?

HM: We were there until August. D-Day was in June, June 6. We were attached to the Third Army. They had dummy artillery and everything else across the Pas-de-Calais on the English Channel, making the Germans believe that that's where the invasion was coming from. All the while we were there, down on the sands, down in southern England, they were making artificial docks for getting ready for the invasion to go across. After the invasion took place, they floated those over to give docks, so they can unload the equipment on the other side.

We pulled maneuvers one time down in Wales at that time. There were sheep flocks down there. I'm trying to think where we were. Our observation planes were landing on the side of hills because down in there, there was no place to go. The British were very determined; when it came tea time in the afternoon, everything stopped. They had their tea. They still do; that's tea time. They used to drive our guys crazy because they were unloading our guns down on the docks in Wales and they might have one hanging up in the air. If it was tea time, they had their tea. They'd even stop in the war and have a spot of tea. The British always had their bagpipes, too; they had their pipers.

MG: Did the U.S. troops do anything similar to maintain tradition or customs?

HM: Well, the only thing I remember--our mail that went home, they might get it six weeks after everything had happened. Then, the government came out with V-mail. [Editor's Note: Victory mail or V-mail used a system of microfilming letterforms to conserve cargo space on ships carrying war material.] They put everything on little sheets. How they sent it home, I don't know if they had radio or wired it or something back to the States, but everything came through V-mail. You'd see a line drawn through it; it was censored. Everything you wrote out had to be censored by your censoring officer in your outfit. You just couldn't send a block of mail out.

MG: What kinds of things or information would they censor?

HM: Well, anything that had to do with a military operation or anything like that, what you were doing, they'd censored it.

CMK: It would be anything from military movements, or even probably anything to do with the opposition. V-mail was like--have you ever seen airmail paper? That's what it was. You had to learn how to write real tiny, so you could cram in as much as possible. After you'd get done, then you'd go around the edges. [laughter] Then, it folded into itself.

HM: I don't know how they got it back to the States, but we usually only wrote one sheet, and that was it, to tell them the food was good or something like that. If it was lousy, they'd maybe cross it out on you. It depended on the officer that was censoring your mail.

MA: You were talking about the invasion of Normandy and the dummy army. How aware were the regular troops about the planned invasion? How much information was given to you and your guys?

MG: How much did your troops know about the dummy army and the planned invasion?

CMK: Did you know there was the dummy army?

HM: Dummy army?

CMK: Did you know that was going on?

HM: Yes.

CMK: That's what they want to know. How much information did you guys get ahead of time?

HM: We pulled maneuvers over there with the regular ones. That chalk in England is hard. If you could get a slit trench down--I can remember [General George S.] Patton came around and wanted to know how long it took to put the guns in position. They said, "Forty-five minutes." He said, "Too G-D [goddamn] long." That was it. Once we got over in France, the Third Army--we got shifted right over to the First Army because we were too slow for the tanks that Patton was leading. He was a cavalryman. That was it. He was a cowboy. When we got over there, we went on the "Red Ball Express." [Editor's Note: The term "Red Ball Express" describes the logistical supply line established by African American trucking units of the U.S. Army from the Normandy beachhead to the front in Northern Europe in the summer and fall of 1944.] They took our trucks to haul gas to keep up with him.

That's when we got up to the Siegfried Line. [Editor's Note: The Siegfried Line was a series of defensive fortifications built by Germany along its borders with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France.] The French had the Maginot Line; the Germans had the Siegfried Line. There were blocks of concrete up so that you couldn't drive a truck through them. Our fellows developed the Bangalore torpedo [tube mine]. It was a long piece of explosive that would snake its way through the concrete. They'd blow those things up. Or a tank would come along with a bulldozer blade on it, and he'd cover them up. They'd drive over them then. There was a period of time when our boys went deer hunting along the German border. That was along Luxembourg. There was quite a bit of forest land through there, but that's when we started shelling and they got tree bursts. Guys were in holes, and we'd pick them out. The stuff would come down. We were there through Christmas of '44. Then, toward the spring of the year, that's when the government came out with those boot packs like L.L. Bean sold with the rubber bottom and the leather top when it was too late. The fellows had trench foot, wet foot, and everything else that was there at that time. We didn't have the heavy clothes like they got later on in Korea. They developed this other stuff later on. Maybe you've seen them, those "Mickey Mouse" boots.

CMK: The duck boots, you mean?

HM: No, what they issued in Korea, "Mickey Mouse" boots. It was a well-insulated boot, but it was too late for our boys then. They issued some of those boots, like from L.L. Bean, but then it was too late. The guys didn't want them. It's just something extra to pack around.

MG: They were issued after the Battle of the Bulge?

HM: Yes. Right after the Battle of the Bulge, at that time, we had been transferred up to the Ninth Army, which was [General Bernard] Montgomery's. He was a great one for artillery.

MG: General Montgomery?

HM: Yes. Before he attacked, he had to have an artillery barrage you wouldn't believe. The Germans, in the meantime, had blown a dam up on the Roer River and flooded the valley, and we couldn't go across anyway. Once we got out of the flood conditions there, and they fired--man, it was an artillery blast you wouldn't believe. That was about the time--it was after the Battle of the Bulge--that the German Army had fourteen, fifteen-year-old kids fighting and men over forty-five, fifty years old. That was their Army by that time, coming up through there. So many of the Germans had been captured at the Battle of the Bulge, at the end of it, that they were sent back to the prison camps. I don't know what they did with them back at Stendal Airfield. They must have turned them loose, sent them home, done something with them. In the early days of the war, they loaded them on LSTs [landing ship, tank] and sent them back over to England. Believe it or not, we had a lot of them in this country, down in Texas and different places like that.

CMK: But they got treated better than the Black U.S. soldiers did. That was another whole …

HM: That was another whole episode. They were treated better over here than they were at home because in some of those towns down there, they treated them almost like long-lost brothers. They fed them good and the whole works. There was only one or two to ever escape from down there and went north into Canada.

MG: Can we go back a little bit and talk about the beginnings of the Battle of the Bulge? Where were you positioned, and what were you told?

HM: We were in firing position. They told us to dig holes, fortify ourselves in the ground.

CMK: Where were you?

HM: At Roth, Germany. I've got the picture of it, where we were in firing position. Right across the street from where we were in firing position, there was a German community right there. There was no fraternization, supposedly. [laughter] Well, we had a couple of guys that they were …

CMK: A little bit more amorous than the others. [laughter]

HM: Yes. [laughter] We sat right there at this German town during that period of time. We fired on the German dams on the Roer River. We spent the time there. The rest of the time, we tried to stay warm.

MG: The Battle of the Bulge is something we've read about in textbooks and seen in movies, but we're curious what it was really like to live through it.

HM: If you were infantry, that was a different story because they were up on the line, and they're getting shell bursts overhead coming down on them. I'm trying to think what the outfit was that the Malmedy massacre--the Germans didn't take any prisoners. [Editor's Note: Mr. Musselman is referring to the Malmedy massacre, in which soldiers of the First Panzer SS Division summarily executed eighty-four American prisoners of war on December 17, 1944, near the Belgian village of Malmedy. Most of those killed belonged to Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.] They captured the--I don't know what the outfit was, but there were five hundred prisoners; they set up machine guns, and they killed them all. Instead of taking prisoners, they sat there on a machine gun. A couple of them did crawl away and escaped. That's how they knew that this had taken place. From then on, I'm sorry to say that our infantry, no prisoners for the Germans. They might start taking some of them back; they never made it because the boys from the infantry, they just didn't take them. The tankers did the same thing. They'd get them; they disappeared. It was the devil take the hindmost.

MG: Were you aware, during the time, that this was a major battle, a major part of the war?

HM: Well, the Battle of the Bulge--people don't realize we went through a period there of almost two months of clouds; the Air Force couldn't support us. They couldn't see the ground. When the sun shone through, you never saw so many airplanes in the sky and all at one time. People can't envision. You see these contrails go across here, one or two planes. Can you imagine five thousand of those contrails going right across your head all the time? Well, that's what it was like. When the clouds broke through, that was when the Air Force really came through. I knew some of the guys that flew pursuit planes, the light planes [fighter aircraft]. They shot up German railroads. You wouldn't believe it. Those railroads were destroyed. Those guys would attack Germany. On their way home, every train, anything that they saw, they attacked. They machine-gunned it. That was it. That was the way it was carried on at the Battle of the Bulge and afterwards.

CMK: Did you think it was going to be a history-making kind of thing?

HM: No.

CMK: Was it more of an I'm alive and they're not kind of thing?

HM: That was it. Once we crossed the Roer River, across that north German plain, we traveled; we traveled fast. I've got the list in there, the distances we traveled. Our next destination across there was that we got up to the Rhine River. We floated across the Rhine River on pontoon boats. Can you imagine taking a thirty-ton vessel across there? There were riflemen out on those pontoons, looking for floating mines coming down, to shoot them if they came down. Because once we got across this northern section of the Ruhr Pocket, at the southern end, we captured a bridge. That was the Remagen Bridge that the guys got across before the German army blew it. While they were still crossing that, they put another bridge behind it because that one collapsed eventually. But these guys went across, and then it became a squeeze play on the Ruhr Pocket. That's where the German industry and everything else was in there.

We were in the Ruhr Pocket there when I got assigned to another Diamond T [four-ton, six-by-six truck] truck. They said, "Take extra gas cans." We loaded them on the truck. We went over to--I'm trying to think what the infantry division was--and we loaded a whole squad of infantry on the back of our truck. We started going toward the Elbe River. We got strafed going up the road, but they said, "Just keep going." We heard different things up there. We got up there at this one house. There was a house and a barn. The German SS was in that house, and they had displaced persons in the barn. Those people, if they tried to escape, the Germans machine-gunned them and set them on fire. A couple of them did escape. When that happened, one of our officers set up an artillery piece and blew the house to pieces. They didn't even ask them to come out.

From there, we went on up, and we dropped our squad up close to the Elbe River. The division that they were with was moving up. That's when we turned around, our trucks, the convoy, and started back, and we ran out of gas. We sat there. Finally, some military police came by, and we told them, "We're out of gas. We can't get back to our outfit." All the while we sat there, the fellows were shooting jackrabbits for food because you did what you had to do. We had one fellow I know from the Dakotas. I remember him. He took an M1 carbine, and he shot jackrabbits because he was used to hunting them out in the West. He was good. One in front, one in the rear, boom, and he got them.

That was where the MPs came by with the ex-POWs [prisoners of war], Canadians that had been captured at the Dieppe Raid in the early days of the war on the English Channel. The Germans had had those poor devils in shackles, so raw on their necks and everything like that. They had been in shackles from the time that they were captured at the Dieppe Raid. So, they gave each truck one of the released prisoners. We had this guy from Canada in the truck with us. He wouldn't talk too much about it, but his neck was raw. We were on the way back to our outfit. We got back into the Ruhr Pocket. We saw a British convoy coming up the road. We flagged them down, and we got an officer there and told him we had these prisoners. He said, "Send them over there. In a couple of hours, they'll be in England." That's what you remembered about those guys.

Of course, our outfit went right along up to the Elbe River, where our guns were in firing positions on the Russians on the Elbe River. That's where we met the Russians. I was on detached service with group headquarters up at the upper end. That's when I stood on the bank of the Elbe River and watched the German Army surrender. There was a railroad bridge or something that was down. There was a plank; they were coming across single file and throwing their guns in a pile. We had a jeep with two men in it. They'd take ten thousand of the German POWs back to the Stendal Airfield. That's where the Germans had airplanes. They had gasoline. But they didn't have any pilots. They were flying fifteen-year-old boys at the end of the war. They were using the Autobahn as an airstrip because they'd pull the planes back into the woods alongside, then pull them out, and take off on the Autobahns. There weren't any bridges left on the Autobahns because we blew them up. I've got pictures of some of them down there, whole towns with nothing left to them. They're just walls, and that was it.

MG: When was this?

HM: Well, the actual surrender was May 15th or something like that. [Editor's Note: On May 8, 1945, German forces surrendered to Allied forces, marking the end of World War II in Europe. The day is celebrated as Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day.] I've got a picture of what they called the little red schoolhouse in Reims, France. I've got a picture of it. That's where the treaty was signed. Those arrogant Germans didn't want to surrender to them. [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower wouldn't meet with them when they got them at the table, then finally was there. I think the man who signed for the Germans was actually a naval officer for the Germans.

CMK: Was that in '44 then?

HM: That's in '45.

MG: What was that like, having gone through the Battle of the Bulge, to witness the surrender and end of the war in Europe?

HM: Well, at that time, our outfit was shipped down to Ludwigsburg, Germany. I got pictures of it here. It was called a Kaserne, a German army barracks. We were put in there, and that's when they broke up our outfit. I don't know where the guns ever went to. They must have [gone] to some Belgian foundry or someplace like that. A lot of our equipment was left over there and broken up. From there, we went into France. We went to this camp and found out that because we were survey, we were supposed to go back to the States for retraining for the Pacific. The war in the Pacific was still on, hot and heavy. The colonel who was in charge of this, this lieutenant colonel, I said, "We're supposed to go back?" He said, "No you don't. You're assigned to me right now." The outfit that we were assigned to coming back was a Black engineering outfit. That was still going on. That was a segregated service at that time. So, he wouldn't let us go. He said, "You're staying right here."

I'm trying to think what his name was. Henry was from California. The two of us got a pass with a jeep to get gasoline and stuff like that. We traveled up through Belgium. The border regions, believe it or not, by that time, had border guards and everything like that from the countries, Belgium and the Netherlands. We had trip tickets. There was no stopping. We stayed with a Belgian family overnight because his outfit had been with the Second Armored [Division], and they had been with these people. They kept us overnight, fed us, the whole thing. We had an unlimited amount of gas; we could go. When we left there, we went up to Margraten. There was a military cemetery out there. That's where one of my high school buddies was buried. We visited his grave. There was a cemetery there. The Dutch people were taking care of it. Then, we got back to our outfit. That's when I got the seven-day furlough in Switzerland. This colonel was from down South. He got us passes. I got seven days in Switzerland. That was another story.

CMK: What was pertinent about that, too, see, my mother's father's family is from Switzerland. I don't know if you got anywhere near where she was from.

HM: I did. I found the hotel that was named for them. It's still there. It's still called by that name.

MG: What is it called?

HM: Your cousin, Billy, and his wife were over there.

CMK: The family name is Steiner.

HM: It's still there in Switzerland.

CMK: We still have contact with a third cousin of mine. We've rediscovered some other cousins along the way, too, that are actually in the States that we didn't know were here. [laughter]

HM: That was the end of the war. We were in firing position at the Russians when the war ended. It was after the war--of course, you probably have this down--when the Russians roadblocked the roads, the Autobahns, into Berlin, when Berlin was broken up into four segments. The Russians got a little obnoxious, and they roadblocked the Autobahn. That's when the Allies started the Berlin airlift. They were flying coal, food, everything into the German people who were living in Berlin. A plane was going in and out at the Tempelhof Airfield every fifteen minutes. The German people were helping unload the planes because it was their food, their coal, and everything else.

CMK: I read an article about this guy. One of the pilots would see this line of children along the side. He became known as the "candy man." For Christmas, there were planes full of candy. He was collecting from the States, from Hershey and all of that. People were donating amounts of candy. Kids would take a pack of gum and share it. They'd break the pieces up.

HM: "You got any gum, chum?" That was in England. When we first got over there, the English kids would come around [imitates English accent], "Got any gum, chum?" [laughter]

CMK: To get the chocolate, that was the biggie.

HM: That Berlin airlift went on--there was just a piece in the paper that when it was lifted--because the Russians couldn't stop it.

CMK: I know where I saw it. On the History Channel, they showed about the airlift and kids lining up outside the fence. The plane was coming in. It's like, "What can I do?"

HM: That's when the Berlin Wall went up. That's when John F. Kennedy said, in German, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

CMK: Actually, when he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner," ein Berliner is actually a donut. But "Ich bin Berliner" means "I am a Berliner."

HM: Which one of our presidents said, "Tear down this wall"?

CMK: That was Ronald Reagan. He said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall." That was in 1989.

HM: That did get torn down.

CMK: In fact, a friend of ours that lives in Bloomsbury is from Germany. One of her former students was there when it came down and brought her a piece of the wall. She taught at Moravian [College], and she's still kicking. She's still going.

MA: I wanted to go back and ask about your first encounter with the Russians and how you were ready to fire. What was that like? What were your thoughts? You said you were about to fire on Russians.

HM: We never fired.

MA: You never fired.

HM: But we were in position. At that time, the Russians had taken Berlin, and we didn't know what it was. But the German soldiers wanted to turn around and fight the Russians. Patton wanted to keep going because they went right into what was formerly Czechoslovakia and everything down through there. I don't know whether you ever heard of this or not, but Patton sent a bunch of his cowboys into Russia because the Russians had taken the Lipizzan stallion mares into Russia. He sent the cowboys into the Russian zone, and they brought those mares back and back into Austria. That's where the Lipizzan stallions came from. That's a piece of it that you don't hear, but it was things that were off the cuff that happened.

MA: Did you meet with any Russian soldiers, any officers?

HM: Yes, but you didn't speak their tongue. No, for the most part, when we were in that position like that, that's when they pulled us out, and we went down to Ludwigsburg in Germany, down in the south. That's where our outfit got broken up. A lot of those guys--some of them got back to the States before I did because they were sending them back piecemeal to go into other outfits for going overseas. That's when the Korean War broke up. A lot of the fellows got discharged right down here in New Jersey.

MG: Can you say more about why the Battle of the Bulge was such a significant battle during World War II?

HM: Well, because the Germans attacked, and they pushed all the way back to the canal. Their attack was trying to get our gas, but at the same time, what was it? I'm trying to think--the Air Force. I'm trying to think now of the name of the town that the--I'm trying to think what the outfit was. It was airborne. They held this town [Bastogne] in Belgium and that's when the German asked them to surrender, and he said, "Nuts." [Editor's Note: Mr. Musselman is referring to General Anthony McAuliffe, who was the division commander of the 101st Airborne during the Battle of the Bulge. He is known for his response to a German surrender demander as "Nuts."] That was what took place. That was at the time that Patton brought the Third Army up from down south into the area. Let's see. Was it the 82nd or the 101st was on leave back in Paris, and they packed them up and shipped them back through there. The Germans never captured Bastogne. They called them the Bloodied Bastards of Bastogne. They never captured them. They held out and then the sky opened up, and they got the Germans on the run. From then on, it became a thing. But they had pushed pretty close to the Albert Canal in Belgium. But that was the end. They couldn't go any further because they didn't have any fuel. They couldn't get through to Antwerp and the other places where our gas depots were.

MA: During the battle, did you have to displace your position a lot, or were you usually in one area?

HM: Well, we had an aerial observer. He'd call positions back, and then we'd get to firing positions. Well, I can't say any more than the fact that we'd get into the firing position, and that was it.

MG: Weren't the U.S. troops in a disadvantaged position from the beginning?

HM: No, we had information in our outfit that the Germans were massing for an attack. They were in the woodland up at Luxemburg, and that whole forested area through there, they had hidden tanks and everything else in there. It was really no sneak. It was just the fact that sometimes the press didn't do us any good. If we got a target, we fired it because, during that battle, we were firing. There was a German horse-drawn artillery outfit. It was going down the road. We hit the first vehicle, stopped them, hit the last vehicle, stopped them, and then just wiped them out just right down the road. That was the way it was. The mentality of the Germans was something. I don't know whether you ever heard, but we'd had a crossroads that we had an MP on. He had a timepiece that that was going to be shelled by the Germans at a certain time. So, he'd stop all traffic down the road, no traffic. They'd fire through there. When the time was up, he'd move traffic through. But I say they were methodical in everything they did. Plus, the fact, as I said, the SS--they were no good--they were brought up, from the time they were kids, all the way through, that there's nobody like a German. That was it. They were superior, the master race. They were masters to the point that our boys took them over.

MG: Can you say how it became known as the "Battle of the Bulge?"

HM: Well, because of the shape of the thing. Our lines went along like this, and then [the Germans] came through there, a big bulge went in the line. That's where it got known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was no secret or anything like that. Somebody put a name on it, and that was it. Actually, it was the Battle of the Ardennes Forest. That's what it was.

MA: During the battle, in your position, did you feel relatively safe, or was there always a danger that you could be attacked from where you were?

HM: We knew that they were set up. They overran the 106th [Infantry] Division. They captured I don't know how many thousands of American boys of the 106th Division. It was a new outfit from the States, and they put them up on the line there to get them used to being there, and they got run over. That was all. When the Germans attacked, they had some of the best tank divisions and everything else. They had pulled them off the Russian front.

MA: Did you receive any incoming fire from your position?

HM: Did I see it coming in? Yes, we got it. I think we threw out more than came in.

MG: Were there any close calls with you or your men?

HM: No. The closest we got most of the time was from the air and those buzz bombs. We called them buzz bombs. The guys made up a song about them about the buzz with the fire flying out of its rear end. But that was the incoming fire that we got mostly, stuff like that. The British had artillery up above us, and we had artillery. Most of the Germans were all tank and infantry. They were after those gas dumps, and that was it. But they never made it. They thought they were going to get Bastogne, and that's when the general said, "Nuts." The German general didn't understand what was meant by "nuts." Somebody interpreted it for him that it meant "the hell with you." [laughter]

MG: Can you talk about dealing with the elements in winter and frostbite?

HM: Well, you tried to stay warm. The best way to stay warm was to dig a slit trench in the ground and try to take an artillery shell and make a stove out of it. You'd get up in the middle of the night to go pull guard duty, and you couldn't stay warm. You'd hope that come daybreak, maybe the clouds would break because we were under cloud cover there for a couple of months. That's when the Air Force got grounded.

MG: How do you think this experience changed your perspective on life later, after the war?

HM: Well, things are not as big a deal. We turned around and we got into this over in Vietnam. That was another episode. Those guys sweated to death over there in the jungles, and we froze to death on the other end of it.

MG: I'm wondering how it impacted you personally and changed how you viewed obstacles or challenges since.

HM: When I got home, I went back to normal living again. Down there at Gem Vacuum, we've got a whole bunch of guys from Vietnam. [Editor's Note: Mr. Musselman is referring to a Veterans Group that gathers at Gem Vacuum, Inc. in Glen Gardner, New Jersey.] We've got one fellow down there. He's on dialysis three or four times a week. The guys down there take turns taking him down and bringing him back. Another one was dead twice in Vietnam. He's still around there, Larry. He's a big sucker. In Vietnam, these guys were dropping out of helicopters and stuff like that. Most of our stuff was all out of trucks and tanks and stuff like that, which they didn't have there. It was mostly assault. Of course, then you get back to the war in Iraq. That was a tank battle. That's another story because you're reading about that in the paper now. As far as I was concerned, I went back to normal living. I was out in December. I was back in college in January for two more years of college.

MG: Last week, you talked about doing math in the field. I was curious about what kind of math. What was the application?

HM: Well, you had regular charts. You were figuring out the distances and everything else that went with it. The Army had regular books on what you figured out for your distances, and everything else was through there. You'd put a man down there and a man here, and you surveyed in between it. Over there, five or six miles across a bridge or something like that, you shot angles. If you ever took trig, you're dealing with angles and elevations.

MG: Can you tell me more about your unit, the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion?

HM: Well, the 272nd Field Artillery. There were other outfits, the 276, I think it was, the 273. One outfit over there was made up mostly of Mexican boys. They came from down there. Our outfit was mostly all hillbilly boys from down in Kentucky and places like that. So, it just happened to be where they filled the quota from at that particular time. When you went through the induction center, when they said they needed so many men in a different spot, you went. Some of them went to the Marines, some of them went to the Air Force, Navy, all depends. That's how it went. They filled quotas. You really didn't have a choice as to where you wanted to go. I wanted to go to the Air Force because my brother was in there, but no, I went to an infantry outfit.

MA: You talked a lot about Patton. Some veterans have strong opinions, positive and negative, about him. What were your thoughts on Patton?

HM: They hated his guts. They'd do anything for him. The fact that he was a good leader, that was it. What was the saying? "My blood and your guts," something like that, we'll go.

MG: What was your impression?

HM: We had very little contact with him. Our commanding officer was Wallace Wade from Duke University. He had been the football coach at Alabama. He'd been the football coach at Duke. I think he had been a Reserves officer before the service. Anyway, he went back to North Carolina; he was raising beef cattle. Our outfit put a monument up in a museum at Duke University. It's still there. The boys used to call him the "Great White Father," because he hobbled around a little bit, but that's the way he was. At the end of the war, I think they made him, before he was discharged, they made him in charge of all the recreation for the troops who were left there. They gave him something that he was well qualified for.

MG: Do you want to pause for today because it's almost noon?

HM: The only one that I know that's still alive--a couple of years ago, seven of us were left--but now, I think the women [are still alive]. I've got the phone number there for my sergeant's widow. She lives in Smithville, Tennessee. I talk to her every so often and see how she's doing. There's another one that's at an atomic energy plant in Tennessee. There's another one that lives pretty close to that. She contacts the other one and down the line. That's about the only contact we have. They kept pretty close tabs. For years, we had pretty sizable family reunions down there. Well, some guys became doctors, lawyers after the war. I know of one medic who became a doctor. I know some of them became ministers after the war. They had their own likes and dislikes. The hillbilly faction down through there, they were very intense on their religion. One of my buddies was from up here in Connecticut; he was a Jewish boy. His mother had a contract with some bakery, and every so often, he'd get a box from home, from this bakery. He'd split it up with us. That's the type of relationship you had with the fellows. It was a case of--you do for me and I'll do for you.

MG: Well, let's conclude for today, and we can pick up here next time. This has been a real treat to continue this conversation.

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Reviewed by Molly Graham 4/19/2021
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 6/2/2021
Reviewed by Carol Musselman Kain 9/8/2021