"There were thousands of people at the airport when we got back. I couldn't believe it. Shook hands for over a half hour going through the line that was there. Kids and everything," Robert Harrison, World War II veteran, said.
Harrison was describing his return from the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
On Monday, April 23, Harrison and many other Wisconsin veterans were flown to Washington, D.C., to experience the war memorials; more specifically for Harrison, the National World War II Memorial that opened to the public April 29, 2004.
"It was a super trip. They did an excellent job," Harrison said.
"He was on the list for three years," Harrison's wife, June, said.
"Something always came up," Harrison said in response.
The goal of the Honor Flight is "to fly every WWII veteran who is able and willing out to Washington to visit 'their' memorial." Living up to their promise, the organization gave Harrison his first opportunity to witness the Washington, D.C., memorials first-hand.
"Just to see the WWII Memorial, mainly," Harrison said, describing the highlight of his Honor Flight.
"The other favorite part was the way he was treated. [My father] said it was very good the way everyone was treated so nicely," Dennis Harrison, son, said.
Harrison served in the military during WWII from 1942-46 as a sergeant of the 103rd Infantry Division.
While working in Burlington, Iowa, with his brother at the Iowa Ordnance Plant on the shell loading lines, both Harrison and his brother were drafted into the war.
"I wanted to go. My brother had gone a couple months before I did, so I wanted to go," Harrison said.
As much as Harrison wanted to join the war efforts, his boss was not as keen on the idea.
"Our boss was very mad at us because we didn't tell him when we got our draft notice, because he wanted to get us a deferment and we wanted to go into the Army," Harrison wrote in a letter to his daughter, Mary Lynn Schryver, in August 2002, describing his WWII experiences in.*
After going through basic training in Aberdeen, Md., Harrison was transferred to several U.S. military bases before shipping out to Marseille, France.
"Got in the port and had to go over the side of the ship on rope lattice into small boats, with full pack and rifle. Then hike 25 miles to the staging area. They had a portable shower there ... 60-second shower ... The water was so hot I couldn't get in anyway; the steam so thick I had a 60-second steam bath, wiped the soap off and felt like a million bucks. Even got a new issue of long underwear and socks," Harrison wrote in describing his arrival in France.
As for the food, there was not a wide selection from which the soldiers could choose.
"Wasn't too bad, mostly K-rations and C-rations. C-rations were the best," Harrison said.
Some people leave such a deep impression that they are impossible to forget. Harrison gave a description of one such person, who happened to be a lieutenant.
"We had a red-headed second lieutenant, and he was really strict. If anybody coughed - and everybody coughed because they had colds - no weekend passes for the whole barracks. About 95 percent coughed," Harrison said.
During WWII, the 103rd Infantry Division and Harrison traveled "all the way through France, from Marseille all the way up to Luxemburg, and then Germany and Austria."
"He ended up at the Battle of the Bulge," June said.
"We pulled in right alongside the 101st Airborne, which I was real happy because they're super soldiers. So we knew we had lots of good help around us," Harrison said about the infamous battle.
Toward the end of the war, a point system was set up to determine the soldiers who would stay and those who could go home.
"I was one point short, so I was transferred to another company," Harrison said. "I went on a five-day pass to Venice. We just arrived there, we're driving down the streets, and we're thinking about taking a gondola ride. And a Jeep pulls up.
'You guys from the 103rd?'
'Yeah.' It was painted on our bumper anyway, we couldn't lie.
"'Well, you're supposed to turn around and go right back. You're shipping out to Japan.'"
"We tried to talk them into telling them they couldn't find us, but they wouldn't go for that. So we turn around and went back. We were only back a day or two, and Truman dropped the big one, so we didn't have to go to Japan," Harrison said.
Harrison and the other soldiers never ended up getting that gondola ride.
After "the big one" was dropped, Harrison was sent to a staging area in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Austria, where the 1936 Olympics were held.
"Got some skiing in. Also skied at Innsbruck and Firekugal. Skied above the clouds at Firekugal. Like being in another world," Harrison wrote in the letter to his daughter.
Though Harrison was no expert skier, he learned quickly on the Alps.
"I wasn't that good at it. I had several falls in the tough sections, but I made it," Harrison said.
In February 1946, Harrison got to go home to his family.
"We got married after he came home. We knew each other in high school, though," June said.
In 2002, Harrison was honored for his service in France at an award program held in Eau Claire.
"The French Embassy out of Chicago had a service over in Eau Claire honoring the vets that came up through France and helped the French," June said.
At the program, Harrison received a certificate and had the opportunity to meet Sen. Herb Kohl.
"That was their way of saying thanks, the French," Harrison said.
"I am sorry I didn't ask Herb Kohl to sponsor a bill to have a small medal put on all the white crosses in Europe. They are the real heroes, and I would like to see them remembered by the U.S.A.," Harrison wrote.
* Harrison's letter was originally sent to Mary Lynn Schryver in August 2002, after she attended the French Embassy award program in Eau Claire. Harrison then sent a copy to his son and his wife, Dennis and Lonni Harrison, on July 1, 2005.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013
Article comment by:
You did a really "Super" job capturing a little bit of my Grandpa's words, thanks Sarah : ) I felt like he was speaking them to me in person.