Taken from an Interview by Amanda Armstrong, Kelly Arneson, Ashley Johnson, and Stephanie Rohwer, which was published on the internet at
Harry Halverson enlisted in the army in May of 1941, at the age of 24, as the World War II began to become part of the near future. Most young men at this time were joining the army, so that is what he did. He picked it because war was what people were doing at that time. He had a high draft number so he decided to enlist with friends who he remained with throughout basic training. This was around the first or second of May 1941. He enlisted with friends with the agreement that he would only serve for 12 months. Five years later, he was released from the army with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his bravery and service in the military.
Entry into the War
Once Mr. Halverson enlisted in the military, he was placed in the 34th National Guard consisting of men from South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, affectionately known as the "Red Bulls." He was trained in the field artillery in basics and then transferred to the combat engineers. He left Decorah, Iowa for Des Moines, Iowa where he had his physical, next to Jefferson Barracks for training and then he was sent Camp Claybourne, where the division participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers. He was planning on going home for Christmas when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. Instead of traveling to Iowa for the holidays, his unit traveled to Fort Dix, N.J. for subsequent shipment overseas. In the end, the 34th Infantry saw more combat days than any other infantry division in Europe.
Basic training was difficult for Mr. Halverson since he was recovering from a broken ankle. He mentioned that his instructors were sympathetic, gave him time to heal, and broke him in "easy like," and in about a month he was in shape. Some of the instructors in boot camp he remembers were Lieutenant Bower, Captains Marlow and Robertson and First sergeant Cecil Brown. Mr. Halverson was trained as a combat engineer.
Combat engineers' job was to clear mine fields and to tear and build bridges, but mostly to keep the army moving. Mr. Halverson was a member of the 34th National Guard for Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota, known as the "Red Bulls." His division was the 185th field artillery 'A' battery out of Clinton, IA. At this time the division was broken up and became part of the first battalion of the 109th engineers from South Dakota, with whom he spent the remainder of the war.
The 34th Infantry left the United States on January 15, 1942, not knowing their exact destination, and landed two weeks lat~r in Belfast, Ireland for training on January 24, which Mr. Halverson remembers well as it was his birthday. It was also the first time he was able to eat in five days due to seasickness. His unit was stationed in Belfast for almost a year, until November or December of 1942, when their orders were to travel to Scotland for a week, then to Prescott, England on December 24, 1942. He then loaded ship in Liverpool, England, headed for Africa.
Mr. Halverson was first sent to Oran, Africa where he immediately was engaged in combat. At first they had some difficulties with the French and a few shots were fired, but no casualties resulted. Next he went from Oran to Algiers, met with the rest of his battalion, and prepared for actual combat. Mr. Halverson was in combat for 610 days and experienced front line combat for over three and a half years. Mr. Halverson's division was the first American division to have contact with the German army. His first combat was in the Kasserne Pass. They were caught off guard with inexperienced generals. They lost companies, and many soldiers were captured. His segment barely escaped the Germans and was split and 2,200 were captured. They succeeded in reorganizing and staging a counterattack. The first armored division lost 100 tanks and personal in this confrontation. It was bittersweet to have lost so much, yet they captured 250,000 Rommel Africa Corps, which he described as "hard core Nazis." It was now the third or fourth of May 1942.
After the war ended in Africa, Mr. Halverson was pulled back for training. He was always learning new techniques. Most of his time not spent in combat was spent in training. He described being in the desert as learning how to create bridges over small streams. They participated in combat training and learned new pontoon techniques.
Soon after the war ended in Africa, the United States invaded Sicily, he was not apart of this operation. The first few days of September 1942, he boarded a ship in Tunisia, and was in the Mediterranean for five days. On September 9, his division landed in Salerno. The first was the 36th division and his was the second wave. He described the situation as bad there. The country was poor and the conditions were bad. As he moved further north conditions improved. During their down time they keep busy, there was not time to goof off, but he did mention swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and setting up ball fields occasionally.
Mr. Halverson's platoon was attached to the 100th Japanese American battalion, which he spoke very highly of, as they felt that they had to prove themselves as
Americans and not as Japanese. He described them as "little fellas" and said they were terrific fighters. The third day his platoon was with them they picked were picked off by a German machine gun nest and within a few minutes they had control of it.
After Salerno they moved stage-by-stage north through Italy. They went from Naples through the mountains of Venerfo. He mentioned crossing the Volturno River three times. There was always a lot of combat at river crossings. They would create pontoon bridges by creating a string of boats that would be let loose and then the "guys" would pull it over to the other side. Mr. Halverson was also a part of the Anzio Beach landings in September of 1944.
Harry received several awards during his service. He was wounded and received a Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Bronze Star. He was in a fierce battle when a retreating tank came down and was disabled and he was with a few platoon members in a house. One man came running out of the tank, it was smoking and his buddy was still inside. Harry jumped out, crawled into the tank, and pulled out the other man, who had a broken leg. The two were being shot at while he pulled the man into the house as the tank burst into flames. Harry describes it as an act of stupidity, yet it saved the man's life. The officer of his platoon learned of Harry's actions and turned in his name for the Bronze Star. He never found out what happened to that man or even his name. Medics came quickly to take care of the man.
Harry received very little communication during the war. It was hard to receive letters from home. He would only receive them every three to four months, but occasionally at mail call, a handful of letters would arrive. Harry felt fortunate that at this time, he was single and did not have to worry about someone back home; he only had to look out for himself.
Harry described the food during the war as horrible. When he was in Ireland they ere able to get American-style food, but after that they had to eat whatever was provided. Often they would get English mutton which smells like dead sheep and he said you had to be "awfully hungry" to eat it. When they would get fresh bread, some guys would pay $5 just to have another piece. Food was sparse and the men were grateful when they received what they could.
Often other supplies were scarce and late. He mentioned everything was usually
three weeks late. There would be a snowstorm before snow boots arrived, and they would have cold, wet feet and sometimes had to leave their boots on for up to three weeks. They would sleep in snow banks, on rock piles, in a blowed-out house, just as long as there was a dry place to "hang our hat" and through a blanket over it if was dry. Mr. Halverson also mentioned that it would often be a long time before they were able to bath, some times as long as a month to six weeks. When he had the opportunity he would stand in snow banks to bathe.
The End in Italy
After his unit liberated Rome, Harry was north of Rome and was sent back for some R&R. While in Rome the pope opened up the Vatican and he got an audition to meet the Pope. He also went to St. Peter's basilica and said it was a sight to see. When he was past Cassino he was injured and sent back to a hospital in Rome and got a second audition to see the Pope again. When they liberated Florence the people were thrilled to death. They brought out bottles of wine and girls came to kiss the soldiers who they had to "slap them away." They still had a job to do to set up a defensive line. He really enjoyed Florence since he had recently lost a lot of men and they were deactivated for a while and stationed on the edge of town. Harry and several of the older guys would sneak into town during that time. When Mr. Halverson was in Como he saw Mussolini, Mussolini's mistress and another man after they were hanged on a scaffold.
Into France and the End of the War
He had just crossed the Swiss boarder and was into southern France when they received word that the war was over. When the end of the war was declared Harry's division moved into Austria as part of the occupation forces. His division crossed the French boarder along Swiss boarder and entered southern France through a narrow strip in a lake. Here they took up mines that the Germans had built. Harry stated that the Germans had built five hundred pound bombs in the roads that would blow up as the United States troops would pass by. Throughout the war troops had moved by these mines so quickly that they were not detonated, however, when the war was finished the mines had to be neutralized in order to protect civilians. Harry reca11ed losing some of his fellow men when they attempted to neutralize the mines. Harry stayed in Italy near the Austrian boarder from May until August 17 when he began his return home. Harry landed in the United States on September 1, 1945 after almost five years in fighting in Africa and Europe. At the end of the war Harry was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for being injured.
Upon his return home, Harry attempted to return to civilian life; however, he found
this to be very difficult. He was very nervous and shaky; he then went to the veteran's hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When he arrived at the hospital, he weighed only 176 pounds because he had spent the last few years of his life living on cigarettes and black coffee. When he returned home, Harry worked at a sale barn in Waukon. He was also given the position of funeral detail in the Veteran's of Foreign Wars. During this time he participated in 42 military funerals.
He then took a position in sheriff's office and worked there for three and a half years. During this time Harry got married and had a little boy. His wife wanted to move to the country, and so they moved to farm south of Ridgeway and started farming. While farming Harry started his own sale barn and he has been doing so for 52 years.
Today Harry belongs to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Lately he has become inactive, but he was formerly the commander, and the building committee. While in office he coordinated the building of the new VFW in Decorah, Iowa.
At the end of the interview Harry reminisced of his times during the war he concluded that his experiences during the war affected the rest of his .life; he is a firm religious believer especially because the war should have taken his life many times, but through his faith he survived. Harry then told us that the war was a million dollar experience, but he wouldn't give two cents to do it again.
The following site has many maps of World War Two and several covering North Africa and Italy where Mr. Halverson served:
For more information about the 34th Division: