Harold Curtis Jarvis World War II Remembrances

Harold and Mary Welfare Jarvis

I was born in Clemmons, North Carolina on February 20, 1922. I was raised on a farm and lived most of my life on the family farm. At the present time, I still live on and own part of my great grandfather's farm. I feel a strong bond with my great grandfather through kinship and ownership of the same piece of land, and also that we both fought in great military conflicts during our lives. My great grandfather fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. His name was Tennyson Jarvis, and he died in a Richmond hospital March 23, 1863 after an extended illness. I was luckier than he was in that I was able to survive the war in which I fought and to come back to my family to live a long, happy, healthy life.

I was married to Mary Louise Welfare October 25, 1941. We had been dating for two years. At the time of our marriage, she was seventeen years old and I was nineteen. We eloped to Bennettsville, South Carolina where the law did not require a birth certificate to obtain a marriage license. In North Carolina to be married before the age of eighteen required parental consent. While Mary’s parents probably would have consented, we were so young that we decided not to risk the potential refusal of her father.

The war in Europe was already raging, and there were plenty of jobs available at that time. We moved to Newport News, Virginia where I worked in the shipyard. I was a sheet metal worker, and my first job was on the Battleship Indiana. My job was in the area of heating and air conditioning. After the Indiana was built, I began working in the shop making ductwork for ships. I worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week and earned $1.00 per hour. We were expecting a child in October of 1942, and Mary went back to Clemmons to have the baby. I arrived home the night she delivered a baby boy, and we named him Billy Wayne Jarvis. We stayed in Newport News a total of two years. I had become exhausted with the work and homesick for my ancestral home, so I handed in my resignation at the shipyard. My boss tried to get me to stay offering me a promotion and an increase in pay, but my mind was made up. I was making a mistake, but I did not realize that until later. My job at the shipyard had provided a deferment from military service. Now that I was no longer working in a strategic industry, I became immediately eligible for the draft.

I was inducted into the Army January 6, 1944 at Camp Croft, South Carolina. I was at Camp Croft for only two days. During that time I was given a physical exam, and easily passing I was officially in the army. I had 20 days at home; then went into active service the 27th of January 1944. I reported to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and from there I was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida for my basic training from February 7 to June 3, 1944. My special training was as a Rifleman, #745—a rifleman designation. After 17 weeks of training, I was given a ten-day leave before reporting to Ft. Mead, Maryland. After a few days at Ft. Mead, I was shipped to Camp Shanba, New York, the port of departure. I did not get to sight see any in New York because we were not allowed to have passes. I saw the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island when we sailed for Europe. My discharge said that I departed the 15th day of July 1944 aboard the Queen Elizabeth. My recollection of the Queen Elizabeth was of a very large ship loaded with soldiers. There was hardly room to get around below, but during the day we went up on the deck where there were always numerous card games in progress. During our ocean voyage, I was with men I did not know. Out of all the men with whom I trained, I didn’t see any of them aboard ship.

I landed in Glasgow, Scotland on July 22nd, 1944. The people of this old city were friendly to American GIs. They seemed happy that we had come to help them. We were boarded onto a train going to South Hampton, England. At stops along the way, people came to talk with us. Though this helped to make me feel welcome, nothing could subdue the overwhelming feeling of homesickness and loneliness. From there we boarded a boat headed for Omaha Beach, France. We were not really briefed on what to expect once we reached France. About all I knew about the invasion was what I read in the Army newspaper, “The Stars and Stripes.”

As our boat approached the coast, I saw hundreds of boats sunk in the water near Omaha Beach. When we disembarked, I carried my rifle, ammunition, a backpack, blanket, raincoat, pup tent, some K Rations, a canteen, and my mess kit. We walked single file up a very steep bank. After reaching the top of the bank, the land became level. At this point, I began to see the bodies of American soldiers who had died in the battles that had been fought there. Presently, I saw what I thought was a turnip patch. I stepped out of the road and pulled one out of the ground. I peeled it after taking a bite, but it turned out to be a sugar beet and not very good to eat. As we marched further along, I began to see the bodies of German soldiers. I don’t know how many miles we walked that day, but before dark we dug in for the night in a farm house yard. We were under artillery fire, and this was the first shelling that I had experienced. Needless to say, I dug a deep foxhole that night. Some of the boys went looking around and found some wine in the basement of the farmhouse. One of the fellows came to me and wanted me to go with him to get some wine, but I told him I wanted to be sober the rest of the time I was in this war.

The next day they divided us into four groups. My group went to the Third Army, First Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, 9th Infantry Regiment. The First Battalion Commander was Lt. Col. William D. McKinley, grandson of President McKinley. We got to the front line at about noon, and I was assigned to the First Platoon with Stan Sorrel as the Platoon Leader. At that time he was a PFC, but made sergeant a few days later. We were shown foxholes already dug. I wondered what had happened to the fellow that dug the foxhole. We were in a little orchard at the bottom of Hill 192. About dark, Stan Sorrell came by and said he wanted me, along with another fellow by the name of Jarrett, to go on the outpost for the night. He told us that all the other men had been on duty so much that they needed to rest. He showed me where he wanted us to dig in for the outpost. Just after dark, Jarrett and I went up the hill just below the German line. As soon as I got there, I started to dig a foxhole. Jarrett said he wasn’t going to dig a hole. I told him that was okay with me, but he wasn’t going to use my hole. I had dug about two feet deep when mortar fire started hitting close by. I lay down in my hole, and Jarrett landed on top of me. After that was over, he dug his own foxhole. There was a lot of moving around on the German side of the line that night. I later learned that they were moving back.

The next morning, someone came to take us back to our line. We had time to eat and then went into attack on Hill 192, which we took that day. The following day we advanced to a position where we could see the St. Lo Highway. Looking down we could see the Germans in full retreat. They had farm horses and carts carrying their artillery and supplies. Our artillery was cutting them to pieces. The days were long; sometimes it was 1 A.M. before we got supper. Then we started again by 4:30 A.M. We had to sleep whenever we could. Our meals generally consisted of K Rations. Occasionally, we had hot meals, but they were rare. Water was delivered in five-gallon cans from which we could fill our canteens at night. Sometimes during the heavy fighting, they were not able even to bring us water. The weather when I arrived in France was hot during the day but rather chilly at night. The daytime temperature was perhaps between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our next objective was to take “Notre Dame d’Elle.” This was the first place we had to clear house by house. I thought there would be a mine or German behind every door. We advanced to the Vire River and halted to allow the XIX corps to cross in front of us and take the little town of Vire. We advanced across the Vire River and took the small town of Tinchebray. We pulled up and another outfit took over our place while we regrouped. After that we moved west into Brittany where we were to begin the assault on the town of Brest. We spent the night some miles from the town of Brest. That night I again got outpost duty and the outpost position was located in a pasture. While on duty that night, I could hear the sound of footsteps coming toward me. It was a very dark night, but I could see the outline of what seemed to be a man coming toward me. I called; “Halt,” but the outline kept coming toward me. I took careful aim and fired one round and heard the intruder fall to the ground. We had a field telephone in the foxhole, and it started buzzing. Company Headquarters wanted to know what was going on, and I told them what had happened. The next morning I could see that I had killed a small horse. Needless to say, I got a lot of kidding the next day, but the sergeant said that I did the right thing. That was the reason I was posted out there.

For the next few days, the fighting was light. Then we moved up to an airfield that had been abandoned. We had to go through all the buildings that were standing. In one of the barracks, I found a little box of coins, which I still have. After the airfield, we had to take a hill that was heavily fortified. The first day of the assault my platoon was the first to jump off. The Germans were laying down a lot of fire. I saw a tree near the top of the hill that had been blown down. I was able to make my way to the tree which provided me with a good position out of the line of fire. I was shooting at some Germans that would stick their heads out to fire. Being occupied with establishing my position and trying to shoot the enemy, I did not realize that our troops had fallen back, and I was left all alone forward of our line. The Germans started concentrating their fire on me, and they didn’t let up. I decided not to fire anymore hoping that they would think they had hit me. Fortunately, after a while, they quit firing at me. I stayed hidden in that position most of the day. As it was getting late in the day, I decided that I had to get back to my outfit because in the darkness I could be shot by our own men. I ran as fast as I could zigzagging toward the American line. I was almost there before the Germans opened fire on me, and I dived over the hedgerow to safety. That night I was in a foxhole asleep when a mortar shell landed so close it threw dirt all over me. I got up, and the crater was close enough that I could put my hand in the hole that the shell had created.

The next day four tanks joined to help us take the hill. However, the tanks were knocked out, and we had to retreat again. After two days of pounding with our artillery, we finally took the hill. To our surprise, we found pillboxes on top of the hill. That evening some of us thought we would take the 30-caliber machine gun off one of the tanks that had been knocked out. We were talking among ourselves trying to figure how to get the machine gun when someone in the tank asked if we were GIs. We answered in the affirmative, and those soldiers poured out of that tank. They had been in there for 56 hours.

The next morning a boy that left the States when I did was killed. When he stood up to stretch, a sniper shot him. I can’t remember his name. For our emotional survival I suppose, we found that it was better not to develop too close a relationship with other soldiers. We were involved in so much heavy fighting that the turnover in our unit was very high. Most of the men in my company were wounded or killed. The emotional toll of losing close friends could be devastating. The man I knew best was the radio operator of Company C; he was Jewish and from New York. His wife would sometimes send him food packages from home which he would share with me.

After fighting long and hard, we took the hill, and the Germans were in retreat. We covered quite a distance for the next two days. When we ran into heavy resistance, we pulled up and dug in so that we could regroup. We had lost a lot of men and needed replacements. That night I was sent back to Regimental Headquarters for the replacements. My company got about 20 men, and I took them up to the front and put them in foxholes, two to a hole. I told them that they would be placed in the company the next morning as it was already late at night. The next morning one of the replacements told me that his upbringing had not prepared him for anything like this. I told him he hadn’t seen anything yet, and did he think that my mother had raised me on gunpowder. He never was much good and finally blew his hand off with a hand grenade to escape combat.

One evening, while fighting for Brest, I was assigned guard duty until 2:00 a.m., and a young soldier by the name of Kearns was to relieve me. At the end of my watch, I attempted to awaken Kearns. I shook him, slapped him, kicked him, but could never get him awake. There was nothing for me to do but to remain on guard duty throughout the night. The next morning the captain came by and asked me why Kearns wasn’t on duty. When I told him I couldn’t get him awake, the captain raised hell. The tongue lashing that he gave Kearns was the worst I ever heard on the front line. That day the captain let me stay in the reserve so I could get some sleep. A few days after this, I was again on night outpost duty next to a river. The next morning about 40 Germans came wading across the river with their hands up wanting to surrender. I marched them back to Company Headquarters and turned them over to some men there.

The closer we got to Brest, the heavier the fighting became. One day our planes were strafing the Germans and the Flying Forts were dropping bombs. A P-51 fighter was strafing and then the pilot pulled the plane up sharply when he got to the American line. As he pulled up, he crashed into one of the Flying Forts cutting the bomber into two parts. We watched the tail gunner jump from one of the parts of the broken bomber and parachute to safety within our line. He was lucky that day, but not so his buddies in the other part of the plane; they were not able to bail out before the plane crashed.

A few days after this, we took the town of Brest. The Germans had a hospital in some caves near the town. Nurses emerged from the hospital looking so white and pale that they appeared very sickly. I suppose they had not been exposed to sunlight for quite some time. After Brest we got to rest for a few days. Then we were loaded on boxcars, called forty and eights—forty troops and eight mules. (We didn’t have any mules). The train took us through Paris on the way to the front in northern France. We got off the train in some little town and started walking. We walked a while and rode in trucks a while until we finally got to Belgium. We moved into Germany on October 3rd, 1944 at Schnee Eifel and stayed there until December 11, 1944.

Sometime around the first of October, while on the front at Schnee Eifel, I was at Company Headquarters, and the Battalion Commander came to our command post, and there was no one to report to him but me. I tried to look as sharp as possible and reported that the company commander was down on the line with the First Platoon. A few days later, I was told to report to Battalion Headquarters. Upon arrival, I was told that the Battalion Commander wanted to see me. I went into a pillbox where his office was located and reported to him. He made me at ease and told me how pleased he was with the way I had reported to him. He said he picked me out of the men in C Company for a five-day pass to Paris. He also told me that I could draw some pay for the trip. I spent one day riding to Paris and one day back, so I actually had three days in Paris. At that time, there was very little to buy in Paris except wine and champagne. However, I was able to see most of Paris, and, of course, a shower and good bed for three nights felt awfully good. I bought 24 bottles of champagne for four US dollars and took them back to the front. I gave the Battalion Commander twelve bottles and took the rest to my company. I gave the Company Commander two bottles and the Executive Officer one bottle. I gave away all the rest, except for two bottles which I kept for myself. Later that night, about 12 o’clock midnight, the Battalion Commander sent a runner down to my company. He wanted to know if I had any more of the champagne. I sent him the last two bottles I had.

In October of 1944, we were relieved from front line duty and got a shower in a barn by a small river. Water was pumped from the river into a boiler that heated the water. We stripped off our clothes inside the barn, got a hot shower and then exited the other side of the barn. There outside the barn was a pile of clean clothes, and we had to pick out some clothes that fit. That was the last bath I had until December.

At about this time, the weather turned cold. The first snow came near the end of October, 1944 and remained on the ground throughout the winter. At times it was 18 inches deep, and we dug our foxholes at least five feet deep so that we could keep from freezing. On the coldest nights we had to be awakened and move around to keep our feet from freezing. We had wool pants and underwear, a wool shirt coat, overcoat, rain coat, and wool socks. Even with all this clothing, I felt terribly cold especially at night. We lost a lot of men because of frozen feet. I had two pairs of socks, and I changed socks every day so that at night I had dry socks on my feet. Our leather boots did not keep our feet dry. Moving around during the day, our feet wouldn’t freeze, but at night as the temperature fell and with the relative inactivity, I had difficulty preventing my feet from freezing.

When we were attacking a German position, I was a rifleman or the Bazooka man. After taking our objective, I would be the company runner, which included everything from radio operator to repairing telephone lines when a shell or a German patrol cut the line. All front line telephone wires were laid on the ground. At night, when the line went out, I had to take the line in my hand and walk until I came to the place it was cut. Then I would wire them back together. Another of my tasks was to go back to Regimental Headquarters and bring up the replacements for the company. This was always done at night, and I did this many times.

While on the front at Schnee Eifel, our line was very thinly manned. The Germans would penetrate our line, and we did the same to the German line. However, the Germans took some of the Americans prisoner and took their clothes and identification tags. Since they spoke good English, they were able to pass themselves off as Americans, and this played havoc with us for a while until some Germans were captured wearing U.S. uniforms, and we were able to figure out what was going on. Afterward, anyone we didn’t know was under suspicion until they were identified by their company commander.

During the period we were at Schnee Eifel, the company commander asked me if I could build some sleeping bunks. I told him to find me some chicken wire. I don’t know where he got the wire, but he did find some. I made the frames out of Pine poles we had cut in the woods, and I nailed them together and put the wire on the frames. This made for a very rudimentary bed, but it was a good bed—not as good as my bed at home, but better than sleeping on the ground.

In December, we began an offensive for the Roer and Urft Dams, and this offensive went on for four days in bitterly cold weather. We fought for twenty-four pillboxes in the Monschau sector, finally taking control of the area on the 16th of December. The first attack was without artillery. There were barbed wire barriers that had to be cut to clear the way to the pillboxes. My battalion commander was frequently seen on or near the front lines, taking stock of the situation and talking to the troops. The last time I saw him was on December 16. We talked for a little while, and I asked where the Germans were getting all the firepower that we were seeing. He said he didn’t know.

I was wounded on the morning of December 17 just at good light. Shrapnel from an 88 shell hit me in the head. They named the place where I was wounded Heartbreak Crossroads because it changed hands so many times during the war. The morning of the 17th, Lt. Billy Knoles woke me up and said, "Jarvis, the cooks have sent up some hot food and coffee." He told me to get a five-gallon can of coffee. I went a short distance up the road where the jeeps were parked and got a can of the coffee and started back to deliver it. Some of the other fellows were carrying the food. It had been three days and two nights since we had had anything hot to eat. On the way back to my post, a fellow behind me was shot in the leg by a sniper and went down. I put down the coffee and started back to help him off the road when I heard the 88 shell coming in. By the sound, I knew it was going to hit close by. I dived to the ground close to a Pine tree. When the shell hit the tree, I felt the hardest jar I have ever felt. I tried to move and couldn't move my right side. I looked around and saw my helmet lying close to me, and it was blown to pieces. I knew then that I had been hit. A sergeant from A Company got to me first. He started to unbutton my coat, and I told him that I was hit on the head. He put a bandage on my head and called for the medic, whose name was Thomas William Bossidy. They took me to battalion headquarters. There I saw the radio operator who had befriended me. He told me that I had a million dollar wound meaning that I was going home alive. At that point, I didn’t feel that I had a million dollar wound—I wasn’t sure I was going to survive and I wasn’t sure I would ever be whole again. The doctor gave me a shot and told them to evacuate me. I remember being put on a jeep. After that I have no recollections of anything until I regained consciousness in a barn where they had set up a medic station. The doctor gave me another shot, and the next memory I have is of a nurse cutting my hair. After this I don’t remember anything until after my wound had been treated, and my head was bandaged. A nurse was standing by my bed and wanted to know if I was hungry. I told her I didn’t know the last time I had eaten. She came back with a piece of chicken and told me they were evacuating the hospital and had to move right away. They loaded me into an ambulance with five other patients. German artillery was landing close by, and the ambulance driver was scared to death. He was driving as fast as he could, and my head was really hurting with the jarring. I asked him to slow down. I remember him saying; “don’t you hear the shells all around us?” I told him I had been hearing shells for the last six months so please slow down—my head felt like it was going to burst. After what seemed like a long time, we came to a tent hospital, and the doctor gave me another shot and I passed out. When I woke up, they were putting me onto a train. The next stop was Paris Airport to be evacuated to England. I arrived in England the day before Christmas. The doctor wanted to perform surgery on my head injury on Christmas day, but I told him I would like to rest one more day, and he said fine. They operated on me the 26th of December. After that operation, my head didn’t hurt so badly.

After my surgery, I heard a boy across the ward tell a nurse that he was from Clemmons, North Carolina. I asked a nurse to put me in a wheel chair and push me over to him. His name was Howard Cornish; his dad was a barber in Clemmons, and I knew his dad. Like me, Howard was paralyzed from a head wound from shrapnel, but his condition was much worse than mine. His wound was far more severe, and it was almost a miracle that he survived at all. He hadn’t written his family since October 1944. I wrote my wife, Mary, telling her that Howard was with me in the hospital so that she could let his family know where he was and his condition. Howard was so severely wounded that doctors felt his case was probably hopeless. At the time he was brought into the hospital, his surgery was deferred until the last because doctors made the decision to first operate on those seriously wounded soldiers that they thought had the best hope of survival. However, there was a doctor from Winston-Salem working at the hospital by the name of Hendrick. Doctor Hendrick said he really wanted to try to save Howard since they were from the same hometown. Much to the surprise and delight of the hospital staff, Howard did survive. He was disabled for the rest of his life, but he learned to walk again with a brace on his right leg. He had to learn to read and write again, but he did return to Clemmons where he lived to the age of 69. He died May 31, 1983 and is buried in the Westlawn Cemetary in a section reserved for veterans and their wives. Howard came to visit my family and me from time to time over the years, and I will never cease to be amazed and grateful for the work of his doctor.

I underwent surgery yet another time, and to my great happiness and relief, my condition improved markedly, and I began to get some feeling again on my right side. I remained in the hospital for over a month and continued to make good progress. Sometime after the first of February 1945, I was put on a hospital ship, and we sailed for the United States. I passed my 23rd birthday on this ship. The crew gave me a Coke, the first I had had since leaving the United States. They also played “Rum and Coca Cola” over the speaker system for me. This was a South American song that was popular at the time. On the way home, we ran into a bad storm, and everybody got seasick and stayed sick until we landed in Charleston, South Carolina. Mary, Mother, Dad, and my brother, Roy came down to see me. After a few days, we left by train for Ashford General Hospital in West Virginia.

I have not mentioned the fact that I was scared when I got off the boat on Omaha Beach, and I didn’t get over it until I got back to the United States. Nevertheless, I did what I felt was my duty and what I was told to do. A soldier can’t be asked to do much more than that.

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