Transcript/Biography

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Question: "You were in the horse calvary?"
   Harry: "Yes, I was. I volunteered for the service. The draft started you know in 1940. And my number was pretty low so I decided to volunteer. They told me I could have what I wanted if I'd volunteer. Well, I volunteered, I was inducted into service in February 27 in Omaha. And then we was transported to Leavenworth, Kansas. And I thought I'd get what I wanted. I volunteered to be a mechanic. I ended up at Camp Funston, Kansas in the Second Calvary Division riding horses. [Laughs.]"
   Question: "That must have been one of the few horse batallions left."
   Harry: "It was. Yeah, it was. And it was a regular Army that I went into, which I didn't know what I was getting into. But volunteering – after that I learned not to volunteer...
   "Almost a year and a half I was in horses. We went on maneuvers in Louisiana the first fall. And then after Pearl Harbor, we were shipped to Tucson, Arizona out in the desert. Our division more or less guarded the Mexican border for six months. So, they decided to demobilize the calvary, and we went into the Ninth Armored Division which was a tank outfit. And I was assigned to the light tank outfit."
   Question: "Did you think about the danger when you became a tank commander?"
   Harry: "No, I don't think I did. If I would have I would have probably stayed back in maintenance. Yeah, because when we went overseas we were on the frontlines and that wasn't so good."
   Question: "Tell me about going overseas."
   Harry: "Well, we went to New York City. We got on the Queen Mary which was a luxury liner, England's ship. It was a big one. And there was - took us four days to cross... We was stationed there until about the last part of November, [after] D-Day. We crossed the English Channel and landed in France. We went into Belgium and we got into combat about the 10th, 12th of December. And I didn't last too long in combat. On December 20th – We traveled down one road, and I was the third tank. And they decided not to go that road, so we had to go. And I was the last tank too, by the way. They said we should make a turn-about and take another road, and so then I was the lead tank. I was a sitting duck. And we went and took another road, and I was supposed to see over a knoll what was on the other side. Well, we was traveling very slow, probably a mile an hour. And they hit our tank."
   Question: "Was it another tank that hit your tank?"
   Harry: "No, it was a bazooka back in the trees. This was all wooded area. All you could do was just go down the roads. They were just wide enough for vehicles to go. And they hit our tank. The driver and the assistant driver were hit. It was an automatic tank, automatic transmission. And we went down – kept going. I mean, in fact, when he slumped down he stepped on the foot feed and we – I imagine we got into enemy territory about 400 yards at least. At least that far. We hit a tree, and that finally stopped us. We was going to try to turn around, but I don't think we ever could have. And you know, we was a little excited too, I'm sure. We decided to try to get back because there was no help where we were. The gunner was okay too, so the two of us started back. But we didn't make it. They caught us. And we didn't have a chance. We kinda run right into them."
   Question: "What were the Germans like when they captured you?"
   Harry: "They was SS troops which they told us before we went into battle – that they were the worst ones. If you got hooked up with them, why, you just as well kiss it good-bye. You wouldn't live through it. But really, believe it or not, they were very nice to us. They really were. Afterwards it wasn't that good. But I mean, the day we was captured they were good enough to us. They didn't mistreat us or anything. of course they interrogated us, you know. And all we'd ever give them was our name, rank and serial number. As far as rank, they knew. The outfit, they knew because we had patches on our clothes, so the only thing they didn't know was our name really. We was captured about 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, and they took us to a house and we stayed there all night. And of course it was their headquarters too. And our artillery fired all night trying to hit the house. They never did. We was lucky in that. Then the next day, we was walked back into Germany. See, this happened at St. Viff, which was only, which was right on the Belgium-German line where we was at. And we met up with different prisoners. Then they walked us to Camp 4-B, that was the first camp we was in. It had barracks and stuff. We was there a couple of days and that's where they brought all the prisoners in. And right at that time there was a lot of prisoners taken. There really was. There was probably I would say around 200, 150 to 200 in the group then. We walked most of the time. They said we walked about 400 miles in the four months."
   Question: "They just kept moving you from one place to another?"
   Harry: "Well, yeah, because our troops were coming up, you see, and the Russians were coming. So, they had to keep moving us all the time. We were locked up in a boxcar for five days and five nights one time. We didn't move anyplace. We didn't eat either for those days."
   Question: "You didn't eat for five days?"
   Harry: "That's right, five days and five nights."
   Question: "Did they give you water?"
   Harry: "We didn't have water, we didn't have nothing. There was about 80 of us in a boxcar and those – not boxcars, cattle cars really – they was open. We didn't get any water or anything. We couldn't even lay down 'cause there wasn't room. Those cars are a lot smaller than ours."    Question: "How do you survive?"
   Harry: "Well, I always figured if the other guy could, I could too. There was a couple of guys that didn't make it, but most of us did. We was toughened into it a lot. And you can live longer than you think without anything. After you're so hungry, you're not hungry. I weighed 96 pounds when I got out."
   Question: "How much did you weigh before you went in?"
   Harry: "About 175, 80 pounds."
   Question: "You lost half your weight!"
   Harry: "I lost half my weight, that's right. We had one Red Cross parcel. See, we was supposed to get that every week, a Red Cross parcel. But we got one in the four months that the four of us had to divide. And usually two divided, but it was four of us. But outside that, the Germans gave us broth and a little horsemeat in it. And we knew it was horsemeat because its real stringy and red, you know. And we got a bowl of that a day and part of a loaf of bread about that wide. And that's what we ate once a day... I don't know how many men we lost, walking. They just couldn't go. They was just done. Whatever happened to 'em we don't know. I always figured if the guy ahead of me could keep going, I could too. And I guess that's what brought me. And my faith I think brought me through it too...
   "We were probably almost in as much danger, on the average, behind the lines as we were on the front lines. We were strafed. We were bombed. They might have known we were there because they'd either strafe in front of us or in back of us. They never did strafe us. A bombing, there was one time that we was walking, and we was on a bridge. It was a pretty good sized bridge. And the American planes come over, and of course they was clear up in the air. We looked up, and they dropped bombs. They looked like they was straight up, but they missed us enough that nobody got hurt. There was dirt and stuff that flew and hit us. We were bombed and strafed just quite a few times."
   Question: "What did you think? What did you feel when you see that coming?"
   Harry: "I can't tell you. It comes and goes so fast that it's over with, you know? You just pray and hope that it won't happen again. We was in boxcars and we weren't locked up that time. They'd put us in boxcars, and were going to move us, but they couldn't move us. There was no place to go. And the British came along. And they knocked out the engine, and they hit the first two cars. We lost a lot of guys that day. I happened to be in the third car so I was lucky. So I was - I lucked out more than once...
   "The British came and liberated us. I quess we had a good feeling. We was really happy when they came in. And the Germans never give any resistance at all at our camp. Of course, most of those guys were 50, 60, 70 years old guarding us you know. They didn't want to fight any more than we did. And they were glad when our troops had come along, really. They really were... I was captured on December 20th and I was liberated I think it was April or May (it was four months) the 16th."
   Question: "Your gunner was the other one who survived."
   Harry: "Right. George Kelley was his name."
   Question: "Did you guys stay together through this?"
   Harry: "Yeah, we did. Yeah, until I got sick. Actually the Red Cross came in and fed us too much. You know what you do when you haven't eaten for four months to amount to anything. We, some of us ate too much. And I got dysentery, and I just couldn't make it any farther. And so, we got parted then, and he went back a little earlier than I did."
   Question: "Do you miss your other crew members?"
   Harry: "Yeah, I missed those real bad because I was pretty good buddy to the driver. So, I missed him real bad. Of course, George, he was there you know, and he was from Kansas City. After the service we had quite a few reunions, our outfit did, our division. And so I got to see George quite a few times after I got out of service."

Harry Hankel's War

   

Other Excerpts from Harry Hankel's Interview:

Pearl Harbor
Coming Home after the War
First Television
Biggest Change in Farming
From Horses to Tractors