Interview of Pete Harden
Transcript Number 086
SEPTEMBER 28, 2001
We're at the home of Pete Harden, the World War II Veterans Oral History Project. Mr. Paul Zarboch will be interviewing Mr. Harden about his experiences during World War II.
INTERVIEWER: Good afternoon. Tell me a story, how did you get into the military and what events preceded this time in your life? What happened right before and what happened during.
HARDEN: Well I grew up in New York City, Brooklyn, New York, and when the war started in Europe, I decided to get into, since it looked like we were going to be involved, to get into war work so I went up to Connecticut. I had family up that way and went to get a job in a war plant. I lived in Fort Trumbull Beach, Connecticut and it was a good place to live and I could travel to work in Bridgeport at the Bremerton Arms Company in a small arms department.
I stayed there probably a year or two and I was living at Fort Trumbull Beach in a big old house where the other war workers from all over the country came to live in this big old summer home. I was living there on December 7. We were sitting by the fireplace and heard President Roosevelt announce to the world about Pearl Harbor. A short time after that, I went up to the recruiting office and wanted to join the Navy and they told me that they weren't ready yet, that they didn't need me at that time and go home for another call.
The next call I got was from the draft board. Instead of going into the Navy, I went into the Army.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you do your basic?
HARDEN: Well the first stop was at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. From there I went to Camp Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia. That was basic training. It was medical replacement depot.
INTERVIEWER: Why did they put you in the medics?
HARDEN: Heaven knows. I asked for the signal corps and in their wisdom and in a way I'm glad they did put me in the medics, although at that time I had no choice. If I'd gone into the infantry I guess I'd go into the infantry or any branch of the service. When I reflect back on it now, I'm glad I was there because, as I say if I went into the infantry, my job would be killing and being killed. In the medical corps, of course I still had the opportunity to be killed, but I wasn't killing and while I realized that those who were in the infantry and other branches of the service did what they had to do, in a way I feel good that I didn't have to do the killing. If anything, I was on the other end and that's kind of colored my view of war in general because in a way I guess I saw the worst of the horror, the results of war cause I saw the horrors of war and I saw a concentration of it. If I were in the front lines, I would have seen my buddies killed, wounded. A few of them, well there were hundreds of them pass through and I saw not only those who recovered, but I still get really shook up when I think about it, seeing those young men who were laid out who were beyond help. The surgeons couldn't help them and they were lined up in a ward tent on the ground, on litters, lined up waiting for the grave's registration unit to come and take them away and I get a lump in my throat and tear in my eye when I think about these were the youngest men, the cream of America who were wasted.
I get real upset thinking about that especially today when I see how we Americans, we forget too quickly. I get upset when I think about things that are going on here. We have here in this town, we have an eternal flame, much like the one I always thought was in Washington and I haven't been able to find out much about it. But if I'm not wrong, at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, there was an eternal flame and seems that's gone or I'm wrong.
There is one here, a reproduction of it right here in Wilmington which hasn't burned in over 20 years. It hasn't burned as long as I'm here and I'm here over 20 years and nobody does anything about it. It's a blight on our town, on guys like myself who have been in the war who don't seem to give a darn.
We have the American Legion, we have the Veterans of Foreign Wars here. We have a World War II Remembered group and they don't remember or don't seem to care. I guess we're too busy. What really galls me is that I'm thinking of those thousands of men in foreign cemeteries, in this country too, we have a national cemetery right here in town. Once a year, we come there to give honor to those men who died in the wars and less than a mile away, nobody, very few, I've had a handful of people come out there.
I go out there on Memorial Day and other days and light a candle there for a few hours several times a year. I rarely get more than a handful of people come out there. At one time, there were maybe 20 or 25 people, but it just bothers me. I think I'm speaking for those men and women who didn't come back from the war. If they were to look down on us from heaven or wherever they may be, look down on us and see that we've neglected them. We have forgotten. We had all those slogans, "Lest we forget" and other slogans. We forgot.
INTERVIEWER: Let me take you back to your early military experience before the horrors of war were revealed to you. When did you go overseas and how old were you?
HARDEN: It's funny, I don't remember times and dates and places like some of the fellas, but I guess I went over some time in 1942. I was 22 at that time. Born in 1920. There's some things that stand out in my memory like going over past the Statue of Liberty, leaving New York, leaving America. It meant a lot to me because I had an intimate relationship with the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we went by there.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the places I pretty near grew up in. One of my chums in those days when I was 7-8 years old was a boy whose father was a captain which was a big deal in those days and I used to roam around town. I guess I was standing at the gate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard looking in at what was going on and this little boy came over, invited me in. He and I were kind of the mascots of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
We had the run of the place. We could go to the office mess, we could go on board ships. They put up with a couple of brats running around especially I guess because his father was a captain. Another thing is I grew up in an unusual situation. My mother died when I was 18 months old so the average youngster would have his mother to call him in and come to lunch and things like this. I wasn't neglected. I was the youngest of seven so my oldest brothers and sisters looked after me.
In those days especially it wasn't like it is today where everybody's got a watchful eye on the kids. They were different times. The neighbors, strangers looked out for kids. If they saw me hitching a ride on a trolley car, they'd get after me. People cared for each other. Anyway I kind of went off the track a little bit speaking of trolley cars.
But we sailed past the Statue of Liberty outside, away from New York and we were on, my memory fails me now, I don't know how many boats were in the convoy going over and war ships escorting us. We went across and landed in Scotland. We were 14 days out at sea which was no fun in those days. They were 14 gloomy days.
I don't think we saw the sun until we hit Scotland and just as we went up, that's one thing I remember, we went up the Firth of Clyde and the sun came out. I remember that. Another thing I remember is when we were able to get off the boat and were in this, on the dock there, it was cold. We could see a Red Cross wagon with big pots of coffee and donuts piled high and bright lights. It was beautiful site to see and of course after 14 days on a British ship eating I think we had mutton every day, the coffee and donuts looked good.
INTERVIEWER: What did they do? Did they feed you twice a day on the troop ship or three times?
HARDEN: Twice a day.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that's pretty typical.
HARDEN: If my memory serves me right, I think there was a line, I don't think the line ever ended. We went to the top of the ship, the uppermost deck and wind on down in the chow line getting down to something to eat. Anyway we got to the dock, we got into formation on the dock, thousands of men there. When they gave us the order to break ranks, everybody rushed for the Red Cross wagon. That was the first disappointment, one of the bad things that happened in wartime.
We went up thinking we were going to have a hot cup of coffee and a donut, but we had to pay for it and we didn't have British money, pounds and shillings, and they wouldn't take our American money. That kind of set us off on the wrong foot as far as the British were concerned and the United States Army of course.
It was like the doors of heaven opened up. The sun was shining, beautiful scenery on both sides, trees and green and after 14 days on board the Arundel Castle which was an old banana boat that they had converted into a troop ship. As a matter of fact, it smelled like bananas down in the hole. You couldn't get away from it. That wasn't too good either because we were fed twice a day and I don't remember a day that we didn't have mutton stew.
Somebody must have interfered because I think we would have started a war against the British if we didn't get our coffee and donuts. I guess the same day we got on trains and went down into Great Britain, into England, on the railroad to the Midlands, a little town called Kidderminster. We were assigned two men to a private house. The people put us up in their houses, we were billeted in private homes.
They gave us a mattress cover and took us where there was a pile of straw and said this is your mattress. I'm trying to remember now, it was called a paillaise. Anyway you were on this thing which was a wood rack, sleeping on this bed of straw. As I said before, I don't remember many things, but I remember the people who put us up, Mr. and Mrs. John Hall and they lived at 144 Beaudly Hill Road. Amazes me that I remember that.
INTERVIEWER: Were they good folks?
HARDEN: They were beautiful. I remember Mr. Hall, he had a 35 mm Leica and he and I went out one time and he was taking some pictures of landscapes and he walked out into the water. He wanted to get a landscape scene there and he wanted this certain formation of clouds. He rolled his pant legs up and walked out in water to where his trousers were getting wet and stood there for what seems to me at least, almost half an hour waiting for the clouds to come in the right direction.
These were delightful moments there. I remember Mrs. Hall would come to our room. My buddy was Charlie Murrow, who to this day is a good friend of mine, and unfortunately I don't get to see him much. He lives in Florida now. He lived in New Jersey at that time. Charlie and I became good friends. She'd come up with a tray with two cups and saucers of tea in the morning and the last thing Charlie and I wanted in the morning was tea. Coffee would have been alright.
But Mrs. Hall being a good hostess thought she as doing the right thing. She brought tea and might have been crumpets or tea biscuits or something in the morning. We explained to Mrs. Hall thanks, but no thanks. We would rather just have a glass of water and Mrs. Hall thought that we were just being gracious and didn't want to use her ration of tea. We did drink the tea just to be gracious. The next day sure enough she came up with a tray of tea again and again we implored her, please, we just don't care for tea or anything in the morning. And she did that again and that morning, we just left the tea there. We wanted to impress it on her. From that time on, she didn't bring it up.
INTERVIEWER: How many men were in your outfit? Was it a platoon size, company size?
HARDEN: We were a company of three platoons. I was in the 3rd platoon, my friend Charlie was in the 2nd platoon. So at times, the platoons would separate. We'd go to different areas for training and also we were separated once we went over after D-Day.
INTERVIEWER: But all of you were medics?
HARDEN: Yes, we were a field hospital and each one served as a separate field hospital. We duplicated the three things so that we could go to whatever area we were required.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of training did you get in England?
HARDEN: Well the heavy training, the real training was in America at Fort Benjamin Harrison. We were classified as surgical technicians and given the rank of corporal. We assisted in surgery and operations. We were taught to draw blood, to apply Thomas splints to broken arms and legs and give medications, narcotics, to do suturing. We didn't do any surgery as such, but we did take over after the surgeons were finished.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you in the Midlands and where did you go after that?
HARDEN: Again my memory isn't too clear. It seems, well D-Day, they moved us down to Plymouth, England to go across the Channel. Maybe it wasn't D-Day because it seems we weren't there too long. As a matter of fact, we didn't spend overnight. We went to Plymouth by train from Kidderminster and the next move was on board the transports going over to Normandy.
INTERVIEWER: What outfit were you attached to if any?
HARDEN: Well we moved around a lot and again the different platoons, I can't remember the order in which we were moved, but we were part of the 1st Army, 3rd Army with General Patton. We were part of the 9th Army, I can't remember them all.
INTERVIEWER: As you would remember it, what would be a typical day after you got onto to the soil of France?
HARDEN: Well again I remember bits and pieces. I remember going down a rope ladder. We went from the transports down a rope ladder onto the landing barges. Of course we went over D-Day plus five or six. We weren't like the first men over there who were being shot at. We were going over there, the worst thing that happened to us, was the landing barges still couldn't bring us. We got our feet wet, we landed in water off the landing barges. It was up to our hips which was no problem compared to what the other guys had to put up with.
Got to the beach and our first area that we settled in was in the hedgerows and what I remember about the hedgerows was the bugs. I've since learned here, it was like putting up with the no-see-ums, the little bugs that bug you, but so small you don't see them. They were all over the place. You couldn't open your mouth to take a bite of food, they'd be in your mouth. They'd be on the food. It got to where unless you were real hungry in the beginning, you just didn't bother to eat because they were all over. After that, if you were real hungry, you went and ate bugs and all. There was just no getting away from them. .
The things I remember about the hedgerows, I learned later, were the bane of General Patton and the other fighting men who couldn't get their equipment through the hedgerows. The hedgerows as I remember were like six, seven, eight feet high and apparently in America here like the stone fences you see especially up in New England and other places where the farmers would clear their land and put the stones aside and make fences of them. Well I guess the French in their wisdom used planted hedges or maybe they just naturally grew there and they really made sturdy walls, fences.
One thing I did when we had time, we were there for probably two weeks at least, I took my trenching tool and cut an easy chair into the hedgerow because the hedgerow was basically earthen soil with roots running through it. I used my tool to cut out what in effect was an easy chair with arms and piled some leaves, twigs and that, then put my Army blanket over it and if you looked at it, it was exactly like an easy chair. It got so after awhile, I had to fight off some of the other guys who wanted to sit in the chair cause everybody came there to relax.
When I look back on that T.V. show, 407 MASH, that was one of the stunts I think, if they hired me, I could have put them onto some stunts that were crazy, but that's what we did. I did that. Another thing I liked to do, I always enjoyed cooking and again I learned to cook because a lot of the adversity of not having a mother at home, all of us, seven of us from my oldest brother, my sisters, we all had to chip in and do things at home.
Among other things besides washing dishes and scrubbing floors and chopping wood was cooking. So as soon as you could reach the sink, you were put to work. I don't remember being ordered around, it was just something you did naturally. I like to think you almost enjoyed it. It was something to do. We didn't have television then to entertain us.
Overseas I always looked for things to eat that the Army didn't give us. We sort of got tired of K-rations, C-rations, Army type food, cooking. Since I was able to speak French and German and other languages, I could communicate with the local people and get things like fresh eggs and fresh vegetables and fruits and cognac which was the French version of schnapps whiskey. I would at times make soup over a campfire. I got a large can that held about 30 gallons, well almost 30 gallons and cut the top out of it, built a campfire and make soup with some of the fresh vegetables.
I'd get some bouillon from the kitchen and sometimes a piece of meat and get fresh potatoes, carrots, string beans and whatnot from the local folks in exchange for two cigarettes which was the exchange rate when we first got there and make soup. And even the cooks and the colonel would come over and share the soup with us.
Another thing I made, I found somewhere along the line in France, I found a great big frying pan. I've never seen one this big since then with a long handle on it. I carried that around with me and used to make potato pancakes because I could always get fresh potatoes and the other ingredients, fresh eggs and here again was something that was a treat. Getting away from C-rations, K-rations.
Again talking about MASH, this again would be something on the style of what they did in MASH, some of this foolish, funny things that they did. When we were on a march, I would put my pack on my shoulder and the last thing I'd put on was the frying pan with the handle sticking out there and the guys used to joke that if Hitler saw us coming, he'd quit because he'd think this was a secret weapon coming at him (laughter).
INTERVIEWER: I've got to interrupt Mr. Harden to ask, some years from now people won't know what MASH is. Would you tell us, when you say MASH, I know what you're talking about, but times change and language changes. What is a MASH?
HARDEN: Medical, you've got me now. I wasn't MASH, I was a field hospital. But you probably, people nowadays would probably remember that better because they know MASH better than they know the 48th field hospital.
INTERVIEWER: It was simply a mobile hospital. Temporary in structure, this was not brick and mortar.
HARDEN: The "H" would be hospital.
INTERVIEWER 2: It's a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
HARDEN: Very good, see what I mean. You're familiar with MASH than I am.
INTERVIEWER: You worked under canvas, didn't you, the operating room?
HARDEN: Except for one time, we found a school building which had been bombed. It was three stories high and I have pictures of it somewhere. We have this big canvas that we put up on top of our hospital tent with a great big circle, a white circle, had a red cross in the middle so hopefully we wouldn't be bombed by the Germans.
INTERVIEWER: Who manhandled the canvas to put up the tents? Who really did put up the tents?
HARDEN: Me with the help of the gang. We were, there was a group of us who were like Peck's Bad Boys. We were kind of not into Army regulations so we were the guys that got into trouble which is why I went from corporal to private again. We did things like stealing a cherry pie that was meant for the officers.
I would volunteer for KP so I could, I guess the statute of limitations is up now. The Army won't get after me now if I admit to some of the crimes we committed like stealing a cherry pie, stealing a couple of chickens from the mess.
INTERVIEWER: I don't think that falls in the category of high crimes and misdemeanors.
HARDEN: I hope not.
INTERVIEWER: You were in France. How long, tell us about your trip, not a trip, but your military activity across Europe. How long would you be in one area before you'd have to move?
HARDEN: It varied. It would depend on where they needed us and again we kind of leapfrogged over some of our other platoons. We came to support, at the Battle of the Bulge, we moved up there, but the 2nd platoon I believe got up close. We were kind of backing them up so we didn't get up. The closest I came to getting hit by a small arms fire was not by Germans, but by Russian civilians and they were just showing us how happy they were by shooting at us.
They were drunk on German schnapps I guess it was. This was when Charlie and I met some Russian DP's, displaced persons. Some of the people who had been brought to Germany to work in industry, slave labor or whatnot. We met this bunch who had been freed when our fighting forces had gone on and freed them and now these people were kind of trying to find their way around, trying to find their way back home.
This group that we met, they invited us over to the building that they had, I'm trying to think of the word they used. One of the words that you heard frequently was organizierem which was the German word, they would gesture with their hands, when you swipe something. I guess we would call it when you swipe something. ------organizierem) was one of the words that they used. I can't think of the Russian word, but anyway, they organized, swiped, whatever they wanted. They'd try to get even with the Germans there and sometimes they were a little mean, but then again you couldn't really blame them. They were not treated too well either.
They invited me and Charlie to come and have a drink and some food with them. The food consisted of bowls, great big heavy white oval shaped bowls like serving bowls filled with chunks of bacon about the size of ice cubes, cold raw bacon. The other bowl filled with chunks of black bread and coffee cups with the schnapps in it that they had "organiziered" from the Germans or whatever, I don't know where they got it.
But I can remember eating, Charlie and I eating along with them, eating chunks of raw bacon, picking up a piece of bread, chomping away on it and I guess having some of that schnapps, vodka, whatever it was, made the raw bacon and the black bread taste better.
INTERVIEWER: They may have cooked the bacon on the way down.
HARDEN: Probably yeah because it was powerful stuff. But anyway getting back to being shot at, these people also had rifles and things that they had "organiziered" whatever and other weapons and when we left we had to go walk around. We were on the other side, our outfit, we had to cross this canal so we had to walk around and get back to them and they were waving at us from their side, waving and yelling.
Of course they were like a bunch of drunken Russians which they really were. They were fighting over our heads and not aiming too well for the vodka. So I kind of get a chuckle out of that, but this was the closest we came to being hit by small arms fire.
INTERVIEWER: This was in Germany wasn't it?
HARDEN: In Germany, yes. The other place where we came close to not making it back home was the biggest danger we had was from the buzz bombs that came overhead. The Germans were still firing buzz bombs over into England and into the areas that the Americans had occupied.
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell us what a buzz bomb is.
HARDEN: It was the unmanned bomb that the Germans had invented which, well to begin with, it sounded like a motorcycle. I'll never forget that because it had an engine on it that ran on kerosene I believe. I don't think it was gasoline. But anyway, I think it was kerosene because you could smell it once they landed.
They would run until they ran out of gas, out of kerosene, fuel and that was when you had to worry because you would hear this thing. It sounded like a motorcycle up in the sky and when you didn't hear the engine coming on, there was an eerie silence especially where we were because there wasn't much noise, much cannon fire, occasional where we were, an occasional German airplane overhead. But these buzz bombs were all over the place. When you didn't hear that motor sound, that engine, that was when you...you looked up and you could see this thing flying and you'd swear it was coming at you.
If you ran over there, the darn thing followed you. If you ran back this way, it followed you. If you ran over here...it was coming for you and make no mistake about it. It wasn't an optical illusion. Maybe it was, but not to me and that's when you worried because when it ran out of gas, it came down and exploded. That was our biggest worry.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember where you were in Germany at that time?
HARDEN: It occurred in a couple of places. Places like Uhlbach, I should have looked up some of the places. Well it was probably near Frankfort because for a while there, we were stationed...as a matter of fact, I was assigned to a German military hospital to oversee the operation of the place.
We let them run it, the Germans run it. It was run by a German lieutenant, as a matter of fact, he reminds me of you. He looked like you. He was not a soldier. He was a professor at the university and so I suppose that had a lot to do with his being assigned there. He was a good old boy. He was kind of like what's his name on MASH, the German officer, the clown. I was going to say I'll never forget him, but I can't think of his name.
INTERVIEWER: You mean Hawkeye?
HARDEN: No, no, no, the German. He was the German officer. It wasn't Hawkeye. I shouldn't say it was on MASH. It was that other show.
INTERVIEWER: Hogan's Heroes?
HARDEN: Right, he was the guy that's always...again he wasn't a soldier. He wasn't military, he was in military uniform, but he didn't want any part of the war. That was obvious.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever treat any German civilians or military people in the U.S. Army Hospital?
HARDEN: We certainly did. One thing that stands out in my mind and I have to say it wasn't a good account as far as some of the American, my American friends there. They didn't treat these guys too well and again you could see, after all they were our enemy. I remember one particular soldier, German soldier, he was badly wounded, stomach wounds. He was really in bad shape lying on a cot there. He was out of his mind.
He'd reach over just looking for something on the table beside him, box, whatever, was set up. He would reach over and grab a tube of Colgate toothpaste and take that, didn't know what he was doing. He'd take that, probably he could smell the mint, it smelled sweet and minty. He would bite through that as though it were candy and a couple of the guys thought this was funny. I couldn't see the humor of it.
But again I can understand to some extent. They would call other people over to come and see this until one of the nurses got after them and told them that was not a very nice thing to do.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you when the war ended?
HARDEN: When the war ended, I believe I was in Frankfurt-on-Main, big German hospital which was run by this German lieutenant and was staffed by nuns, sisters. They were the nurses, the cooks, everything. Amusing incident that happened there, we were overloaded with C-rations. The Army, our unit couldn't hand them out fast enough. If you were in the chow line, they heated up these C-rations, but anyway the Army stew and stuff like that didn't sit too well with us. We ate it when we were really hungry of course.
We had a surplus of them and when I was at the German hospital, the nuns there had these great big vats that they cooked their stews and soups in. They would cook what they called "gemuesa" which was a vegetable stew with very little or not fat in it. They were short of course on fats as were other people in Europe. Fats were used in munitions. Anyway I one time brought a case of C-rations which came in little cans like tuna fish sized cans and you open them up and each can or each soldier had a little can opener that you keep on your key ring. I still have mine somewhere. Handy little gadget.
We didn't have the pull open cans in those days. I brought a case of these C-rations in little cans to the nun in charge and she was just overjoyed. She opened one up and just the smell, she could smell the meat in it and that's what they were very short of. Anyway she had her people open a couple of cans of this. I don't know how many and put it in this giant vat of vegetable stew and they just loved it.
I took and put some of it into a container of some sort and took it back to my outfit and served it to the, passed it around to the cooks and the colonel. They couldn't believe it was C-ration because now it was a little bit of C-ration with lots of carrots, potatoes, celery, cabbage, things like that and cooked with expertise by the German nuns.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned something that no one has ever mentioned in other tapes about having a place for the GRU. Would you tell us what the GRU is and what were they after? The grave registration.
HARDEN: Oh, the GRU, yeah, well we just called it the Grave Registration Unit. The grave registration unit were composed, I suppose, of many men who in private life and civilian life had been involved in undertaking. One of the fellas in our outfit, as a matter of fact, I can't remember his name at the moment, his family ran a funeral home in Pennsylvania. So he was the one who would handle whatever was necessary are the surgeons had nothing more they could do for the wounded men, he would take over from that point and prepare them for the GRU to come and pick up the men.
Their job, we would tie a tag on the toe giving as much information as we could. Of course in those days, in most cases, almost in every case, we had the dog tags. There was an envelope that was waterproof and pass it on with that so the grave registration unit could take it and then send the body home for burial.
INTERVIEWER: Why were some of the bodies sent home and why were some of the bodies buried overseas?
HARDEN: I suppose a lot of it had to do with the contingencies of war. Sometimes, of course, we were only involved with people who were wounded and could be treated. I don't know what the figures would be, but there were a lot of them that died in surgery. A lot of them, of course, I'm sure the Army had the GRU men handling them. They never came through our field hospital.
INTERVIEWER: What about chaplains? Did you have chaplains assigned to your hospital?
HARDEN: Yes we did. We had one, we had a captain and each unit had a chaplain. I think one of the units had a Jewish chaplain, another one had Protestant and another one was Catholic. So each platoon had one plus the captain was assigned to the company looking over all three.
INTERVIEWER: And am I correct on your dog tag, you had a P for Protestant, a C for Catholic and a J for the Jewish soldiers.
INTERVIEWER: So quick identification as to religion could be established.
HARDEN: And blood type.
INTERVIEWER: That's right. Do you remember your blood type?
HARDEN: I guess I kind of got lazy about that. I married a nurse so I leave all those things up to her. I might say this might be of interest to you. After the war, I came back, jobs were hard to find. The best I could find was, and I guess by choice too, I took a job as an ambulance driver because Charlie and I, as a matter of fact, I was the driver, Charlie was my assistant in the ambulance so this gave us a chance to stay together.
Charlie lived in New Jersey and would commute from New York. We worked at Roosevelt Hospital and I used to transport people who worked in Manhattan in the theater district, Times Square and all that, the Bowery and that area. We covered quite an area in Manhattan from the river to 5th Avenue and beyond.
Got acquainted with a nurse in the emergency room. She was a student nurse and got acquainted with her, but didn't do much more. I didn't think, she was a young and pretty girl and she had many suitors. I was just one of them and didn't pursue it. Well it wasn't my style, didn't pursue it too heavily.
But anyway, to make a long story short, for some reason she did choose me. As a matter of fact, when she was a nurse, she was still a student at that time in the emergency room and after she graduated, she remained in the emergency room and my job was to bring people in and she would accuse me laughingly of deliberately going down to the Bowery and inviting the drunks to come to the hospital and get a clean bed and a meal and everything like that just so I could come and visit her which may have been true to some extent.
INTERVIEWER: I note and the camera has picked it up, you're wearing a blue cap with something in the front. What is it?
HARDEN: Well funny you should ask, I was looking for artifacts since I knew you were coming today that had to do with World War II and this is a cap device that I wore when I was a policeman in New York. That was my other career and the reason I have this, actually I shouldn't have it, but when I was working in Brooklyn at that time as a young rookie policeman, I was directing traffic on a very busy street at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Cars and trucks would come barreling down off the bridge and one day I was out there and this big truck went by and blew my cap off and it rolled off and another big truck came by and ran over the hat. As I was telling it to my fellow policemen after, they wanted to know if my head was in the hat when the truck ran over it and luckily it wasn't. But the strange thing was, and there are two figures here on it.
One is an Indian, the other is, I can't see it too well now, it might be one of the Dutch Burgers, but anyway his head was broken off the cap device so that's why I happened to have another one now because I had to go out and have another one made so I kept the one without the head. Had his head put back on and I've had it ever since.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Harden, I'm going to ask you a last question and put it into context. I'd like you to look right in the camera and understand that you're now going to talk to your grandchildren and maybe your great-grandchildren. All the things that you saw, the good times and the bad times and the scary times and the hungry times and the cold times, all of that, and the companionship, what did all of your war experience mean? What would you tell your great-grandchildren, advice and counsel, about war?
HARDEN: Well war is the worst, most horrible thing that man can...it's the worst crime that man and men can commit and it's not necessary. War is the biggest felony of all crimes. War is the product of one man, one country, many men wanting something that doesn't belong to them, wanting to take it from another man, a country wanting to take land from another country because they want the gold that may be in that land, the minerals, whatever they want, and taking it illegally, not righteously.
If they want that, we, the Americans, we bought land, the Louisiana Purchase, Alaska, countries like that. That is one of the good parts of this country, that we have led the way I think in many ways. We're not innocent either. I've seen crimes committed by individuals and crimes committed under the name of America. When I was growing up, we were taught to do the right things.
Now one of the books that I would recommend to children and grownups and adults is a book, I wish I had it here, I have it on a shelf, a book titled Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. I think that book should be in every school, in every church. The rules, as I remember some of them, are share, share everything, don't hit, clean up your mess. Would you get the book for me, I think it's right there.
This is something that I've been promoting for a long time wherever I had the opportunity. I've been to almost all the schools in the county here not particularly on that, but other areas. I'm very much involved in training animals, dogs and things. I took my animals to the schools to teach children how to behave so they don't get hurt.
I also hope I carry the message to the children that this is the message and if I may (tape ends here).