Interview of Pete Harden
Transcript Number 013

JULY 30, 1998

Welcome and greetings to you from friends and veterans of World War II remembered as they share their lives with you during the turbulent years from 1937 to 1947, years that changed forever the political and economic thinking of practically every region on earth. Whether in any branch of the service, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, they all have a story to tell to inform the American public of their experiences and sacrifices. The interview today is on video tape from the library at UNCW. My name is Joseph James. The gentleman on my left is Mr. Pete Harden.

INTERVIEWER: Today you're going to start sharing your military experience with us. Go right ahead.

HARDEN: Well I guess we'll start when I. well I guess my first military experience was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My best friend when I was about 8 years old was a boy whose dad was a captain in the navy yard and we had the run of the place so I kind of got interested in military seeing all the parades and eating at the mess hall with the sailors and the officers. That kind of got me excited and it was a very interesting experience to spend time in the navy yard.

When the trouble started in Europe, I remember going to the recruiting station, I think it was 125, gosh I forgot the street now, but anyway downtown Manhattan...

INTERVIEWER: That was the federal building.

HARDEN: Well it was the a federal building, but it had a number that everybody knew and at the moment, I forget.

INTERVIEWER: Was it Canal Street?

HARDEN: No, it was lower Broadway. I thought I'd be drafted before long so I thought I'd choose the service I wanted to go into. I wanted to go into the Navy having had a taste of it at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They said thanks, but no thanks, we don't need you now, we'll be in touch with you later. Well sometime later, I decided to do what I could, I went to work in Connecticut making ammunition in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

A short time after that, well I guess it was December, I was living up there when Franklin D. Roosevelt made his speech. As a matter of fact, we were sitting around the fire in the living room listening to the radio when we found out about Pearl Harbor. Shortly after that, I can't remember how long it was, probably a couple of months later, I get my draft notice. They decided to put me into the Army.
Next I wound up at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and whatever means they used to decide. They asked everybody what branch of service they wanted to go into and I told them I'd like to go into the signal corps. Well as usual, the way the Army does, they put me into the medical corps which today I'm rather glad I did because I'd have gone anywhere they sent me, but when I look back on it now, I kind of did some good. Rather than killing people, I was helping get them back to health again.

So I wound up in a field hospital which today most people acknowledge as a MASH unit. The only difference between us and them is that now they have helicopters. We went by truck and we also had some air training. The wooden, gosh, how quickly you forget, 50 years and I forget, but anyway thank goodness, we never had to use them in the war because there were a lot of terrible accidents flying those things, the wooden planes without engines.

I wound up, the Port of Embarkation was New York City which was all right for me except I didn't see much of New York City. We got there at night and next thing I know, we're on a ship going past the Statute of Liberty on our way to join a convoy which rendezvoused in the Atlantic off Coney Island. I remember the last thing I saw was the parachute tower at Coney Island, the one that had been at the New York World's Fair in 1939. As you get out to sea, that's about all you can see.

It was a 14 day trip across the ocean, 14 day zigzagging to avoid submarines and I don't think there was a sunny day all the way across. It was gloomy. Nights, of course, were dark. You couldn't see the ships around you because nobody had lights and we wound up in Scotland. The first time I saw any sunshine was when we got close to Scotland and we were sailing up the Firth of Clyde and that was a beautiful sight. 

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.

There were two meals a day because they didn't have time to cook three meals. So the chow line would start at the upper most deck of the ship and you'd wind around and come down below to eat and then go back to the hole. We landed in Edinburgh and there too, again the rain started. Once we docked the rain started and it was gloomy except that the dock was enclosed. The pier was enclosed and at the other end of the pier was a sight to behold.

It was a Red Cross truck with the sides open and a couple of coffee urns steaming and piles of donuts and all that. We couldn't wait to get over there. Of course we had to get off the ship and we formed ranks on the pier and we're all chomping at the bit looking at those donuts and hot coffee and lo and behold when they let us go, we all ran over to the truck and another disappointment, we couldn't have the coffee and donuts because we didn't have whatever it cost. 

That was kind of a shock because here was the Red Cross and although they did a lot of good work, somebody goofed there because we had American money and they wouldn't take our American money. So that was the beginning of where we were finding out that war was hell without having fired a shot.

We didn't spend much time there. I remember getting on trains and going down to the Midlands in England to a little town of Kidderminster and we were billeted in private homes. It's strange that I forget a lot of details, but I remember I lived at 144 Beaudly Hill Road with Mr. and Mrs. John Hall who are a lovely old couple. They were so gracious and nice to us. I remember we'd get up in the morning, Mrs. Hall would come upstairs with a tray with some tea on it for us. She'd knock on the door and gently wake us up.

One thing we didn't want was tea. We're Americans, we wanted coffee and we tried to convince Mrs. Hall that thanks, but no thanks. If we can't have coffee, we don't want anything. She thought we were just being...we were being gracious and didn't want to take away her allotment of tea and so she kept bringing back tea every morning and we just couldn't stop her. We just couldn't drink it either. We'd dump it in the sink so as not to hurt her feelings. But then we thought that didn't make any sense so we left the tea there and finally she got the idea and didn't bring tea.

We slept on paillassers which were lot mattress covers, cotton mattress covers stuffed with straw. She didn't have any spare beds. Kidderminster was a very interesting town to be in. They entertained us there. They had dances down in town. It was my first taste of real fish and chips. We went to the dances, met some of the local girls and people. Had some real nice experiences there.

I can't remember dates. I'm amazed at some of the men who can remember places and dates they were at. It kind of went pretty fast and we were busy. As I say, we were like a MASH unit so wherever we were, we'd set up our hospital unit. We had war tents and I'm not sure how many men they held, might have been...wooden cots of course, folding cots which we set up and I don't know there might have been 30 or 40 to a war tent.

Then we'd set up the operating rooms, very much like MASH. As a matter of fact, we had people in our unit that I could identify with the MASH people. We had Hot Lips (laughter), that was Emily Pachiko who was quite a character and lots of fun and a darn good nurse. They all were. We had some great people there. 

When it was time to go over to the battlefield, we rode down to Plymouth, England. We took off from there on landing craft across the channel and that was on D+6 so we weren't far behind the fighting men.

INTERVIEWER: Not very far at all.

HARDEN: And we'd had some training going down the rope ladders off the ships into the water and at this time, we were able to get closer to shore so we only had to go about up to our knees in water. The landing ships were able to land that close. Of course we had no problem with small arms fire, but planes were flying over and there was small artillery fire, no small arms fire. And the worst thing that we feared was the buzz bombs because they were so unpredictable.

You could hear them coming and it sounded like a motorcycle up in the sky. You really got the word when they ran out of gas, when you didn't hear that motorcycle anymore cause you knew now they were going to drop somewhere nearby and no telling where they were going to drop. It's like Russian roulette.

At any rate, we got through that. Went ashore at a little town, St. Lo, and Coutances. It wasn't so bad for us, but you can imagine what it was like for the first men to land there. We could see all the ships that were turned over. It must have been like hell landing there for the men that first went in there. We set up in Normandy in the hedgerows. It's funny the things I can remember. 

I can remember the bugs in Normandy in the hedgerows. You'd go to eat and the bugs were so plentiful all around, you opened your mouth to take a bite of something and you got a mouthful of bugs. The first day or two you didn't eat much cause no matter how you covered your mouth up, you got bugs in your mouth so it kind of made you lose your appetite. I think about the second or third day when we were really hungry, we ate bugs. You just opened your mouth and chewed it all down.

INTERVIEWER: You were hungry enough.

HARDEN: Yes indeed. We were there for a couple of days waiting until they found a place for us where they needed us and I can remember the hedgerows. We didn't have too much to do because we couldn't unpack there because we were ready to go wherever they decided they could use us. So while we're there, probably about three days, four days, we dealt with some of the natives.

The natives would bring us things, eggs and bread which was nice, fresh French bread and the first day, you would swap one cigarette for two eggs. The second day it was one egg, one cigarette. After that, of course, the price went up whatever the market would bear. One thing I did there to, because we had little to do but just sit and wait, I would take my folding shovel and dig into the side of the hedgerow and chop out a chair like an easy chair, the form of a chair. Then fill it with dead leaves, put a blanket over it and I had an easy chair so we could relax while we could which was one of the crazy things we did when there was nothing else to do, to keep your sanity I guess.

Then we went on from there to Le Mans and places I can't remember. I can't remember the name of the town we first set up. One of the places we set up was what had been an old school building and it was bombed out so we set up wherever we could find some rooms that had roofs over them. We put up a big tarpaulin that had a Red Cross painted on it and sure enough that's the place that they hit. They didn't hit the building, but we had tents set up. We lived in tents. There wasn't room enough in the building for us. But we set up the hospital room, the emergency room, the operating room in the building and then we set up our ward tents outside and squad tents for ourselves to live in and we also dug two latrines, one for the nurses and one for the other men, three latrines. One for the enlisted men, one for the officers and another one for the nurses.

Wouldn't you know it, one tent had a direct hit on it. That was one of the latrines, made a direct hit on it and luckily that was well away from where we were so that we got some of the debris out of there. I guess that was one time we joked about how this was a time things turned around. Instead of the stuff hitting the fan, the fan hit the stuff (laughter) so there were the trees and the festoon with toilet paper and what-not. 

That same shell that hit that exploded and piece of the shrapnel went into the tent that we had been sleeping in hit my duffel bag which was beside my cot and I had my camera, my 35mm camera in the middle of the duffel bag. I had it wrapped up in my long-johns and whatever in the middle of the bag so it wouldn't be injured. Well that's as far as the shrapnel went. Apparently it came down so it didn't have the full force of the blast. But it did go halfway through the bag and stopped at my camera, ruined it.

I couldn't use the camera anymore so I packed it up and sent it off to Kodak in Rochester and asked if they could fix it. Well the camera was a long time coming. In fact it didn't come and I finally sent a letter to them and asked them if I could get another camera or make some arrangement and they couldn't trace the camera back to where it was so instead they said what they would do is send me another camera, another one like it. They sent me another camera and maybe four to five weeks later I get my original camera back. 

So I wrote back to them and asked them if I could send them the money to pay for the new camera and keep the old camera and the charges whatever they were and I wanted to send that camera to my brother who was in India looking for a camera. So they said that was okay. Well that took care of that. 

We went on setting up, we went through France into Belgium, Holland. Somewhere along the way, I believe it was still in France, yes it was still in France, I had an incident that kind of disturbed me. In one of the bombed out houses, we went into this town. I can't remember the name of the town, but it was above a store. It was in the center of town. It was a store and we went and took the dwelling quarters up above and there was a big hole in the roof where a bomb hit and we took a room next to it that still had the roof intact.

There was a hole in the roof over the bathroom and while I was there, I just looked around and I saw what looked like a GI bag sticking out from under the debris that was dropped all over. I reached under it, took it apart. It was an ammo bag full of gold. You don't know what to make of it except there's no question about it. This was a GI bag, belonged to a GI. Whoever this guy was, he wasn't doing what he was supposed to do. He not only had the bag and it was chock full of rings and watches and also a ring cutter so it was pretty evident that he had been going around not worrying about his buddies and what he was there for and I didn't know what to do with it.

I figured if I turned it into the commanding officer, there's no telling if he even wanted to be bothered with it. So I finally decided I didn't want any part of it so I went and cleaned out the bathtub which was now full of plaster and broken wood and what-not, scooped out a lot of that stuff, put the bag underneath there, put the debris on, put some more on top of that. I figured the poor guy that was coming back to the house and was going to have all these headaches, I don't know whatever he'd do with it, but what are you going do? 

So anyway, it would be interesting to see whatever happened to that, who got it and what they did with it, but I am sure there are a lot of things like that happening during a war. We read now about the art treasures that were looted by the Germans and never got back to their original owners. I'm sure these things never got back either. Anyway that was another rather unpleasant incident.

Along the way, I picked up a mascot which turned out to be one of the souvenirs I brought back from the war. All the GI's were bringing back Lugers, they were the big thing to bring back. As a matter of fact, if you had a Luger, you could sell that and get good money. A lot of soldiers coming in after that were looking for Lugers. 

I brought back this sword which I picked up in a French military unit that the Germans had taken over, originally had been a French encampment and this sword was there and this was a picture frame I found there that had a picture of a very attractive German lady and on the back of it, you can't read it, but I'll see if I can read it for you here. It's kind of turned dark colors, hard to read, but it's a visiting card of the officer in whose office I found the sword and this and also these binoculars I found. These were my souvenirs. I didn't bring back a gun.

But this (the back of the picture) gives the name of the officer. His name is Pohl. Let me put my glasses on so I can read it. He was a Major, an artillery officer from Platz and down below that it says Schleinemun. Schleinemun is interesting because that's where the German submarines were built and came out of Schleinemun. Anyway the other souvenir I brought back which was unusual was a POW. 

I brought back a German POW. Of course I don't have him anymore (laughter). He died some years ago, but this is him. This is Fritz. This is a little dachshund that I picked up.
As a matter of fact, he's the second dog I picked up. Well it kind of gave us something else to think about besides the war. When I brought him home, I renamed him Schnappsie, like the German whiskey Schnapps. Unfortunately I don't have the picture (of the lady) that was in there. I was thinking I wish I did have the picture of his wife or girlfriend whoever it was. I'd like to have sent it back to him and have some correspondence with him.

INTERVIEWER: Very interesting, very interesting.

HARDEN: Yeah, Schnappsie lived with us for quite a while. We had a lot of fun with him. I have some pictures of him when we were back in New York. Eventually I got married and my wife and I kept Schnappsie for a couple of years. I don't know if you can see this picture of him here, but that's Schnappsie in New York. He did quite a bit of tricks. I had a lot of time to teach him tricks. One of his tricks was to clean litter in the streets. 

He would pick up a piece of litter and of course he couldn't reach the litter basket. I don't know if you can see it there. He's picking up litter. I would take him to the litter basket, hold him up, I would say "thank you" and he'd open his mouth and let the litter drop into the basket. Another thing he did, I converted him into a true American. He's carrying a flag there. What I did was to tape the flag to a cork and he'd hold the cork in his mouth and march down the street. So we had a lot of fun with him.

INTERVIEWER: You had him quite a while, right?

HARDEN: He was with us for a couple of years. There's a close-up of him. Here's another picture of him. When the children came along, we used them in the pictures we took for a greeting card.

INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful (laughter).

HARDEN: He was a smart little dog and he'd do anything, he'd do anything for a treat. Of course, I've been interested in dogs all my life. The dog I had before Schnappsie or Fritz was a little dog I picked up in France from a little girl who came to the camp. Children would come there with, they would take the #10 cans that the vegetables came in and cut the tops out of them and put a bailing hook on it and they'd always be there after meals. They'd be lining up, the kids, to get coffee or hopefully hot chocolate. We had hot chocolate. These kids didn't know what that stuff was and they'd take the coffee home to their families and anything else that we didn't eat. They brought tin cans to take the food back home in.

My buddy Charlie, Charlie Murrow, and I were together during the war and we would always have a couple of kids who were our best friends who would always be out there waiting for us. We'd always bring something out for them and I remember in Germany one time, we'd always make friends wherever we were. Charlie and I both spoke German. Charlie was German, spoke it fluently and I was doing pretty good. These two little German boys about 8 years old were out there and we had bananas that day and we rarely got bananas. We got oranges once in a while.

This time we didn't want to eat them ourselves. We figured we'd give them to these kids. They'd never seen bananas before. So we gave one of them to each of the boys and the boy I gave it to looked at it and tried to take a bite of it. He didn't realize that...he thought it was like an apple, you bite it skin and all. So we had to teach him how to eat a banana. 

This other dog I picked up before I found Fritz was just a mongrel, nice little dog, that I got in exchange. A little girl came up to me with this little pup, she wanted two cigarettes for it. I don't smoke so I had more cigarettes and I'd use them for trade. So I went to my tent and came back with a carton and gave her a carton for the dog and I'd like to see the look on her father's face when she came home expecting to get two, maybe three cigarettes and get a whole carton of cigarettes. These are people who were roasting lettuce leaves and chopping that up to smoke in their pipes and now to get a carton of Chesterfields, whatever it was.

Then we set up a tent, a pup tent, and that's where we kept the dog in the pup tent with a little sign out front. We called him Butz incidentally because we got him for cigarettes and that dog, somewhere along the line, we lost him. He disappeared as we were moving on, but later on we were fortunate to pick up Fritz. The funny thing about Fritz was when we were sailing home, we sailed out of southern France. We were supposed to sail, when the war ended in Europe, we were supposed to sail to the Pacific so they shipped us down to southern France, can't think of the name of the town now. 

Then the atom bomb dropped and the war was over so we never did get on the ship. Instead we sailed from there back home to New York, which was provident. Oh going off the gangplank was a funny thing. I had my pack on my back and wrapped Fritz in my overcoat and was going up the gangplank and all the guys down on the deck were yelling up to me, "Hey Pete, his tail is showing" (laughter) so I'd boost him up and then his nose would come out. He wanted to see what was going on out there so he'd stick his nose out. So I'd shove his nose back and again they'd say "Pete, Pete" and of course the MP's didn't give a damn.

They were glad the war was over too. So we had nothing to worry about, but still I didn't want to flash him out in the open. So we were lucky to get him back home. Speaking of the pack there on my back, I claim that I had a lot to do with the end of the war in Europe. I scared the bejabbers out of Hitler because he thought I was a secret weapon coming down the road.

I had my pack on my back and I found this great big frying pan. I've never seen one again like it, but it was great big around with a long handle on it and I had that tied on my back with the handle sticking way up and I think that's what Hitler's men saw and were worried. The reason I carried that was because an Army marches on its stomach and me, I've always enjoyed eating and cooking my own stuff and that sort of thing and what I did was to make Kartoffel-puffern which is potato pancakes and whenever we'd camp somewhere, we didn't care too much for the C-ration, K-ration, even the Army cooking wasn't the best. Once in a while, I wanted to taste something different.

So I had found this frying pan and being to where potatoes grow and onions and things like that, I got the fresh stuff from the local farmers and I got a number 10 can, split it open, got a nail and a hammer and made my own grater to grate the potatoes with and then we'd get some eggs from the local farmers, fresh potatoes and some oil from the kitchen, cooking oil, build a campfire and make potato pancakes. I had the cooks coming over to eat (laughter). We got some apples which was our version of applesauce.

I'd set up kitchen wherever I could. Another time I got a great big can, the kind that powdered milk came in, stood about 2 feet high, a great can, I would cook soup in that. I would cook a vegetable soup. We'd get some fresh vegetables and again fellows in my platoon, especially we had a group we called the bull gang. We were the guys they called on whenever they had heavy work to do. We set up a tent and that kind of thing. We were, I guess, the bad boys of the platoon.

This was their way of getting back at us. Somebody had to do it so they might as well get the bull gang to do it. So anyway the bull gang, we had some good experiences. I was assigned to a German military hospital, great big unit, great big building and I was assigned there because I could speak German and my only job was to oversee the operations of the place. The commanding officer was a lieutenant and he was still going around in his uniform of course and his job was to run the place and I would just see that he had whatever he needed.

If they needed a load of potatoes or cabbage from some farm nearby, I'd get a military truck and we'd go get them a load or whatever they needed. At the same time, and incidentally he was like Colonel Klink in that other series, what was it now?

INTERVIEWER: Hogan's Heroes.

HARDEN: Hogan's Heroes, yeah, he was Colonel Klink cause he was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He was not a military man. He was a professor, taught science at the university and he was going into the war, of course, didn't want any part of it, but they gave him this job which he handled very well. This hospital was run by nuns, all the nurses, cooks, all the staff was nuns. They had a few civilians working there too.

They would cook in great big vats. I don't know how many gallons, well one of the things that they cooked was what they called Gmusentopf which was a vegetable stew. What they were lacking was chocolate, coffee, some spices and things, but also they were lacking what they called fett which was fat to cook in, oil, lard and stuff like that was hard to come by. So I talked with the sisters there, I knew what they needed. They needed something with a little meat flavor in it so I went back to my outfit and talked to the sergeant in charge of the kitchen and asked them if I could take some of the C-rations back which was the American version of stew in the C-ration.

I don't know how many cans came in a case, but I took a whole case over. The nuns opened these cans and I don't know how many they put into this giant vat, but you wouldn't believe how much that enhanced the flavor of that. I brought a pot of it back to the outfit, back to the cooks. They couldn't believe it was their C-ration that gave it the flavor, but that's all it needed was a little bit of meat flavor. Not that it wasn't good as it was. As a matter of fact at home, I still make some Gmusentopf. I put a little fat into it, a little bacon or something, but it's basically a vegetable stew with fried onions and that sort of thing.

Another thing I learned from the nuns there, I fix a hotdog German style. When they fix sauerkraut, Frankfurts and sauerkraut, they take the sauerkraut and put some fresh cabbage into it. So when I fix a hotdog and sauerkraut and I've done it here for some friends, I take and put a head of fresh cabbage, chop that up and put it into the sauerkraut to sort of tame the sauerkraut and in addition to that, the day before I might have steak or hamburger and I'll fry up some extra onions in that, chopped onions. I'll tell you Joe, it's something to go for. I've never had anybody turn it down. It lends new flavor to it. We had some good times. War ...

INTERVIEWER: Was that hospital all German injured soldiers or a combination?

HARDEN: Well they probably had Americans too just as we had German soldiers, but of course whatever was there even before I got to the hospital, if there were any Americans there, they were taken back to the American unit. We got any schnapps or anything to drink Joe? I could use...

INTERVIEWER: What to take a break?

HARDEN: Yeah. (After break). I thought I'd tell you Joe about the training we had. When I got into my outfit, some of us were sent to different units. The men who were in the motor pool, of course, I don't know where they went, but they went somewhere for training while we were waiting in the States to get an assignment overseas. My assignment, me and my buddy Charlie, went to Indianapolis, Indiana to Fort Benjamin Harrison to surgical, we were going to become surgical technicians. That was our number.

That was interesting. We got a chance to actually work in the operating room, things that really came in handy later. One of the things that Charlie and I did after the surgeons were through if they couldn't save a patient, they would sometimes have to cut the chest open to get to the heart. They didn't have the equipment and techniques, of course, that they've got today and our job was to suture up the bodies again before they were taken away to the grave registration unit.

So we really got a taste of surgery. Another thing that I did, Charlie and I used to chuckle about, we were the only ones who could work on a broken limb, broken arms, broken legs, the emergency care. We used what they called a Thomas splint which was a couple of steel rods with a leather collar that was shoved up to your thigh and then you'd tie a piece of gauze on the leg and pull it apart so that you'd separate where the break was and of course, we had a lot of those.

It was kind of a tricky knot that you had to do to do this and none of the surgeons could do it. They always had to call on me and Charlie to do it. We always had to be there. It was a simple thing, but like some simple things, it's easy when you know how. We could just do it in the dark cause we'd done it so much at Fort Benjamin Harrison in training.

The other thing that Charlie and I were good at was hemostats, going for blood and things. We'd almost always hit the target, get the vein or the artery and that was another thing. Even the nurses used to call on us because Charlie and I kind of specialized in that so we kind of got a kick out of that. It made us feel like we were really necessary in doing something good.

INTERVIEWER: You were necessary.

HARDEN: I'm trying to remember some of the other incidents that happened. We had, you asked me before about American wounded in the German hospital. We had Germans in our hospital. I remember one incident especially which was kind of sad. We had one guy especially, another medical man, who I suppose at the time you know, we didn't have much love for the Germans and this German guy was out of his head and would reach over and grab anything he could and put it in his mouth.

I guess he was in pain is what it is and he would grab a tube of toothpaste and chew on it and rip it open of course. We'd take it away from him. Well one of the GI's there who had a misguided sense of humor I guess would keep putting a tube of toothpaste in there and then call everybody in to see the guy chew the toothpaste which wasn't nice, but as I say, at that time we didn't have much love for the Japanese or the Germans.

In connection with that, Charlie and I had an experience one time. We were walking down a road. We were not on duty. Walking down a road in Germany and off to the side was a farmer and his wife, an elderly couple and a horse-drawn wagon. They were pitching hay into the wagon. Well we left the road and walked down towards them and we must have scared the life out of them because here are two Americans coming down and of course we're the enemy and they're wondering what we're going to do to them.

Well first of all, Charlie and I were able to speak German so we told them we were friendly and I asked the lady if I could borrow her pitchfork and I guess that scared her. She didn't know what I was going to do with it. I started loading the hay. For us it was fun. You know, it was a little diversion away from what we'd been doing and Charlie and I loaded up the wagon for them.

We gave them some chocolate and I can't remember what else we had in our shoulder bags and became friendly with them and they invited us in for coffee and we had coffee and some whatever it was, bread and butter or something we had, which was nice. We said we'd like to come back tomorrow. We were going to bring some coffee and some fat. Anyway we came back there and you wouldn't believe the supper, the dinner that that lady fixed for us. We were there about three days and in those three days we ate better than any restaurant you ever saw.

I'll never forget what is called a buttercremetorte which is a chocolate layer cake, but this is butter cream. We brought a pound of butter and some of the other ingredients, some cocoa and stuff. Charlie and I volunteered for KP so we could get into the kitchen to liberate something out of the kitchen (laughter). As luck would have it, that was the day that a shipment of fresh roast pork came in, came in in big crates.

I worked KP and of course the stuff came in this wooden crate and it was wrapped in a lot of paper and then you had to take the paper and the crates and throw them out. Well I told Charlie look for the crate that's upside down. I was going to put it straight up except this one. This was the one that had a half a pork loin in it. We took that down there and I'll tell you, we really lived it up. Things like that made things interesting.

Another interesting occasion, in France, again we moved into a house in a village. It was a good shelter for us. The house was in pretty good shape. We met a couple of French girls there and got friendly with them. I don't know whether they asked us or we asked them if they'd like to come and stay in our place. So they stayed there. They cooked for us. They made our beds for us. They did just about everything for us and things were going well.

We'd been there about over a week in that particular place and things were going fine and one day I'm taking a nap and the girls are in the room next to me and I hear them talking. They're not talking French. They're talking Polish and I speak Polish as well as they speak English, at least I used to when I first came here. I'm beginning to lose a little of it cause I don't get to use it. But then I spoke Polish fluently. I spoke about 7, 8, 9 languages. I grew up in New York City playing with kids who just came over. I learned their language. I learned Yiddish and Italian and Polish and Russian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian.

At any rate, I hear them talking there and the one girl is saying to the other about her boyfriend. She's talking Polish. Now these girls really had us fooled. Even their names, they'd given was Jeanette and I can't remember what the other one was. No hint at all of anything but French so I didn't say anything. I made like I was asleep and told Charlie about it and we stayed there a couple more days.

When we were leaving, I said to the girls (a line spoken in another language) and they almost fell through the floor because now they realized what they were talking about was no secret (laughter). They almost hit us with something. So things like that that made the war a little more bearable. I'm trying to think of some of the other things that happened.

Oh in Germany the town we went into, one town especially, but every town had graffiti, but it wasn't rough graffiti, it was official signs you know, like we have posters like you see here, slip of a lip will sink a ship and things like that. They didn't have posters so much. They just painted on the wall of a building or whatever. I remember one of the signs in the town of Dilken, I'll never forget it because it said "(another language) heil Hitler" which says "In this town, everybody greets everybody with Heil Hitler". Apparently everybody didn't do it or they wouldn't have had to put the sign up. The other sign that I saw was (another language) which I could see the Americans doing it in America too. They should be doing the same thing. "What have you done for Germany today" and I could see we should be doing it in America. Maybe we did, not in those words, but what have you done for America today. I guess especially around war plants, that would have been a good one to have.

I want to get back to the States before I left over there. While we were, before I was sent to the medical unit, I was sent for some reason, somebody there decided I was officer material so I was transferred to Camp Barkley, Texas to officer's candidate school and I just couldn't take it. I don't know, it was interesting and all that, but being in charge of people, I just felt I wanted to be in charge of myself. I didn't go for some of the chicken that was handed down which was necessary I'm sure, but it wasn't for me.

Instead I opted for the bull gang where, you know, you could relax and have some fun and didn't have to lord over everybody else. The other thing, I did get a chance to get to Switzerland on leave for a couple of days and that was very interesting. I remember I loved cheese. As a matter of fact, one of my jobs before I went to Connecticut when I finished high school, I took a job and I was a butter and egg man which was quite a job in those days, handling cheese.

I'm talking about cheese the way it was. We had big wheels of Swiss cheese, cut them up, weigh them and sell them and that sort of thing. Anyway it was an interesting job that I held for a while in New York City and then I wanted to see what the cheese places were like in Switzerland. I went into the shop and this lovely lady was there. She was buying something and we got into a conversation in German. And she wound up inviting me to her house for dinner. Her husband was a milkman.

So I stayed over. They had me stay overnight instead of going to a hotel and the next morning, early in the morning, he and I went out delivering milk with his horse and wagon and that was a lot of fun. That was interesting. There was another episode that I remember very well and I'd written to the lady for a while after and I don't whatever happened. We lost touch.

Another place I went on leave was when I went to Paris for three days, got to see the Follies bergere which was quite a treat, like nothing I'd ever seen before. It gave new meaning to the song "How You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm After They've Seen Paris".

At any rate I dropped out of OCS and went back to the field hospital and when I look back on it now, I'm glad I was in a unit like that. It was quite an experience and while I would have gone anywhere they sent me, the infantry or as I had wanted, the signal corps, wherever I went, you know, guys went where they were sent. You didn't have much to say about it and you did the best you could. I'm glad I went to the medics. That was good.

At the end of the war after we got back home, we were issued a ruptured duck. I don't know how many people remember what the ruptured duck was, but I'm sure a lot of military men, it was a little pin that showed that you were out of the service, that you'd been in the service and it was an eagle with wings and of course we renamed it ruptured duck to show that you were no longer a military. 

I came back to New York. Jobs were hard to come by and so I took a job with, well I worked for a while for Time-Life. Actually I worked in a warehouse. I didn't have anything to do with the publishing of the things, but when I went to take the job, I filled out the application, showed it to the supervisor and he says, "Pete, your name is Pete, same as mine". He says, "We'll have to do something about that" and then he looked at my application. He said "Your middle name is Nicholas. We're going to call you Nick. You'll be nick of time. Anytime I need you, I want you to be there". So when I worked there I was known as Nick.

Then as I said jobs were hard to come by. There were a lot of guys coming out looking for work so I took the examination for police officer in New York City. At that time it was quite a thing to get on the police department and you had to go to school. There were a couple of schools where you learned all the rules and regulations, the laws and things like that and then you would take an examination and you'd get on a list according to...then you took a physical as well as a mental examination. 

They called it a mental examination which was paperwork on all the state and city laws, regulations. Depending on how highly you placed on the test, you'd go on a list and there'd be three, four, maybe more thousand men on the list so it would be quite a while. They'd only call up about once every six months, they might call up 50 or 60 men so it would be years before you could be called after, if indeed you made the list and then there was the other part, the physical part of the test where you had to climb over walls, carry weights, lift people, do all the things like that. 

You build yourself up because then when you did go to take a test, you were placed on a list, depending on the score you made on the physical part of the test too. Of course you wanted to do the best you could. So it was quite a while and I didn't place too highly on the list so it looked a matter of fact, the list might expire and you might never get on and you'd have to wait for the next test and that meant a couple more years.

The same was true of the fire department, men who were going in the fire department. But we did get some good men on the fire department and the police department. It's a lot different than what it is today where I don't know how they do it, but I'm sure you don't have to qualify as highly as you did at that time.

At any rate, while I was waiting to get called, I took a job driving an ambulance at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City because this is what I'd been doing and they hired me on there and I brought my buddy in to work with me so there were two of us that drove the ambulance in the Times Square section in New York and that again was another quite an experience, in the theater district and all that.

I would say we did a pretty good job because of our war experience. In the meantime, I'd also taken the test for New York State police to become a state trooper and that came up and they, I got a notice to come and report to Albany, the state police. So I thought I'd go up there in case I didn't get called to the city police. So I became a state trooper and worked up near Niagara Falls up around that area. 

Also about that time, I met this nurse, a beautiful nurse in the Roosevelt Hospital. She was working in the emergency room and I was bringing drunks and psychos into her and sometimes she was sure that I had invited the drunks to come in there just so I'd have an excuse to come in there and talk to her which wasn't true. That's what she thought. So when I did get called for the state police, I went up there and as luck would have it, the superintendent of state police was a bachelor and he didn't think his men should be married so he did everything to dissuade you from being married.

I don't know what he could do once you were married and I'd only been married a short time so I decided I'd go up there and take the job anyway and so his idea was to ship you as far from home and wife as possible or girlfriend so hopefully you didn't get married. Anyway I stayed up there about a year. My wife came up a couple of times and I came back to New York when I could, but it was a little rough.

So when they did call me to the New York City police, I came back and took that, I got passed, and took that job instead which was quite nice for me. Again New York City as everywhere was a little bit of different place at that time. A lot of interesting things happening and I did get, finally did get to the USO in New York which was the Stage Door Canteen on Park Avenue. I never got to it until after the war when I came back and of course things had cooled down then. There weren't many people there. People were going back to their civilian ways so the Stage Door Canteen wasn't quite what it was, but it was interesting to go see it.

What interests me now is I had been to some USO's, the one in Indianapolis. As a matter of fact, this is the way I looked at that time. This is a picture of me at the Indianapolis Circle and this is the monument. It was Monument Circle is what they called it and that's the way I looked in the good old days.

INTERVIEWER: You were a handsome young man there.

HARDEN: Well, at any rate, what I want to say about that USO, that was the best place I ever saw where they treated people real nice, service people. You'd go into the building and this, I'm not sure it was USO, it might have been, but it was maintained by the local people as I guess the other USO's were too. You'd go into the place and they'd tell you to go take a shower. When you take your uniform off, somebody would take your trousers down and a man downstairs, one of the local tailors brought his own pressing machine and he'd press your pants for you.

When you were through with your shower, you'd come down, they'd bring your trousers up to you and you'd get dressed and you'd go to the dining room and Joe, I'm telling you, the food there was...these were farm wives cooking the old fashioned way. Nothing frozen, nothing dried, a big change from what we'd had, were getting in the service and then the one thing I remember was it was like going into a New York bakery.

They had shelves loaded with all kinds of desserts, the cakes and things, much like the one I had in Germany, the buttercremetorte. You didn't know what you wanted there so they would encourage you to take one of these and one of those and I took one of these and one of those and I'm talking about a good dinner to begin with, you know.

I know what the USO meant to me and that's one thing I'm trying to do now, is trying to do something for the people who are in the service. We have them here. We have people from Fort Jackson, there's the Coast Guard. We have young men and young women who are away from home and it bothers me that they're not made a home, that people don't do much for them. There used to be a USO downtown and I can't even get them to call it the USO building. To me, it's still the USO building. It's used by community arts and I think the biggest sign should be USO.

If somebody is looking for the community arts building, people in town aren't going to know where the community arts building is, but they're going to know, especially old-timers, where the USO building is. And it's fine if they have things and as a matter of fact, I encourage them and I think it's great that they have theater goings on there now and they can do pretty much what they did at the Stage Door Canteen, invite these young people to come in on a Friday night, Saturday night, put on a little show for them, let them watch rehearsals, treat them a little bit.

I'd like to see people like the World War II group that you and I are engaged in. The fellas there I'm sure would lend a hand.

INTERVIEWER: I know they would.

HARDEN: They would man that place and have a coffee pot there and some donuts or something. As a matter of fact, I know a gal who was a Red Cross gal. I'm sure she'd come out and be only too glad to serve. But I think it's a shame that we don't treat these people who are in the service today the way you and I were treated. People treated them differently. Here as a matter of fact, I've talked to some servicemen down here and it's no secret. There are many times they weren't allowed to, they would banned from restaurants and bars because they expected trouble from them.

My answer to that is we have a police force here and sheriffs and things. Whether it's a service man or a civilian that's causing trouble and there's some of both, deal with them there, but don't tell a service man just cause the young man has got a short haircut that he can't come in there. So that's an ongoing thing, Joe, that I'm trying...

INTERVIEWER: I know it is Peter.

HARDEN: Trying to get something done about and there are problems. I've been told that we're not allowed to call it the USO building. Well I'm digging into that. I want to know, they tell me that they will not allow us. I want to know who they are and if we can't get the USO sign on there, then we'll call it the former USO building or whatever we want to name it. I'm sure that the boys at the World War II Remembered group and the civilians you know, we've got civilians come in there and they would certainly lend a hand. Much as we do when we have our meetings there. We've got coffee and goodies and things. No reason why we can't do it for the people.

You know as long as there are wars, I think there should be a USO or something along the same lines. Treat these people nicely. They're away from home, make them feel at home. Don't wait until the war starts and then start putting flags and ribbons up and that sort of stuff. That's fine, but let's be .... At any rate, that's my present project. That's what I'm working on especially.

INTERVIEWER: Anything else, Peter?

HARDEN: No, I can't think of anything.

INTERVIEWER: You have that map of England, but you can't remember the towns you were having your training in, right?

HARDEN: Well it didn't matter at that time. You know one place was like another. The only place I can remember was in Belgium, in Liege. They speak both German, French and they have three languages there. I remember that because it was a little town, the trolley car ran. We were ten feet away from the trolley car in our tents alongside the road there. The trolley car was named Tongre. So I know that was the town of Tongre. 

INTERVIEWER: Well thank you Peter. As a veteran, you probably don't hear those words very often. Anyone in this country who has ever bought a home, attended school, gone to church or started a business owes you veterans a great debt of gratitude so we say thank you and God bless you.

HARDEN: Thanks Joe and I'm not looking for any salutations or anything like that, but I just don't want the young people now to be treated less than humanely.

INTERVIEWER: Like you and I were treated, we were treated wonderfully. 

HARDEN: I'm satisfied. I only regret, you know, one thing I regret Joe, is that the men who really had it the roughest got the least of the homage if you will because they went on, some of them died, some of them went back home on litters. Guys like me that came after. In one town, I have a plate at home which I wanted to bring, but I couldn't find it. It's up in the attic somewhere, a plate at home that was given to everybody in my unit. This town in Holland threw a party for us to thank us. As a matter of fact, on the plate it says (different language), "Thanks from whatever town it was to the Americans for liberating us". This festival and this dish should have gone to the guys that were up there first, the infantry.

INTERVIEWER: That's true, but they wanted to thank the American soldiers somehow.

HARDEN: And it wasn't the only place. I'm sure it happened over and over again. The guys that really deserved it, missed it. Not many of them got the adulation or the thanks that they should have got. I'm glad I'm here. You know what really bothers me Joe, when I think about the men who died, who came to our unit, died in our unit, that were wounded, brought in alive, but so badly wounded that they didn't make it and the picture that remains in my mind is the ward tent where this long tent like a long building, anyway...along the sides on both sides were, we lined up the litters with the bodies on them, and these were young men in their 20's or less, frozen, not frozen, but they were dead, they were stiff. And to see them like logs lying there. 

Then on the other hand to think of something like whoever this GI was that had taken the gold and his goal was not fighting the war, but thinking of what he wants when he gets back, he's going to have a lot of gold, he was going to profit by it, things like that that kind of make you sick.

INTERVIEWER: It does make you sick. Okay Peter, thank you very much.