by Kay Loftfield
Today, Dec. 7, is one of those days when Americans stop and reflect on their freedoms, and the men who fought to preserve the American way of life.
On this date in 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, which drew American troops to the South Pacific in 1942.
Across the Atlantic, soldiers were helping U.S. allies, England and France, in their war against Hitler.
Walter Harrison, now of Payson, was one of those who was drawn into the latter conflict. Walter was born in Clarkton, MO., and in 1943, he was inducted into the army at the induction center at Jefferson Barracks, just outside of St. Louis. His basic training took place at Fort Sill, Okla.
While waiting to be sent to England, some of the men with special skills were selected to take special training in telecommunications at Camp Bowie, near Brownwood, Texas. Walter was one of those men who later became the 600-man 667th Field Artillery Battalion. They were called the "Bastard Battalion," because they did not belong to any one division.
Because of their special training, they were sent where they were needed. Walter was with the telecommunications unit. His job was to lay telephone lines ahead to an observation point on a ridge where they could observe the enemy and locate their position. They would then phone back to the artillery unit, which would then lay down a barrage of fire at the locations given to them. They used telephones rather than radios because the Germans could track their location by radio, but not by phones.
This special unit was a crack unit, prepared to act quickly. In Texas, they once laid four miles of wire and hooked up a telephone in 12 minutes. One crack artillery unit could fire off five rounds in 32 seconds.
After their training at Camp Bowie, they were sent to Boston to embark for England, where they remained until Thanksgiving. When they crossed the English Channel to Belgium, they arrived at the height of the Battle of the Bulge. They were first assigned to support the 82nd Airborne Division until it was replaced by the 75th Infantry Division and subsequently, the 99th Infantry Division.
Walter arrived just in time to see the Remagen Bridge blown up. His unit had crossed the old railroad bridge at Remagen because the traffic bridge was in bad shape and not safe enough for tanks. After setting up the wires, they returned back to the other side and camped at a turn in the river.
A German plane went down the river, flying low. Walter and others fired at it but missed. Shortly they heard an explosion, and the Remagen Bridge fell. After the Germans began to surrender, Walter's battalion moved on to General Patton's army.
He once saw Patton coming along in his convertible, just as they were laying a line across the road. General Patton called out for them to get out of the way. One of the men called out "Go to hell," then looked up and saw the general.
At one time, Walter said, they had to lay a telephone line across an open field. Snipers were firing at them from an old stone building, with thick walls, which artillery could not pierce. The captain of the artillery unit tried to zero in on a window. The first try hit above the window, the second one below it, and on the third try struck the window and blew up the building.
They captured six Germans. When they tried to get information out of them, they all pretended not to speak English. The captain said, "Then we may as well kill all of them." At that, one of the Germans said, "Wait a minute," in English.
Walter said conditions over there were miserable. They had to sleep in the snow in tents, unless they were able to find a barn or bombed-out house. It snowed constantly the winter of 1944, and they ate mostly C-rations, which were cans of beans, wieners and hardtack.
One time, they got ahead of the artillery unit by going through knee-deep snow to set up their lines. They could not return to their outfit, and when they phoned back to report conditions, the artillery unit could not move their heavy equipment to meet them. An infantry unit did manage to get through and brought some C-rations for them, which they were glad to get, since they had not prepared for a several days' wait.
One time they lucked out, finding a bombed-out house. In the basement were rows of canned fruits and vegetables. In the barn loft, they found potatoes. They knew it was illegal to kill any animals, but they were so hungry they killed a cow, and gorged on the feast. The cook had found some flour and sugar, and made a cobbler from canned cherries. They roasted the beef and potatoes, and warmed up the vegetables. A major not too far off visited them, and as he was telling them the beef was illegal and had to be thrown away, they were busy "throwing it away" -- into their mess kits and gobbling it up.
Walter was discharged in April of 1946. He started work in Missouri with a power company, and then worked for sub-contractors in other states as well. He became tired of the cold weather, still suffering from the effects of frozen feet and hands when he was in Germany.
A linesman who worked with him told him that it was warm in Phoenix in the winter, although it got pretty hot in the summers.
In 1952, Walter went to work with Arizona Public Service in Phoenix, and served with them in Yuma, Buckeye and Avondale. His wife, Marguerite, and daughter, Rosemary accompanied him to Arizona.
He met a man who had worked on the lines near Payson at the East Verde River. His friend invited him to go fishing with him on the river. It just happened that the man was a real estate agent who had a lot on the river for sale. Walter loved to hunt and fish, and gave the man a check to hold the lot, and when he got back to Phoenix, gave him a down payment.
Soon after that, an opening with APS for a service man for Payson came up. Walter applied and was accepted and he moved to Payson in 1971. He bought a home in Payson, and retired from APS in 1979. He and Marguerite have spent the retirement years fishing and enjoying visits with their daughter, now Rosemary Goff, her three children, Jennifer, Julie and Skip, and their six great-grandchildren.