It was his baptism of fire. Ten days before, in early August 1944, 2nd Lt. Harry Long, a member of the Medical Administration Corps of the 318th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France as part of Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army.
The commendation that accompanied his medal reads: “You have been awarded the Bronze Star Medal by the Commanding General, 80th Infantry Division with the following commendation:
“For heroic service in France on 18 August 1944, in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States. On 18 August 1944 in the vicinity of Sal, France, Lt. Long led a litter squad under continuous accurate artillery fire through the town in an effort to evacuate wounded beyond a creek.
On finding the bridge destroyed, Lt. Long waded the creek hip deep and under small arms fire at close range in a front line area, successfully evacuating wounded at a risk of his life. As a result of his actions, service and unselfish regard for his own welfare, fatalities to the battalion were greatly reduced.
“By command of Major General McBridge.”
This would be the 26-year-old lieutenant’s first Bronze Star for valor, but not his last.
Trained as a battalion surgeon’s assistant, he was second in command of a medical unit that included 32 sergeants who served as medics. Their job was to take care of the battlefield medical needs of 1,200 soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the 318 Regiment.
Commanding the unit was Capt. George Fitzgerald, a young surgeon from Springfield, Ohio. The doctor ran a battalion aid station near the front lines
where he patched up the wounded right off the battlefield so they could be transferred further behind the lines for more sophisticated medical treatment. It was Long’s duty to see that the medics kept the flow of injured soldier moving day and night to the aid station.
By the time, Aug. 18, 1944, the 3rd Army had broken through the German’s defense at St. Lo, France and escaped the hedgerow country along the French coast. They were near Argentan on the road that leads from Normandy to Paris.
“It was at Argentan that Patton started his race across France,” the Punta Gorda man recalled. “We were trying to trap the German 7th Army. We got a lot of ‘em, but not all of ‘em.”
At the Moselle River, between Nancy and Metz, the 80th Infantry Division came under heavy enemy attack as it advanced in support of the 4th Armored Division.
“It was Sept. 11 when the 80th, in conjunction with the 4th started to cross the river. The Germans had pulled their tanks and heavy stuff back across the river,” he said. “By the time we reached the river the bridge was blown. We had to build a pontoon bridge across the Moselle. The first thing we did was establish a small beachhead on the other side.”
Several days later Patton’s 3rd Army had fought its way to the outskirts of Point a Mousson, an ancient town with a ruined castle topping the hill above the town. The German’s were using the castle as an observation post.
“Our battalion’s objective was to take the castle. They put up quite a scrap, but we took it,” he said.
It wasn’t without a cost.
“Col. John Snowden II, our battalion commander, was sending out probes to see where the Germans were. The colonel decided to go up front with a couple of other officers to survey the situation. He was leading the group down a trail through the woods when Germans popped up and yelled, ‘Hands up!’ The other two officers dove into the bushes, but Col. Snowden stood there. He tried to bring his carbine up, but the Germans shot him in the gut. Then they scattered.
I was in the general area with two litter bearers. When I got to the colonel I discovered he had been hit bad. Within a few minutes Doc Fitzgerald arrived with a technician and some plasma. The two of us were working on him in the woods, but the colonel was bleeding internally,” Long explained.
“Unless you could put him on an operating table right then and there and work on him, there wasn’t much we could do,” he said. “He bled to death in an hour or so.
“We were five or six miles from the bridgehead we had established. We didn’t have enough strength to connect to the bridgehead. The Germans moved into this area and cut us off.”
Long had established an aid station near the foot of the hill, below the damaged castle. “By this time they had received a string of wounded soldiers and were receiving more by the minute. They needed to be taken further back behind the lines.
The next morning he and several medics started out with two Jeeps equipped with litter stands capable of holding two stretchers. A third injured soldier was laid across the hood. They also had a couple of walking wounded with them. Long was driving the lead Jeep.
His plan was to take the injured back to the bridgehead a half-dozen miles away and drop them off. They would also pick up supplies and bring them back to the aid station.
“We started out in a fog, but almost right away we ran into an enemy machine gun,” Long said. “We ducked the two Jeeps into a depression and decided to take an alternate route down the side of the mountain. I went back to the station and got four more medics to help keep the litters from sliding around as we went down the mountainside.”
They skirted the German machine gun and made it down the side of the hill. It appeared that the little band of injured and medics would successfully reach their bridgehead objective.
“I was driving in the lead Jeep. Up in front of us I saw a bunch of soldiers walking along. At first they looked like GIs, but then I realized they had the wrong kinda helmets,” Long said. “They were waving at us. I saw a couple of them kneel down. I knew right away they’d be mortaring us.
“The first mortar shell hit in front of us and the second behind us. I figured I’d better stop or they’d put one right in the seat with me,” he said. Both I and the other driver climbed out of the Jeeps and stood beside them in the road.”
“Moments later a German platoon sergeant and his squad came up and took command. They took us back to an aid station where a young German doctor was working on the wounded.
“The German doctor spoke good English. He immediately went with me and checked all our men to make sure they weren’t bleeding. He was a regular guy,” the old solder remembered.
From there, he and his injured men were trucked further behind enemy lines. A German major was treating the injured at their next stop. Long recalls the officer as being an “arrogant SOB,” 60 years later. The new German physician took charge of his wounded and sent them further behind the lines.
“I said to him, ‘You’ve taken all my wounded out of here. I don’t have any wounded to be responsible for. Under the Geneva Convention, in a case like this, you’re supposed to send me back to my lines.”
“’I don’t think I can do that,’” the German doctor replied.”
2nd Lt. Harry Long wound up by October 1944 in a German POW camp in Subin, Poland with 1,500 other American officers.
This is the camp, Oflag-64, where Gen. George Patton’s son-in-law, Lt. Col. John Waters, was confined during World War II. The general and the colonel would play a big part in the lieutenant’s life in the weeks ahead.
The war was going badly for Germany. The Russian hordes were closing in from the east and Allied armies were moving against the Third Reich from the west. In an effort to keep the American POW officers out of the clutches of the Russians, a handful of German guards hit the road on foot with 1,400 American prisoners.
The weather was miserable. It was 20 below zero and snowing when the officers started walking toward Germany on Jan. 21, 1945. Only the most physically fit POWs were allowed to make the trip.
The word was we would be put in boxcars 15 kilometers down the road and transported to the new POW camp. It didn’t work that way,” he said. “We ended up walking 360 miles in sub-zero weather. By the end of the six week march, there were only 425 of us left.”
Long was wearing British-made boots, a French overcoat and two pair of long Johns he received from the Red Cross. He was carrying a couple of extra pair of dry socks and shirts under his long Johns. At nigh he would take off his boots and put them between his legs to try and dry them off with body heat.
“It was cold enough to bring a brass monkey inside. There was snow on the ground,” he said. “The Germans handed out Red Cross food parcels to us before we left.”
They would spend their nights locked in livestock barns along the way. During the time they were sequestered in the barns they would milk the cows dry and eat the carrots and peas intended for the horses.
“The guard would roust us in the morning and give us German coffee and gruel. In the middle of the day we were fed cabbage soup and tea from a soup kettle on a horse drawn caisson,” Lang recalled. “Dinner was the big meal of the day. We got a handful of pig potatoes that consisted mostly of peelings. In addition, we received a canteen cup of cabbage soup. If there were any dead horses along the road there might be some meat in the soup. That was it.”
Although he lost about 30 pounds off his 150-pound frame, he never though he was going to die.
“Surprisingly, it was the football types that didn’t make it in many cases. It was what was in your heart that made the difference between making it and not making it,” he said.
Eventually,what was left of the ragtag bunch of POWs from Poland reached Parchim, Germany, northwest of Berlin. At that point they put the captured officers in boxcars and took them to another POW camp in Hammelburg, Bavaria another 200 miles to the south.
There were 500 more American POWs waiting for them in Hammelburg who had been captured in the Battle of the Bulge. They were mostly from the 28th and 106th Divisions, overwhelmed by the unexpected German offensive at the Bulge.
It was Easter 1945; Col. Paul Goode was the ranking American POW. Lt. Col. John Waters, Patton’s son-in-law, was second in command.
By this time, the 4th Armored Division, part of Patton’s 3rd Army, had reached Aschaffenburg, Germany, along the Main River, about 35 miles away as the crow flies. The general was advised by his intelligence that the survivors of Olfag-64 had arrived in Hammelburg.
Patton dispatched a small task force to rescue the beleaguered POWs. But the general only sent a company of armored infantry consisting of a handful of tanks and some halftracks to do the job, which wasn’t adequate.
The rescue force left Aschaffenburg around midnight to get the POWs 53 miles away in Hammelburg. The task force encountered light resistance on the way to its destination.
The 4th Armored Division rescuers arrived at the barbed wire enclosure where the American POWs were caged late in the afternoon. A Sherman tank from the assault force broke through the enclosure allowing scads of POWs to flee.
But the old one-legged Prussian general who commanded the POW camp wasn’t giving up without a fight. Finally a delegation of prisoners, including Patton’s son-in-law, approached the hard-pressed aging Prussian general with a surrender proposal.
During a shootout between the guards and the advancing rescue troops, Patton’s son-in-law was shot in the stomach and seriously injured. He wound up in the hospital at the POW camp after the general and his guards surrendered to the 4th Armored attackers.
‘Probably 500 to 600 guys from the camp escaped,” Long said. “The problem was that there were many more POWs than the rescue force had room to take back with it. POWs had to slip away two and three together and make for the American lines 35 miles away, stay with the rescue column or stay put in the camp.
“I decided to stay with the rescue column. We headed back in halftracks toward the American lines, but not the same way they came. It was decided that we would use the Autobahn to escape,” Long said. “We didn’t get more than three or four miles and the lead tank got hit. Then the second tank in line pulled around the knocked out tank and it was hit, too.”
At that point the armored company and hundreds of rescued POWs pulled back to a patch of high ground where a barn stood and the unit established a defensive perimeter for the night. Because they were in the mountains they were out of radio contact and could not reach the main body of Patton’s army.
“In the morning the Germans had us surrounded and they over ran our position,” Long said.” After our capture we were marched on foot back to the POW camp. By then, everyone who had been left behind had been evacuated out of the camp.”
Long and the rest of the rescue party who were captured were taken in boxcars to Nuremburg. They ended up in Mooseburg, Germany in Stalag 7-A. This was a consolidated POW camp with 130,000 Allied prisoners.
His group was only at Stalag 7-A a few weeks when Patton and his 3rd Army arrived at the gate of the POW camp. The detainees went wild when they saw “Ol’ Blood and Guts” and his ivory-handled revolvers.
Long got wind that his unit was close by. He hitchhiked to where the 3rd Infantry Battalion, 318th Regiment of the 80th Division had set up camp. Shortly after arriving he learned he had been awarded a second Bronze Star Medal for trying to take a dozen injured soldiers from the aid station to the bridgehead along the Moselle River in France, where he and his men were captured by the enemy.
Like hundreds of thousands of other GIs in Europe, Long eventually ended up in Camp Lucky Strike in Le Harve, France, one of the major debarkation camps for soldiers headed for the States. He sailed aboard the ocean liner Argentina for the United States arriving off Staten Island in June 1945.
“Patton said the one tactical mistake he made during his European command was when he sent a little task force to free the POWs at Hammelburg,” Long recalled. “The general said he should have sent a whole combat command.”
Name: Harry B. Long
Age: 85 (at time of interview)
Address: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Discharged: October 1945
Unit: 3rdBattalion, Medical Section, 318thInfantry Regiment, 80thDivision, 3rdArmy
Commendations: Two Bronze Stars for valor, three Battle Stars for three major battles: Northern France, Central Europe and Rhineland Campaigns, World War II Victory Medal, combat Medical Badge and the World War II POW Medal
Married: Ruth Aston
Children: Robert, Roy and Richard
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida in February 2003 and is republished with permission.
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