Roland Hardt is one American soldier who made the D-Day invasion twice. He also received a bear hug from Gen. George Patton for being “one hell-of-a-good soldier.”
The 88-year-old El Jobean, Fla. man was a member of the 372 Engineering Regiment attached to Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe. They hit Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day plus six — June 12, 1944.
“We were towed to France in a plywood glider behind a British Lancaster (four-engine) bomber,” he recalled recently. “There were 43 other soldiers in that glider with me.
“It scared the devil out of me when we landed because we came down in an open field with trees all around it. There were no wheels on that thing and I could see the woods coming up fast as we skidded to a landing. We made a perfect landing and stopped just before the woods,” Hardt said. “We got out and never saw a German. There was no enemy fire or anything.”
The problem was, his unit went to German-occupied France without any building material. He and several of his buddies returned to England to requisition materials. They made the channel crossing once again 10 days later with the supplies and began their odyssey across Europe building bridges, hospitals, roads and furniture for the soldiers of the 3rd Army.
Months later, Hardt was in charge of maintaining a latrine somewhere in France or Belgium as part of his engineering responsibilities in the 372nd.
“It was in a beautiful building and this guy came in covered from head to toe with mud. I knew he was some big wheel, but he was so muddy I couldn’t tell who he was.
“‘Sir, you can’t come in here,’ I said.
“‘I guess you don’t know who I am do you soldier?’
“‘I don’t give a damn who you are. You’re not coming in here looking like that,'” Hardt replied.
“Then he gave me a big bear hug that darn near crushed me and got me all muddy.
“‘Do you know who ‘Ol’ Blood ‘n’ Guts’ is? That’s me,’ he said. ‘You’re one hell-of-a-good soldier.’
“Gen. Patton turned and walked out of the latrine. That was really the highlight of my whole military career.”
Hardt’s unit was part of Patton’s troops at the Battle of the Bulge . They got to Bastogne, Belgium, just before Christmas 1944.
“When we arrived there, the first thing I saw were dead 101st Airborne soldiers stacked up four-feet high in the snow. It was very cold and the snow was at least a foot deep,” he said.
“I ended up in a foxhole with two other guys. While digging the hole I can remember that we kept digging up these big potatoes. I’ll always remember that,” Hardt said. “The worst part of it was that German paratroopers were dropping behind our lines and we were ordered not to fire at them because it would give our location away. We could have picked them off like clay pigeons.
“I got hit with shrapnel while going to get three canteens of coffee for my myself and my foxhole buddies. On the way back to our foxhole, I must have stood up like a damn fool. When I did a German 88 shell hit a nearby tree and threw shrapnel all over. It hit me in the butt.”
The next thing he remembers is recuperating in a hospital in the tiny country of Monaco with its gorgeous beaches along the Mediterranean. He said they treated injured American soldiers like kings. Two months later, he had recovered and returned to his unit.
“As we were fighting through France and into Belgium, the rumor made the rounds that all the bridges across the Rhine River into Germany were destroyed, except for the Ludendorff Bridge over the river at Remagen, Belgium,” he said.
That’s where Hardt and his unit made history in World War II.
“The Germans had the bridge all wired to blow, but something went wrong. Only a portion of the charges detonated, causing the bridge to raise up and settle back down on its foundation seemingly undamaged.”
His outfit was sent out on the still-standing steel railroad span to disconnect the undetonated explosive charges. He wasn’t involved in that assignment.
“I was assigned to an Army truck with a .20-millimeter antiaircraft gun mounted on the cab. For the next three days, I manned the gun day and night to protect the bridge from enemy aircraft.
“The bridge was being attacked by German buzz-bombs. I fired at these airborne bombs so much that I burned out the barrel of my gun and had to replace it. We were told to shoot in bursts, but when a German rocket is coming right at you, you forget about firing in bursts. Your only concern is to shoot it down,” he said.
The third day Hardt was patrolling the banks of the river when the last bridge (Remagen) across the Rhine collapsed unexpectedly. It was filled with 3rd Army troops and armor.
“We lost a lot of people when that bridge fell down. Then my job became fishing the bodies out of the Rhine. It was terrible, I don’t want to talk about that,” the old soldier said 60 years later as he closed his eyes and gently shook his head.
Hardt wasn’t long in Germany when he was pulled out of the line and sent to the Philippines to begin preparing for the invasion of Japan. He never made it.
“Thank goodness for President Truman dropping the atomic bomb. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today. I wasn’t a Democrat, I was a Republican, but when he ran for president I voted for him,” he said.
Hardt said when he began telling his World War II story, “I was no war hero. I was just doing my job. I’d do it again if my country called me.”
Name: Roland D. Hardt
D.O.B: 15 May 1916
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
Resides: El Jobean, Fla. at the time of interview. Whereabouts currently unknown
Entered Service: 8 Jan. 1943
Discharged: 6 Oct. 1945
Rank: Tech Sergeant
Unit: 372 Engineering Regiment
Commendations: Purple Heart, the Belgium Medal of Honor and five bronze Battle Stars for five major battles: Normandy, the Ardennes, Northern France, Rhineland and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with two Bronze Battle stars, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon, Four Overseas Service Bars, Good Conduct Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, March 20, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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