The H.H. Bagley World War II Story
The H.H. Bagley Story
For years now I have thought about writing a short story about my grandfather and maybe my grandmother. My biggest fear has been that no one will read it or I will be criticized for my lack of writing skills. I have had a few ideas on how I should start the story and at what point in history to start off. My biggest goal is to get as much of the historical events and people as accurate as possible.
The story starts during the “Great Depression” in 1929 in a small town in central Arkansas a boy had just quit school to help support his family as many did in that time. The boy’s name was Harvey Bagley it was the end of his grade year. Harvey disliked his name and liked to go by H.H. as most of his friends called him. Times were hard during the next couple of years with the stock market causing most banks to close. H.H. heard of a program called conservation corps that president Roosevelt’s administration started to improve the country’s natural parks and infrastructure while employing thousands of unemployed young men. When I first got to the CC camp I was nervous and excited at the same time I had looked for work for a long time but could only find day labor jobs. I had promised momma that I would send home money to help take care of my younger brothers and my sister.
We often worked long days in the hot Arkansas sun building roads in remote parts of the state. Although the work was hard the scenery made the long days go by quick. On days off we would have parties at the camp with dances and cook outs. I enjoyed the parties they had for us but I enjoyed a little side wager with my buddies from time to time I would roll the dice for some easy money. Most of the time my wagers paid off and I would send half of my winnings home to momma and the kids.
After a couple of years in the camp I eventually found work back home working in the aluminum mines of Bauxite, Arkansas. The work in the mines was hot, dirty, and dangerous but paid well; I was giving a job after working there a few months as a blasting assistant rigging the blasts to clear new parts of the mines.
In 1941 I met the love of my life; her name was Fern we met through my cousin. As me and Fern dated the situation in Europe got worse with the Nazis. Everyone knew that draft notices will go out if the United States decided to go to war. I had been dating Fern for about six months when I decided the time was right to ask her to marry me. When the day came to pop the big question I was very nervous and almost forgot what I was doing. The words came out of my mouth very clumsy and broke; but it did not matter she got the message and immediately she said yes. A week after I asked Fern to marry me the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. I was drafted on December 8th 1941 as part of the first round of draftees.
With no time to waste we went to the local justice of the peace and got married. By the middle of December I was on my way to Ft. Benning, Georgia for basic training. After basic I stayed at Ft. Benning and attended medical training to be a field medic. While I was attending medic training my new bride took a job as nanny for a Major stationed at Ft. Benning so we could be together. When my training was complete they shipped my unit out to New York City. After I left from Georgia Fern returned to Arkansas and got a job in an ammunition factory in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
We arrived in New York in the spring of 1942 to be transported by ship to England. During our time in New York we had a few days of liberty, so I went and saw some of the sites. The ship that we were placed on was an old converted cruise liner meant to carry 500 people. The ship was filled with over 1200 troops, people in the drained swimming pools, people in the ball rooms, people on the deck, and any room they could have someone lie down and sleep. After a couple weeks at sea the storms set in and everything got rough. The seas were rolling back and forth, guys were puking everywhere you looked, and it was horrible. A few weeks later we arrived in England and were on dry land “Thank God” I was never so happy to be on land again.
After a several months in England of training we were loaded up once again on a boat headed towards Africa. In November of 1942 we invaded North Africa and started to push inwards towards the Nazi strongholds to try and take back the continent. The Nazis soldiers in Africa had been battle experienced veterans for years and it showed when we engaged them. The first battle I was involved in was probably one of the worst; we were all young and had never been in combat. After the battle was over we had won but at a heavy cost. I will never forget get treating my first wounded; you have someone you knew in your unit depending on you to save their life. I was scared to death men all round me screaming for their loved ones in pain and all I could do was dress their wounds and maybe give some morphine for the pain.
The Africa campaign lasted until the spring of 1943 when the Germans retreated to Sicily. During the battles in Africa we would always be hit during the late afternoon by a Luftwaffe fighter plane we called the “sundowner special”. The fighter would always come and strafe our unit while the sun was in our eyes right before dusk. That son of a bitch was responsible for hundreds of deaths over a couple of month period until a British fighter shot him down. I will never forget the day the British took out the “sundowner special” it was relief that we did not have expect to get strafed every day anymore.
During 1943 we took Sicily back from the Nazis in only 38 days. Taking Sicily was a great thing for us after Africa in made us feel that we were making progress. Once we left Sicily we went back to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. I thought that Africa and Sicily had been bad enough but nothing prepared me for the Normandy invasion. We boarded the landing craft from troop carriers off the coast. As we approached the beach you could hear the bullets wiz by, we were all so scared and sea sick from the rough seas coming into the beach. Once the ramp went down on the landing craft the first couple of guys in front were shot down immediately. Once I saw people start dropping I heard the platoon sergeant start yelling “jump” you got to “jump out now”. I jumped over the side while dropping my pack off me at the same time; I knew I would not make it with that pack on my back if I did not get rid of it. Once I crawled up on shore all I could see was bodies everywhere torn to pieces by gunfire. There was so much blood that the tide had turned red. After finding another medical bag off a body I found some other medics treating the wounded on the beach. I treated so many guys I lost count until finally later in the day the explosions and gunfire stopped. After the invasion I found what was left of my platoon and waited for orders to move out.
After the invasion we worked our way inland into the French country side. One of my duties as medic to collect the dog tags of the dead American soldiers; this almost cost me my life one day. I was almost done collecting the dog tags of the dead when I noticed a vehicle approaching. I thought this vehicle did not look right at first glance and I was right. The vehicle that I saw was a German scout vehicle looking for American survivors to take as for prisoners. I was alone and was out numbered, I had no vehicle and could not out run them so I decided there was only one thing to do hide. I knew if they saw me wedding ring on they would cut it off my finger for the gold so took it off and tossed it. Once I had my ring taken care of I found a couple of bodies smeared blood on myself and pulled two of the bodies on top of myself. We had been told that the Germans would bayonet wounded soldiers and rob them of their valuables so I knew that if I played dead I may have a chance.
As I saw the German soldiers getting closer I could hear the sound of the bayonets stabbing the bodies around me. Before I knew it a solider was standing over me and I heard the bayonet go into the body lying over my lower body. Finally they left a few minutes later; I thought I had made it through without a scratch on me but the noticed fresh blood on my side once I got the bodies off me. When the solider stabbed the body on top of me the tip of the bayonet pierced my side. I guess I had so much adrenaline pumping that I didn’t feel the bayonet stab me. Once the patrol had left I looked for my ring but I could not find it, I knew that if did not go and find help I would die soon. I was too weak to catch up with American troops in the area so I headed towards the first farm I could see.
I made to a farmhouse before I passed out, when I awoke there were two women looking at me. The women told me that they found me outside on the ground in what little English they could speak. We communicated thru broken French and English we spoke and sometimes they would just draw or write words down. During the time I was hiding out in their cellar a Nazi patrol came by and searched the house. Luckily the cellar had a hidden room in the back. A week later after the Nazis searched the house an American patrol came by and took me to a field hospital.
Once I was well enough I went out with another platoon as their medic. The war seemed like it would never end, it had been almost three years since the japs bombed pearl and I got drafted. Thanksgiving had just happened yesterday and we got was cold K rations, everything was cold my feet, my hands, and my ears especially. The platoon sergeant told us this place was called the Ardennes, didn’t seem like anything special just a bunch of woods and hills to me. About a week before Christmas the Germans started mortaring us relentlessly, within a week we were surrounded and cut off from allied troops. Once we were almost out of ammo our commander to walk out with our hands over our heads keep walking until we either got captured or found allied troops. I and two other guys agreed to stay together; we walked for hours until we came upon a German checkpoint. We tried to act liked the Germans were not there and kept walking. As we walked within yards of the Germans we heard them laughing and saying something in German, lucky for us I think they did not want to take prisoners so they just stood there until we could not see them anymore.
Later in 1945 we finally made it into Germany and in April of 1945 we were told that Hitler was dead. Shortly after Hitler’s death the Germans surrendered and we setup a hospital in the small German town were we stayed until we were given orders to return home? In the fall of 1945 they transported us to a French port city and loaded us on transports headed home. Although once again we were shoved into those boats like sardines not one complained because all any of us wanted was to go home. By December of 1945 I ended up at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri to be discharged. I was given my severance pay and told that a bus heading to Little Rock would not be leaving for three days. I asked the commanding officer in charge of discharges if I had to stay here and wait on the bus, he turned to me and said “son uncle Sam no longer tells what to do you are free to go anytime you want”!
I hitched hiked for three days from St. Louis to Little Rock, most people back then had no problem stopping to give a solider a ride. Fern had written me every week through the war and I could not wait to get home. After returning to my wife found work again with an aluminum company again. I lived the best life I could after witnessing so much death and destruction. I and Fern went on to have five children and a small farm in Arkansas until my death in 2000.
The preceding story is a small fragment of what was passed down to me by grandfather about his life. This is the first time I have been able to put some of the stories on paper. I have tried in the past put these memories in words but until this course I was unsuccessful. If I learned anything about writing in this course it would be not worry about the small things just write.