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Pvt. Harry A. Wolfe

Rifleman

Company G, 318th Infantry Regiment

80th Infantry Division

By Terry D. Janes

 

Replacements, in war, have historically almost never gotten much respect.  As my dear friend and mentor Colonel Bill Miller so aptly put it, the very word "replacement" somehow implies that the man in question is an inferior substitute for an original guy whom everyone knew and many loved as a brother.  Sometimes that was how Replacements were treated.  The original guys in a unit had lost one or more old friends who were killed in action, or wounded and a new guy came in to "replace" him.  Sometimes, more combat experienced guys had simply lost too many friends in the war, and as a psychological self-defense mechanism, they resisted making new friends who were also likely to be killed or wounded, so isolating themselves from these new men was more for the protection of their own sanity and soul, than it was an act of meanness of spirit.  Sometimes, it was simply a matter of thinking that these new guys were not yet war-savvy and presented not only a risk to themselves, but also a danger to those around them due to their inexperience.

 

In any case, the "Replacement" almost always seemed to get little respect or friendship until they survived long enough to prove themselves and make friends.  This wasn't always the case, but all too often, it was.  Another way that Replacements tended to get short shrift was in the historical record.  Very often, these replacements didn't survive long, or quickly got wounded.  Very often, their name hadn't even been entered into the unit's records yet, and they were already dead or wounded, and gone.  Since they were new, often the original men had not even learned their name yet.  That old cliché of a man coming in as a replacement, getting killed the same day, and guys asking, "What was his name?", was often all too true.  Sad, and tragic, but true.  Life is short in war, and events often move fast and brutal.  In my own historical work, usually the toughest research involves events surrounding the Replacements.  Their fellow soldiers who still live never knew them, the records don't mention them, yet for one reason or another, we know that a man was there.  That is a riddle that often perplexes me, and leaves blanks in the historical record.

 

My friend Harry Wolfe was a Replacement.  Unlike most Replacements, Harry has given us part of his story through his personal memoirs.  Harry wrote his memoirs as a self-published book.  Harry has very generously offered to share his story with us and gave me carte blanche to use his story as I see fit.  Harry Wolfe is a great writer.  As a tribute to Harry, and Replacements like him in general, I offer the following in hopes that it gives these men we call Replacements a little more respect.  These men were human beings.  They served their country just like the original men in a unit.  The fact that they arrived later should in no way lessen the importance of their service.  They had families.  They had lives before the war, and some were lucky enough to have lives after the war.  When they died in combat, or were wounded, they bled red blood just like the original men.  They deserve better than they have traditionally got.  They deserve our respect, our love, and most importantly, our gratitude.  So, in tribute to Harry A. Wolfe, Replacement Rifleman, Company G, 318th Infantry Regiment, and the tens of thousands of other Replacements like him, I share the following seven chapters of his book in hopes that it reminds people that these men we call Replacements were brave men whose private lives were interrupted by bravely serving their country.

 

Private Harry A. Wolfe

 

Chapter 20

 

Friendship and Duty

 

My new job, though producing more wages than I had ever earned, was not sufficient to pay all household expenses. Even though Pete, Elsie's brother, had not fully accepted me, he was more understanding of the hardship we were experiencing. He approached us and stated his concern and made an offer to move in with us and pay for his room and board. We joyfully accepted his offer, and provided space for him to sleep in our tiny dining room. His contribution, even though modest, was a welcome increase in our income and helped in our struggle to survive. He worked the night shift and, when time would permit, visited his long-time girlfriend, Dorothy Flanagan. They had never been able to marry because Dorothy was the sole provider and nurse for her ailing mother, who was bedridden with her illness. During this time, Pete and I had many serious discussions about my problems with the family. He was sympathetic and eventually became my ally. I was delighted to have gained him as a friend and through the years, we were like true blood brothers.

 

It was about this time that I was fortunate to meet another person who also became a friend. His name was Wilburn "Bud" Farris. The two of us were made aware of an organization named Indiana Internal Security Corps, and we decided to volunteer our services. We became "Air Raid Wardens." We were quickly trained and equipped with armbands, helmets and "Billy clubs." I will never know the reason for the clubs, unless it added to our identity as authoritative figures. We were also admired and respected as volunteers, doing our bit toward the war effort. Our job was to patrol certain assigned blocks during the dark of night, and when we saw any violation of the blackout, we were told to take precautionary measures and order the people to abide by the rules. We took great pride and pleasure in our assigned duties; especially enjoying knocking on doors and informing people that they were in violation because light could be detected through careless inattention.

 

For many years, we would bring out our equipment; Bud's Billy club was quite crooked due to warping, and it gave us many opportunities to laugh. During that time, it became noticeable that young men were disappearing from the area, caused by the draft for the armed forces. We had all gone through the classification process. Pete, being single and not in a critical job, had already been drafted and had gone off to war. Bud was classified as "4F," which indicated that he was not physically fit to be drafted. I was declared, even though physically fit, as being "deferred" because of my being employed in an essential job, plus the fact that I was a family man, and they were not yet drafting fathers.

 

Meanwhile, I had recently been given the opportunity to serve the four-year apprenticeship, and had been transferred to the coach repair shops, where I would learn the trade. This department was considered to be extremely critical to the war effort, because the coaches were being utilized for the transport of military personnel. There was very heavy activity in the building of new rail cars, which were designed to do double duty as coaches and sleepers. These cars were very popular and made up into troop trains. I was given an increase to 85 cents per hour, and was soon placed with a journeyman upholsterer as his apprentice. We were then working together on piecework, which allowed me to gain substantial increase in take-home wages.

 

Elsie had decided that she wanted to do her share toward the war effort and was fortunate in finding employment at the Lucas Harold plant, where the Norden Bombsite was being developed and produced. Elsie was very skillful and quick to learn, and was to spend many years as a government employee. In order for Elsie to go to work, it was necessary to have a live-in babysitter. We were fortunate that my grandmother was able and willing to move in and fill the bill. Time had passed and Diane was, if memory serves me correctly, almost three years old. Grandma took delight in her new role and completely took over the running of the house. Of course, she would frequently overstep her bounds and become too authoritative. We would clash now and then, but it never was too serious. She was such a doting person, who would resort to her ways in the raising of Diane, giving me lectures on my methods of discipline. This was not a desirable situation, because I had enough problems, already, with Elsie's domineering parents. She actually became very jealous and over-protective toward Diane. This attitude would be the cause of mild feuding between Elsie and my grandmother.

 

My associate at the shop was a very congenial friend with an exceptional personality. He seemed to be so generous and kind toward his fellow workers, and had become a curiosity to me. I noticed that he was wearing a beautiful and unusual decorated ring with a large diamond, which caused me to ask the meaning of the intricate and colorful engraved design. He was delighted when I asked and was eager to tell me what he could. I learned that it was worn with pride, identifying him as being a Master Mason. I had never heard of such an organization and inquired of my chances of becoming a member. He showed extreme pleasure in my asking, and soon provided a petition for my application to become a member. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The requirements of membership entailed learning a ritual and a 50-dollar initiation fee, with yearly dues of eight dollars. When I explained to Elsie what had transpired at work, told her what little I knew, and expressed a strong desire to continue, she was delighted and produced the necessary 50 dollars required with my application.

 

Some days passed until, one evening, an unexpected group of three men came to our home. They identified themselves as being appointed as a committee to ask questions related to personal integrity among other observations, such as family environment and personal social habits. It was a pleasant and congenial meeting among gentlemen, and I had a feeling that they left having a favorable attitude. A few days later, I received notice of my acceptance and was told to appear at the lodge hall for my introduction and instructions.

 

When I informed my co-worker of my good fortune, he was delighted. He did not let me know that he had already been informed. When the first night came for my initiation, I was surprised to learn that the man living next door, in the other half of the double where I lived, was an officer in the lodge. He participated in the ceremony and was appointed as my instructor. At that time, letter-perfect memorization of the three degrees was necessary, and my instructor, Eddie Westerfelt, who was an excellent teacher, spent many nights with me helping me to learn the ritual. He would often tease, and tell me that I was the dumbest individual he had ever known. During this process, we became very close friends, which would last throughout the remainder of his life.

 

During this period, because my job was considered essential to the war, I was given two deferments, but had been called in for another evaluation. I had become aware that I was among very few able-bodied young men who were not in the service, and the situation had begun to make me feel very uncomfortable and unhappy. Elsie was aware of this, and when we discussed it, she was receptive to my desire to join the army. Even though our decision made both of us unhappy, she was very proud that I was willing to go. She had become very proud and dedicated to her contribution to the war and had received several promotions, which provided more income, so that money was plentiful enough to provide for their needs after I was gone.

 

I reported to the draft board and informed them of my intention, and I was told to report for active duty the morning of March 28, 1944. When I informed my co-workers and friends about my decision, it was met with enthusiasm and declarations of good luck. My progress in my Masonic work had successfully proceeded through the first two degrees, and I was to report for my final degree, that of becoming a Master Mason, on the night of March 27, 1944, the night before my leaving for the United States Army. I was, as the saying goes, "beside myself' with emotion.

 

When I reported at the lodge for my final examination before receiving the third and final degree, I had noted that the building was filled with men, but I was not permitted to investigate whom they were. After the degree work was complete and I was permitted to scan the room, much to my delight and surprise, I saw that many of my co-workers were present, and my partner and instructor had been principle participants in my behalf. I had no idea that those co-workers in attendance were Master Masons. I was allowed a few minutes of mingling, receiving congratulations and welcome, when I was summoned back to the lodge room where I was given a brief lecture relative to my becoming a Master Mason, and was presented with a beautiful, intricately carved Masonic ring with a diamond, which was lovingly given to me from Elsie. I could not contain my emotions any longer and broke into a tearful, cleansing demonstration of appreciation and love. I still have that ring, and it has been restored to original condition by Bobbie, my present loving wife.

 

Before ending this chapter. I have one more brief story to tell. I had developed a close friendship with our corner druggist, "Joe" Johantgen, who owned and operated a drugstore on the corner of Rural and Michigan Streets. Joe, upon learning of my leaving for duty in the war, took a bottle of whiskey from his shelf, placed it high above all other merchandise, and informed me that upon my return, that same bottle would be shared with me in celebration. He told me that it would not be touched or moved from that spot where he had placed it. Even though I have never been a whiskey drinker, we had a wonderful reunion celebration on my return.

 

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