A GI’s letters home tell a story of army buddies

Norman Haner’s memory has all but failed him, yet his thoughts about his service in World War II are fresh – in the form of letters written home from the fronts in Germany and eventually, Austria.

In October 1944 he was assigned to a replacement division for re-assignment to combat divisions.

On April 17, 1944, he wrote to his father, “Well I know where I was six months ago this morning, and I wasn’t in Germany, but maybe in six more I can be back there, at least I hope so. I don’t mind it much for some reason.

“Well, I have moved since I last wrote, and I didn’t get in the 45th Division as I thought I would, and Brown and Bow Wow didn’t get in the 3rd Division.

“We was all packed up and waiting to load when they got orders that they didn’t want us, so we stayed a couple of days more and they told us to pack up again, so we did.

“Brown and Bow Wow are still with me, and also my buddy from West Virginia…

“I am with the Rainbow outfit now, it is supposed to be a good outfit. They was in the last war, and really went to town….

“I will probably be a rifleman, but I guess it will be ok… When we was moving a few days ago, we had good luck – we only had seven flats and ran out of gas once, so it seemed like I was right at home. Well, I guess the war is going on just as good as it was before the pres(ident) kicked the bucket.

“I have told you enough for today, so I will say so long. Love, Norman.”

The 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division Haner was referring to was first formed in World War I, with Douglas MacArthur serving as its chief-of-staff.

May 9, 1945.

“Hello, everyone. Well this has been a very nice day, it is now six o’clock (and) we just got done eating supper. We had chicken, it was very good.

“Well, we moved quite a few miles north today but I don’t know how long we will be here or what we will do or or where we will go, but I suppose, the south Pacific….

“I should be able to keep the right time as I have ten watches now and four or five pistols. I wish I could send them home, as they are quite nice ones. I also have a nice knife I got off a Crout (sic) captain.

“Wasn’t that awful about that one prison camp where all the dead was in box cars and and all over? I was in that town but didn’t want to go see it. That’s the town were everyone got drunk.

“Back in one town, we got a lot of Crout (sic) cars and motor bikes. I got me a brand new motor bike, and got it running an rode it for an hour or so, and then decided I should have a car so I got a new battery and put in it, and some gas and finally got it going, and what a car, it was for German officers.

“The inside was beautiful and the top rolled back. It was really swell. The speedometer went up to 180 kilometers.

“I run the darn thing off in a big foxhole, and about that time a Jerry plane came right over the tree tops.

“I was lucky, the first time I had lead platter up against a wall beside me. I had a straw stack to fall on and behind, and then I took off for a cow barn.

“I had two boxes of ammo, that is 500 rounds, and two bandoleers full, a cartridge belt full, and my M1. Just before I got to the door, I hid (in) a pile of cow s-t, and I didn’t go in on my feet, either.

“Four or five of the boys I came over with got it, that I know of, and I haven’t seen too many.

“I just went out after a paper and had my picture taken with it. The front page is E.T.O. (European Theater of Operations) WAR ENDS.”