Harold Kennedy at Camp Hale
Leadville, Colo. 7/23/43
Night Fighting and Impressing the Sergeant,"
Qualifying to Join the European Invasion, A Reminiscence
December 21, 1994
"Our division was a night-fighting division. I
think we were the only one in the army then and probably
later." The training involved many nights of
simulated attacks, often in rain and mud. Exercises
included training in "night sounds", sounds
that would give the enemy away. Units would scrimmage
against each other. Blanks were used, but it was still
very noisy and somewhat frightening and the men resented
it. Even 25 mile marches were conducted at night.
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
training was particularly hard on young Kennedy who had
poor vision, which was hampered further by rain on his
glasses. Kennedy remembers that not many men and none of
the officers wore glasses. To make matters worse, Kennedy
was the smallest man in the company; and although he did
not know it until years later, his name was on his
platoon sergeant's list of those who were too small or
not strong enough to make it in combat and who would not
be shipped out with the division for the coming European
invasion. However, one day Kennedy impressed his
sergeant. He proudly recalls he was in "splendid
shape" and "quite the gymnast," so one day
his sergeant saw him doing a handstand on his bunk.
Kennedy further qualified for combat when he was
chosen to demonstrate that a small man could defend
himself against a larger man in hand-to-hand and threw a
220 pound football player over his head. "Despite
his football background he landed wrong and he broke his
collar bone. He was a really wonderful guy. He thought
that was probably the biggest joke he'd ever had played
on him. It was a profitable joke for him, I suppose. It
meant, of course, that he was done with any training
exercises." Kennedy got to be part of the invasion.
His division was assembled in late August of 1944 and
his unit was shipped overseas on a captured German ship,
the SS Lejeune. "We were part of a large convoy; you
could see ships for as far as you could see."
Kennedy was one of the lucky few who did not get seasick
on the voyage of some 8 to 10 days.
The Americans had landed in Normandy in June; the
104th infantry division was the first combat unit to land
directly in France. "We landed in Cherbourg where
there had been heavy fighting. This was our first sight
of the kind of destruction that war visited upon cities.
The town was all smashed to pieces; the port facilities
were damaged beyond repair."
Kennedy's division was to be part of an "infantry
slugging match with the Germans across western Holland .
. my particular regiment was at a town called Malines or
Mechlin. It was outside here that we began having our
first combat with the Germans." The problem in
fighting into Holland was that the Germans had opened the
dikes and pumps were not working, so the whole area was
flooded. "The fields were one big quagmire."
The area consisted of "polders," which are
lands enclosed by dikes, which are massive earthworks,
some large enough to have a village on top. The fighting
was from dike to dike. "Of course, you couldn't dig
a fox hole--it would just fill up with water."
Instead the troops used the brick buildings as
fortification and battles resulted in the Dutch villages
being smashed to pieces with many Dutch civilians being
As many of the Dutch could speak German, Kennedy, who
had been trained in this language, served as interpreter.
"The farmers were trying to maintain their
operation. It's unbelievable -- they'd milk cows when
there was a battle going on."
"People try to cope even in the worst
circumstances." The Germans had dug and camouflaged
trenches all along the tops of the dikes. The Americans
relied very heavily on artillery before attacking.
"Of course, this not only killed Germans, it killed
all the farm animals." Kennedy recalls
"hundreds and hundreds of beautiful Holstein cattle
just lying around all over the place."
His division, which was fighting by this time with
Canadian and British troops eventually reached the
objective of the Maas River, beyond which the Germans had
retreated. At this time Kennedy's fluency in German was
important as they were taking large numbers of prisoners
of war, many of them surprisingly young. "They had
these kids in cadet units - thirteen, fourteen, fifteen
years old! When the war started going bad, they started
throwing them against us."
Kennedy remembers someone bringing in a prisoner who
was yelling, "Mother! Mother! Mother!"
After finishing their job in Holland, the 104th
Division relieved the 1st Division at Aachen, Germany,
which is close to Belgium and Holland. Kennedy supposes
the city must have been 300,000-400,000 in those days,
before the town itself was almost completely evacuated by
the Germans. The downtown part was completely destroyed.
"It was just flattened."
Kennedy said Aachen is famous for a sign in German
quoting Hitler, "Give me ten more years and you
won't recognize Germany."
"It was true, but in a different way than he
Kennedy's division engaged in bitter fighting on a
front outside of Aachen, moving toward the Rur River.
Their objective was to get a line on the river for a
jumping off point for a major battle to proceed to the
Rhine River. "Battles there were town by town and
river by river. . . Our division, being a night fighting
unit, would attack at night. As a consequence, our troops
would be into a German city before they knew we were in
"The Germans resented night fighting; one German
lieutenant -- and some others too -- complained it was
just plain unfair to fight at night. I thought it was
highly amusing. Probably he thought it was unfair because
they didn't think of it!"