Harold Kennedy at Camp Hale
Concentration Camps at the End of the War,
And Getting to Go Home"
December 21, 1994
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
Kennedy describes the anguishing experiences of the
104th Division as they liberated Germany at the end of
the war: "Starting out across Germany, we went right
down the highways. . . There was fighting going on one
way or another all the way across Germany. . . On one
particular day we went sixty miles; so you could see how
fast we were going across Germany . . . Hitler had killed
himself in April . . . the war was over. The civilians
adapted very rapidly to the American occupation. . . One
of the places that we overran as we came eastward was
Nordhausen; the military installation and concentration
camp. I was not part of the operation; I was there
several hours after they had overrun it. There were 6,000
dead inmates lying about on the ground. It was a ghastly
sight. Worse than that, it smelled to high heaven."
The American military made the people of Nordhausen come
over and see what was going on right next to them.
"I talked to German civilians and they always said,
'Well, we didn't know.' I'd say, 'You could smell it
An immediate problem for the
American military was disposal of the bodies. "They
enlisted a lot of German civilians; hopefully they would
have tried to get Nazis to carry the bodies to a trench
and bury them. There wasn't anything else they could do.
. . I understand Nordhausen was the underground factory
for the B-2 rocket bombs. . . Concentration camps were, I
suppose, the most frightening thing, most gruesome thing
that we encountered. We were combat soldiers. We were
used to seeing lots of dead people . . I talked to
probably hundreds of surviving camp inmates."
Kennedy helped the intelligence people to locate Nazis
and arrest them. "The Germans were ready by this
time to rat on their neighbors who were Nazis. I don't
think it was a particularly successful operation. . . The
big drive against Nazi criminals came later . . I do
remember an incident in one town where I met a
concentration camp inmate who had made his way home. A
bunch of Poles came in with a German . . . using whips
and hitting him and swearing at him. It turned out that
this was a German official of some kind of other, I never
got the details, who had been responsible for this guy
being in a concentration camp. It was quite a
confrontation . . I made certain that guy was
The concentration camp inmates were often forced by
the Nazis to keep ahead of the liberating forces.
"If we approached a camp, they'd evacuate the
inmates and they'd have them tied up to huge wagons with
supplies on them. They had the inmates pull the wagons
across the countryside. At one place outside of Leipzig
we got information from civilians that they had some of
the concentration camp inmates who couldn't walk anymore
so the guards shot them. We had the local brown shirt
Nazis dig them up; we had found out where they were
buried. That was something. I can remember one of them
was obviously shot through the head and another was
obviously bayoneted. This sort of gruesome stuff."
The horror of war, at least in the European theater,
was over for the 104th Division; the first combat
infantry division to return to the United States.
"We got to the United States, came past the Statue
of Liberty, New York Harbor on July 3, 1945. The
fireboats were squirting water up and we got a great
welcome. . . I got on the phone as soon as I could and
called Jeanne. I was getting a forty day leave before we
were to go to California for training to attack Japan. I
said, 'Lets get married!'"
Jeannie had seven days to borrow a dress and get ready
for their war's end wedding, but it was a nice wedding at
her church in Stillwater, Minnesota. Less than a month
later, the Kennedys had just returned from their
honeymoon and were relaxing at a lakeside cabin when her
father announced, "They've dropped an atom bomb on
Japan." Kennedy turned to his bride and said,
"That's the end of the war." On November 9th
Harold Kennedy was discharged from the military and was
soon reunited with his wife.
Kennedy concluded his long interview with these words:
"What more can you want than Fort Collins? We took
up skiing after we came to Colorado. We both still ski.
Our family, the four children, is all grown. We have six
grandchildren. What more can you want in life? I
sometimes wonder it all happened to me."