The Norman Transcript

November 11, 2012

Two years in a foxhole

By Joe King
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Two years.

That was the actual time Frank Harmon spent in constant combat during World War II.

After enlisting in the U. S. Army in November 1942, Frank fought as an infantryman in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Germany and Austria. He was a member of the 1st Infantry Division in Africa, and the 3rd Infantry Division for the remainder of the war.

Frank was recognized as an outstanding soldier. He was wounded twice and received two Purple Hearts.

Frank was born Feb. 24, 1921, in Norman to James Edward and Melvina Harmon. He was one of 10 children, living on East Alameda Street, which was then Highway 9. He attended Adair School, then at 48th Street and Robinson Street, and Norman Junior High and High School. He graduated in 1941 and went to Los Angeles to find work. While there, he was drafted and returned to Norman so that he would be inducted from Oklahoma. Frank was inducted at Fort Sill and had basic training at Camp Walters, near Mineral Wells, Texas. After 15 weeks of training, he headed east to New Jersey to prepare to be deployed. He was put on a barge called the Sterling Castle and landed in Oran, North Africa. There he joined the 1st Infantry Division, which fought in Africa from January to early May 1943. It was in many brutal battles in Africa, including the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, as the division helped to secure Tunisia. Frank had many unique experiences in Africa, one of which was encountering native nomads on horseback in the desert. Frank described how the horsemen were not trusted by the American forces, who many times chased the riders off with gunfire. He said that they were particularly wary of riders of white horses, who were considered spies and immediately drew fire from the front line infantry.

After the North African Campaign, the 1st Infantry Division participated in the invasion of Sicily. After brutal fighting on the invasion beach and in the mountains of central Sicily, opposed by both German and Italian forces, the cities of Palermo and Messina were captured by U.S. Troops, ending the Sicily Campaign.

Joining the 3rd Infantry Division, Frank made the invasion on mainland of Italy, at Salerno. After progress in the region, the division, and Frank were part of the invasion at Anzio, remaining on the beachhead for four months. They faced continuous counterattacks from German forces, facing on one day three German divisions, losing 900 men in a single day, the most of any division in the war. Frank remembers extremely tough and dangerous combat, particularly one incident in which U. S. forces trapped German troops in a ditch and defeated them in a heavy firefight. In late May 1944, the 3rd Division led the breakout from Anzio and headed for Rome. Rome was captured early on June 4, and the troops were anticipating becoming the security force in Rome and southern Italy for the remainder of the war.

However, on June 6, D-Day, the 3rd Division received orders to prepare for the invasion of Southern France. The landings were made Aug. 15, 1944, landing at St. Tropez. They advanced to the Rhone Valley, through the Vosges Mountains and reached the Rhine at Strasbourg on Nov. 26, 1944. On Jan. 23, 1945, the Division helped clear the Colmar Pocket and in March attached the Siegfried Line position south of Zweibrucken. They crossed the Rhine on March 26 and drove on to take Nuremberg in a fierce battle, fighting block by block from April 17-20. They took Augsburg and Munich in April and were near Salzburg when the war ended.

Frank was ordered back to Marseille, France, in March 1945. There, he received orders to travel to the United States on a Liberty ship carrying German prisoners of war. The ship had 53 U.S. Soldiers and 279 POWs. They sailed to Newport News, Va., where Frank got on a train to Camp Chaffee, Ark. He got leave to go home to Norman and stayed for 45 days. He returned to Camp Chaffee, expecting to be sent back to Europe, but was unexpectedly discharged in June 1945. He returned to Norman and soon began to start his career and his family.

Frank was injured twice during the fighting in France and Germany. His first wound resulted from shrapnel hitting his face, arm and shoulder of his right side. It was a serious injury as much of the shrapnel could not by removed from his face and body, and he still carries it. His second injury occurred on Oct. 22 and was also caused by shrapnel, this time hitting Frank on his right hand. He said the medics were first talking about having to take his hand off, but he healed quickly and was returned to the front line on Nov. 11.

A favorite memory

One of Frank’s favorite memories of the wartime years was his only R&R opportunity. He was unexpectedly offered to go to England when the fighting in France eased temporarily. He gladly accepted and went through Paris and took a ferry to England. When he processed for the trip, he was given a new uniform to replace his well-used combat uniform. He was very pleased with the clean clothes and the opportunity for about seven and a half days out of the war. However, upon his return from England, he was made to return the new uniform and was given his old combat uniform. He then returned to his division and was soon in the fighting of the Battle of the Bulge.

While Frank is modest about his role in the war, he strongly believes that the war was won by the PFCs (Private First Class). They were the ones, like himself, who lived in the foxholes and fought the war directly against the enemy, almost face to face. He was offered promotion to sergeant, but declined it. He felt that sergeants, along with lieutenants, were the most vulnerable men on the battlefield.

Frank had two significant events happen in December 1945. He met his future wife, Leona, and they were married eight months later. They have been married 66 years, and have two children, four grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

He also began his civilian career, joining Benham Co., an engineering and construction company. He worked with Benham for 40 years, learning the business from the ground up. He was commended by the Benham leadership as a person who could do any task well. He has lived in Norman all of his life except for his service years.

Frank was like most of the soldiers who fought in the front lines of World War II. His memorabilia is very sparse and modest. He will discuss the unusual or humorous events that happened during his 24 months in combat, but he does not talk about the violence, death and destruction he saw and was part of.

But, there is no doubt that World War II was won by soldiers like Frank Harmon, who saw his duty and did it, in spite of great physical and mental hardship.

Frank has never asked for special recognition for his courageous service and has continued to be a Great American in his civilian career, his family and his community contribution.

He deserves the highest level of appreciation from his fellow Americans, his city and his country for the service and sacrifices he made during a period of his nation’s greatest need.

He truly was a charter member of the greatest generation.


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