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A small journal helps jog war memories

November 5, 2007

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

One of the estimated 16 million men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II was Harold Guggemos of Winsted.

Guggemos was quick to point out that he was just one of so many who served during the conflict. He is proud of his service for his country, but did what was asked of him at the time, just like everybody else.

Guggemos was just 15 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

“We were playing poker at Joe Rathmanner’s oil station, right where the new Winsted city hall is being built,” Guggemos said. “We just could not believe it. We listened to it on the radio. At the time, nobody knew the scope of what it was going to be.”

Guggemos graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 1943 and in 1944, at the age of 18, he was drafted into the Army.

Sometime, shortly after he was drafted, he received a very small, pocket journal from the Red Cross.

In the journal, now more than 60 years old, Guggemos had neatly printed important dates and circumstances surrounding his time in the Army. The journal had been packed away a long while back and he had just recently discovered it in time for this interview.

As he looked through his journal, each of the entries listed brought an instant recall of events surrounding it.

One of his first dates listed was March 29, 1944, when he was shipped to basic training at Camp Roberts in California. He had never been out of the state of Minnesota before.

Guggemos estimated about 140,000 men were stationed there at the same time he was.

He had been there approximately a month when he was asked to take radio training. The Army had discovered that he had previously played the drums.

“They found it was helpful to learn how to send the International Morse Code if you had learned a rhythm in music. My friend had played the trumpet and he was asked, too,” Guggemos said.

By being a radio operator, Guggemos felt it gave him a safer spot in the war. His captain told him it was probably the difference between him making it home or not.

After basic training and a chance to return home for a short time, he returned to California and Camp Callen.

Oct. 11, 1944, his division began their amphibious training.

The group was being trained to make a landing on Japan. They were boarded on a big landing ship called the American Legion for an exercise off the California coast.

“The training gave everyone an idea what it was like on the ships,” Guggemos explained. “You had hardly any space. On the troop ships, only 20 percent of the guys can go up on the deck at a time. Then you go down and the next group goes up. Groups are assigned down below deck most of the time.”

Below deck there wasn’t much room either. Each person was assigned an aisle between the bunks. The bunks were just pipes with canvas stretched on them.

“If I put my elbow on my pipe, the tips of my fingers could reach the bunk above me. Maybe 18 inches or less,” Guggemos said.

Battle of Bulge sends Guggemos to Europe

Sometime in January, after December’s Battle of the Bulge, his division’s orders changed. He learned he was being sent to Europe.

“When you are in the service, you are living from day to day. A lot of times you don’t know where you are and you don’t know what is going to happen an hour later,” Guggemos said.

On Feb. 19, 1945, Guggemos sailed for France on the ship, the Monticello.

One of the last things Guggemos remembers them telling him when he boarded the ship was, “a ship will not stop if you fall overboard, so if you fall overboard, you are gone.”

Arriving in Le Havre, France March 3, 1945, they found the city and port had been completely destroyed, the buildings leveled.

They camped at a place called tent city. Each huge camp had multiple 30-man tents. Each of the different cities were named after cigarettes. Guggemos remembers there was a Camp Lucky Strike, Old Gold, and Tarreyton.

March 21, 1945; Guggemos’ division headed for Germany.

He was assigned to a tank company that moved mostly at night.

“We were out there to knock out German tanks,” Guggemos said.

March 24, 1945; they saw their first combat in the mountains.

“I remember the combat. I am not looking for a pat on the back,” Guggemos said. “I definitely didn’t care for it and most of the guys didn’t talk about it.”

“The first stuff we saw was when we were up in the mountains. When we got up there, it was very cold and the German soldiers that were dead were frozen and you could see the pain on their faces,” Guggemos said. “Kind of a quick realization that this is the real thing.”

On May 8, 1945, when it came over the radio that Germany had surrendered, Guggemos was in Bamberg, Germany. Guggemos’ group had teamed up in combat with some of the Russian Army. The Russian Army could not speak English and the American Army could not speak Russian.

“The next morning we were trying to explain that there would be a cease-fire because the war was over. Somehow they understood,” Guggemos said.

Returning to France, and then home, Guggemos was able to get a chance to see the European countryside.

What was overwhelming to him were the number of planes that had been shot down, and they were wherever he looked.

“I don’t think you could drive in the country a couple of miles without seeing downed German and Allied planes,” Guggemos said. “Mostly German, but Allied, too. They were everywhere.”

June 19, 1945, Guggemos left Le Havre, France on the Marine Raven, which landed in New York June 29.

After a 30-day furlough, in which he was allowed to return home, he eventually ended up in Washington, and his division prepared to ship out to the Pacific.

Guggemos is sent to Japan

Guggemos’ division left Aug. 29, 1945. They sailed on the USS Kenton in the Pacific. However, they did not know where their final destination would be.

On Sept. 2, 1945, the Japanese signed a surrender agreement.

“We were on the ocean in a big convoy,” Guggemos said. “We didn’t know why, but most of the ships started turning around to return to the United States.”

Although many ships did turn around in the convoy, Guggemos’ ship continued on, allowing him to view one of the most amazing sights he has ever witnessed.

“It was Sept. 10, and we were by the Philippine Islands in the Pacific. At the time, I didn’t even know where we were,” Guggemos said.

“It was unbelievable – as far as the eyes could see, and I mean I am serious, there were ships, ships, ships, ships – all just sitting.

“The war was over and these ships had food and ammunition and there was no reason for them to continue on,” Guggemos said. “They were waiting for orders to find out what to do with their cargo.”

Sept. 24, 1945, Guggemos arrived in Japan.

He was stationed in Maibashi, Japan until April 14, 1946. In all of his time stationed in Japan, Guggemos never had one incident of concern for his safety.

April 29, 1946, he was released from the service.

When Harold was in Europe, he had the opportunity to visit Paris, a city he was completely taken with. He loved the highways, how the city was laid out, and the architecture.

He owns numerous books containing architectural pictures of the many buildings in Paris, like the Arch de Triomphe, which he says, “just knocks your socks off!”

But he really doesn’t want to return.

“I don’t want to go back. I don’t care to fly, and I don’t think I would take a ship either.”

Harold Guggemos’ family history

Guggemos is the son of Charles and Ruth (Roufs) Guggemos. He grew up in the house on 1st Street N., right across the street from where he lives today.

He has three brothers. Kenneth and Art are older and Don is the youngest.

He married his wife, Theresa, April 3, 1951. They have six children.

Jeanne is married to Pat Murphy and lives in Tullahoma, Tenn. They have four boys, Michael, James, Jon, and Ian.

Joel, married to Debbie, lives in Winsted. They have two girls, Emily and April.

Mark, married to Mary, has four children, Christopher, Megan, James, and Julie. They live in Hutchinson.

Mike, of Winsted, has two daughters, Krissie and Ellie.

Tom lives in Winsted.

Joanne, married to Clyde Aune, has two boys, Chad and Jason, and lives in Omaha, Neb.