It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for my Dad, a southerner, in Belgium in mid-December, during one of the harshest winters in 50 years. He was there to fight in The Battle of the Bulge (The Battle of the Ardennes to the Belgians, or Wacht am Rhein to the Germans).
Born on January 12, 1919, to Adolphus and Mamie Lou Hardy, my Dad, Howard, and his younger sister, Sarah, grew up on a small farm in the rural town of Ecru, Mississippi. His father worked for the railroad and his mother tended the farm and the children.
According to Sarah, Dad was well liked, good natured, and smart, having many friends; and he never got into any trouble. My uncle remembers when they went on errands together strangers would be immediately attracted to Dad. He was engaging, had a great sense of humor and loved having a good time.
In high school Dad played shortstop on a semi-pro baseball team. Known to his teammates as Hotsie Hardy, he was good enough to be offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Mississippi. He didn't love Ole' Miss and transferred to Mississippi State University for his last three years where he was in Army ROTC. He was commissioned in 1940 when he graduated with a business degree.
I have not been able to completely reconstruct his military history, as his records were lost in the St. Louis fire. What I do know has been learned from newspaper articles about his death, morning reports, and family reports.
Dad's first post was Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, where he served with the 4th Division, 22nd Infantry. There he met my mother, Margaret Lane, reputedly the most beautiful girl in Anniston. She longed to go on to college, but financially it wasn't an option for her. They met when Dad stopped into the drugstore where she worked. They fell madly in love and married soon after.
At some point Dad became part of HQ CO, 1st Battalion, 517th PIR. As a paratrooper, he participated in Operation Torch and was in North Africa from November 1942 through March 1943, returning afterward to Camp Toccoa, in Georgia, where he trained paratroopers.
His final assignment, the 106th, 'Golden Lions', was activated in Jackson, MS, in March 1943 and moved in April to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where Dad and my mom lived on base. I was born there at the Wakeman base hospital in June, 1944.
In October, 1944, the 106th, the last of the 66 US Infantry Divisions to be activated during WWII, deployed to Europe, arriving in Belgium on December 11th. Reportedly, it was snowy with temperatures around zero degrees Fahrenheit. They were positioned in the Schnee-Eifel, rugged pine covered hills, near the Belgian/German border.
Dad's Regiment, the 423rd, was considered a "green" unit with no previous combat experience and thus was assigned to a relatively "quiet" sector. They had been on the front only five days, having done little more than night patrols in weather so harsh that they couldn't be resupplied with food, water, medicine, and ammunition. Dad was Commander of M Company, a heavy weapons company, consisting of automatic weapons and mortars.
Historians report that the Schnee-Eifel should never have been occupied, as it could not be defended against an assault from the east. In addition, they were covering a 23-mile front line, three to four times larger than the norm. On December 16th, the German Fifth Panzer Army launched a massive offensive, beginning the Battle of the Bulge. The 422nd and 423rd Regiments bore the full force of the assault and inevitably were overwhelmed by the much larger and more experienced German forces. The men of the 422nd and 423rd fought courageously, delaying seizure of St. Vith, which the Fifth Panzers needed to continue advancing. The Germans underestimated the time it would take to overpower the Golden Lions, resulting in burning precious fuel, losing troops, and losing time that would never be recovered.
Dad was killed by a tree burst in the Bleialf area of the Schnee-Eifel, several weeks shy of his 26th birthday. M Company soldiers, who were with him at the time, shared with me that he was killed on 12/19, not 12/21 as is on his cross, likely due to the delay in his body being recovered. The men in the 423rd who were not killed that day became POWs.
Dad is buried in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. My Mother gave Dad's parents the decision whether or not to repatriate his body back to the US. According to Dad's sister, Sarah, they decided they could not bear such grief twice, and chose to leave him with his comrades with whom he had served. Sarah told me my grandfather cried for days on end upon hearing of my Dad's death and never got over his sorrow.
When I was six my mother was remarried to an Army Major who had been stationed in Germany during the war. He was a loving and caring stepfather. I have two half sisters from their marriage.
Until finding AWON, through a brochure in a folder given to me at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery on my first visit to my Dad's grave, in 2007, I had never met another WWII orphan, nor had I ever heard of AWON. AWON has given me the tools and the confidence to find out more about Dad's story. I have also been blessed to find wonderful friends in AWON.
My Dad is honored by Belgian grave adopters, Isabelle Engels and Michel Lorquet including Michel's former fourth grade class. In addition, visitors who stop at the cemetery, honor him every day.
I have often wondered how life might have been different if my Dad had returned from the war. I know I will always miss him and what might have been. I think he would have been a wonderful Dad. I know, too, that he would have been happy and grateful to know that my mother remarried a man who loved me and took care of me as if I were his own child.
Dad, you would be very proud of your grandchildren, Jason and Lindsey, and your great grandsons, Miles and Owen. I know you would love each other very much.
In loving memory of my Dad, forever missed and always in my heart.
– Diane Hardy Pollard –