Three Marietta area brothers, Vincent, Harold and Delbert Lang, met recently to reminisce about their service in the U. S. Army during World War II. They reviewed their picture in uniforms which their parents, Joseph and Mary Lang, had taken at Fischer Studios in Marietta 66 years ago in August 1946.
Vincent, 90, of Churchtown, was in the U.S. Army for three years, three months, and three days between October 1942 and January 1946. After six months of service, including basic training, near Aberdine, Texas, Vincent shipped out from San Francisco Bay to the South Pacific on a captured German ship. The Pacific Ocean crossing lasted 23 days. Vinny was in the Philippine Islands for a few months.
For nearly two years he was a supply/transfer truck driver on the French Island of New Caledonia. New Caledonia is far south of Japan, and near New Zealand. He drove a six-by-six truck as soldiers unloaded and reloaded ammo, fuel and other necessary supplies for the war effort against Japan. At first, 220 trucks worked on the docks twenty four hours a day. Later, they worked two 10-hour shifts, ending each night at midnight. Vincent's location was never threated by bombs or enemy fire. One night, the sky lit up as a large pile of ammo and fuel was accidentally detonated. He could see the fire with many tracer bullets flying and heard the shells exploding. Luckily, he was on kitchen duty (kp) that night nearly two miles away. One of his fellow drivers died and others were injured on the docks. Some trucks were completely destroyed with nothing left to recover the next day.
The Lang brothers at a gathering last month.
The Lang brothers while serving in the military
Vincent returned to the U.S. after an 18-day voyage back into San Francisco Bay, arriving on Christmas Day 1945. He took a troop train to Camp Atterbury, Ind., for his discharge as a Corporal T-5 in the Quartermasters Corps. Vincent laughs as he remembers the New Zealanders who were Brits. They liked their tea hot, favored with milk and often invited him for "a spot of tea."
"Odd fellows," he said.
Thinking back, Vincent remembers those from Washington County who met on the Armory steps in Marietta for the trip to Fort Hayes in Columbus for their induction in the service: John Delong, Harold Henniger, Deb Jurden, Brooks Cunningham, Tom Stacey and Howard Perry among others.
Harold "Hud" Lang, 89 in August, also of Churchtown, was 19 years old when he received his draft notice in 1943. He stood on the steps of the Armory in Marietta with his high school classmate, Claire Schwendeman of Lowell for a picture. The men traveled by bus to Fort Hayes, Columbus for induction. Because of his need for a very wide shoe, Hud had to wait behind, never seeing Claire or those on the bus trip from Marietta until after the war. After basic training, the 44th traveled to Fort Lewis, in Aberdeen, Wash. near Puget Sound, to guard the west coast. Hud was also in Kansas at Camp Phillips. In August 1944 the 44th traveled by train to their port of embarkation in Boston. The 44th Division was the first division to travel directly from the USA to France, landing at Cherbourg in France on Oct. 17, 1944. After moving forward, they were shelled during their first night on the line in the trenches left from World War I.
Harold said, "Some injured soldiers called out for help, but I didn't know who was supposed to help them. There was no way for me to help them."
He suddenly knew what war was when he was fired on by German artillery. Hud moved through Europe as a field wire chief in the 157th Field Artillery Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division. His 11-man unit rolled and maintained communication wire between the 155mm artillery guns, "Long Toms," and the forward observers who directed the firing distance and direction. He lost three men from his unit as the 44th Division was in the theater of the Battle of the Bulge. They fought two German divisions which were diverted south of the Bulge to engage in battle with the 44th Division. The 44th moved through France, Germany and Austria during 1944 and 1945. The 157th Field Artillery regiment was in combat for 191 days of which there were 144 continuous days of fighting the Germans. The artillery fired more than 44,700 artillery rounds. The 44th Infantry Division suffered 1,038 killed in action, 4,650 wounded in action, 434 missing and 19 captured. While the authorized division strength was 14,037 soldiers, the 44th Infantry Division captured 41,747 prisoners of war. A unit of the 44th captured Wernher von Braun and other German V-2 rocket scientists. The scientists defected to the U.S. They were instrumental in developing the U.S. rocket system which led to the eventual NASA space program.
It was a relief for Harold Lang to hear of the end of the war in Europe, VE Day, while fighting in the Austrian Alps. On Memorial Day, May 31, 1945 the 44th conducted a Victory Day parade in Otz, Austria. All of their equipment and supplies were eventually shipped to the west coast of the USA in preparation for being sent to the Pacific Theater. But that never happened after the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan.
Harold returned to the U.S. on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth with 15,000 other 44th Division soldiers. Marlene Dietrich greeted the ship in New York harbor as New Yorkers welcomed the troops back from victory in Europe. From New Jersey, Harold went home on a one-month leave to the family farm in Watertown Township. To finish his service time, he was assigned to guard American military service prisoners jailed in Wisconsin. Being a prison guard with no weapon to protect himself was an unwelcome assignment. When arriving home again, he ran into his old buddy, Claire Schwendeman, in Lowell. They were glad to see each other and to know that they both had made it through active duty.
Harold and his son, Mike, have attended the annual reunions of the World War II 44th Infantry Division Association for the last 14 years. The second generation is honored to organize the events now. Mike is the 44th Infantry Division Association treasurer. Each year the 44th veterans talk among themselves about their experiences and relive their war effort. Each year, they celebrate life and victory as they solemnly remember those soldiers who didn't make it back. Last year two 95-year-old veterans traveled many miles to join the reunion group at Elizabethtown, Ky., near Fort Knox. They met to enjoy each other's successes, health concerns and joys in life. They celebrate and remember. Hud plans to see them again, along with their families, this September in Dayton.
Delbert, 86, of Bramblewood Heights, near Marietta, was on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean bound for Europe with his 28th Infantry Division troops when he got the news that the war in Europe was over. He had been deferred from service for six months to help work on his family's farm before being drafted at 18 years old. The 28th Infantry Division was nicknamed the "Bloody Bucket" by the Germans because of their shoulder patch insignia, which was a red keystone symbol of the national guard of the State of Pennsylvania. The formation of the 28th goes back to 1879 as the oldest division of the U.S. Army with elements traced back to 1747 and Ben Franklin's associates. Delbert took basic training at Camp Fannin, Texas, and was assigned to the 60mm mortar section, carrying an M-1 rifle. On VE-Day, he was on the old ship George Washington. He ended up in Germany clearing ground mines, searching factories, homes and buildings for illegal weapons and doing security and clean up duties. Delbert worked in the area of the German cities Mannheim and Offstein in May 1945. He served with local Washington County soldiers Junior Lockhart and Tony O'Linn. Delbert says he met all kinds of people. Military service was much different from the farm life with which he was familiar, but it was a great experience. He returned to the U.S. on the HMS Queen Mary and was reassigned to the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Shelby, Miss. The troops were told to prepare to ship out for the planned invasion of Japan. He was at Fort Lewis, Wash., when he was discharged as a staff sergent on July 29, 1946.
Delbert and a fellow soldier, Art Holland of Hopewell, Va., decided to hitchhike home from Washington. They made it as far as Laramie, Wyo. before they decided to board a train for home. They were stuck without a ride. His future wife, Norma, was surprised to see Tony O'Linn in a dance club near Marietta and wondered why Delbert wasn't in Marietta too. Hitchhiking was an exciting and inexpensive idea, but it was an undependable way to travel since some hitchhikers were not returning soldiers but civilians wearing borrowed uniforms. The driving public had been warned not to pick up unfamiliar soldiers in uniform.
Delbert states that he really doesn't remember much about the picture of himself and his two brothers in their Army uniforms. Obviously, his parents were glad to have all three sons home safe and sound. It must have been a great feeling in 1946. Today, the brothers are glad to be able to enjoy life together and tell their stories as veterans of World War II. Harold says, "I wouldn't take a million dollars to undo the experiences I had in the military, but I wouldn't take $10 million to do it again."
Submitted by Michael Lang, son of Harold "Hud" Lang.