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Haas, Bernard J. (608th, 643rd)

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Bernard J. Haas

Biography:  Bernard J. Hass, "Bernie", was born on a farm near Custar, Ohio in September, 1922.  He attended elementary, junior high, and high school in Milton Township Schools, graduating in 1940.  He left the farm the day after New Years of 1941, never to return to the field of agriculture the rest of his life. But, a boy raised on a farm can leave it but the farm can never be taken from the boy.

During the next two years, he worked in a combination dairy store-restaurant called Isaly Dairy Store, Morris 5c-$1 Store for a year. Then he was employed in Erie Ordinance Depot until he received greetings from his draft board. 

Service Time:  On December 15, 1942, he was inducted into the U.S. Army at the Armory in Toledo, Ohio.  After a week in the Army Reserves, he reported to the Reception Center at Camp Perry, Ohio.  Before the end 1942, approximately 155 men, drawn from a band extending from South Bend, Indiana, to Cleveland, OH, boarded Pullman cars not knowing their destination. 

The following text was provided to me by Bernie....this is his story:

As we traveled, some of us peered out the windows looking at license plates and names of towns. We could tell  we were traveling southwest.  Eventually, we found ourselves getting off the train in Killeen, Texas.  GMC 6 x 6 trucks were waiting to transport us to Camp Hood. Letters on the bumpers read 608 TD BN.  We soon learned that TD stood for Tank Destroyer. What in the world was a tank destroyer?

We soon found that we would be equipped with half-tracks, mounted with French 75 mm guns left over from WWI and we would be expected to knock out German tanks with them. After basic training, we were assigned to the gun, recon, medics, or HQ companies of the 608th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The cadre (regimental framework) that provided basic training for us had been in the 8th Infantry Division that was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before becoming tank destroyer soldiers. After about a month in Camp Hood, we went to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where we would receive our basic training. 
In the school history books we had studied in Ohio and Indiana, we had learned that the Civil War had ended in 1865.  Some of the “rebel” men in the cadre hadn’t learned about that.  They were of the opinion it was still going on and they seemed to think we were to be treated more like prisoners of war.  I remember one sergeant in particular.  He had a very gravelly sounding voice plus a heavy southern accent. When he gave us close order drill, we couldn’t tell what the movement was to be.  When he gave us the order “Column *#@(, hotch” when our right foot was about to hit the ground, some men went to the rear, some went right, some went right flank, and some went to the rear. This made Sergeant Beavers mad.  We were marching on loose stone composed of stones at least 2-3” across which also made his orders very difficult.  The next thing he said was “I’ll double time you (bleep) until you learn to understand plan English.”  After he thought his treatment had taught us English, he would call us to attention, continue close order drill and before long, we had to have another English lesson.
In April, 1943, we convoyed from Fort Leonard Wood to the Tennessee Maneuver Area, east of Nashville. It was spring in the area and we enjoyed the warmer weather compared to the winter in Missouri where we bivouacked in cold and sometimes snowy weather. On one bivouac, we bedded down when it was just beginning to snow. During the night, I became too warm. The thought went through my mind that the outside temperature had risen. At reveille, we got out of our pup tents to find at least three inches of snow had made our tents collapse and it was still cold outside.
Equipment was too expensive to provide us with rifles so we were to carry a stick to simulate a gun. Destroyers were ½ ton trucks with a wood rail attached to a machine gun mount attached to the floor of the truck bed. Some of the units had real tanks and rifles. One day, word reached us that we were to go to a rail head to pick up M-10 tank destroyers. I was in HQ Company, so I would not be riding in one of the M-10’s as we returned to the maneuver area, but I was a radio operator for a lieutenant in the group of officers accompanying the destroyer crews. On some of the back roads we took there was no pavement. My lieutenant was to follow the column of 36 destroyers. Being hot and sweaty, we would be covered with dry mud crusts of dirt and sweat when we made “rest stops”.
After maneuvers, we convoyed to Camp Atterbury, IN, where we would continue intensive training in preparation for going overseas. We worked long hours doing pretty much like we did in Tennessee except that the gun companies now had real destroyers. Rifles were still in short supply so sticks had to be carried to simulate them. High officers inspected us frequently while we were in Camp Atterbury. The day finally came in early December, 1943, when we were pronounced ready to go overseas.
On about the middle of December, word reached us to the effect that the battalion would be deactivated. The reason was that Lt. General Leslie McNair stated “Certainly it is poor economy to use a $35,000 medium tank to destroy another tank when the job can be done by a gun costing a fraction as much.” Here we had trained for eight months with the self propelled M-10’s that mounted a 3” gun and now we would be demoted to towed guns mounting a 3” gun. The M-10 had a crew of five men. The towed 3” gun required ten men. Do you see any mention of concern for the towed gun having little protection of the crew men? We didn’t.
Morale of the men became near zero. Reluctantly, we became members of the 607th, 610th, 643rd, and 807th Tank Destroyer Battalions. There were approximately 175 men sent to each of these four battalions to provide the extra five “cannon fodder” men on each of the 36 towed guns. The six ammo handlers in each gun crew would normally be privates or privates 1st class. Each of the five battalions had their quotas of non-coms. What would happen when one of us 608th men would become ammo handlers. Would we retain our ranks or would we become privates or 1st class privates? We retained our ranks if we kept our noses clean. In army jargon, stay out of trouble.
Now, from December, 1943 until August, 1944, we in the 643rd would spend whatever time it would take to become ready to go overseas. We would undergo one inspection after another until we reached the condition we in the 608th had experienced. Finally, Companies B and C (me included) boarded the Robin Sherwood in Boston. Those in Companies A and HQ boarded the Excellor on September 4, 1944. Eleven days later we disembarked onto floating flat barges and were pushed to the Cherburg shore. The docks had been annihilated during the invasion. From Cherbourg, we were trucked to an apple orchard near Valognes where we would live in pup tents for the next two months waiting for our halftracks and guns to be received. We then went to Joulouville, France, to patrol the shores. The Germans still occupied the Jersey and Guernsey Islands. They would come ashore, kill and butcher cattle at night, take the choice cuts of the beef and return to their islands. Our mission was to apprehend them. I don’t recall that the 643rd apprehended anyone. We had quarters there that might have been a school.
About the first of December, 1944, we then convoyed to Fountainbleau, where Napoleon’s castle was located. We lived in barracks where cavalry or some other kind of unit had been housed in Napoleon’s era. Our kitchen was set up in a part that had housed horses. We ate in this stable amid the odors of urine and horse manure that had for years filtered down between wooden bricks standing on end. For those of us who had lived on farms, we had no problem, but many of our men had come from cities in New England, and New York City. It was not a part of their previous experience.
On December 16th, the Battle of the Bulge began. On December 20th, orders were received by the 643rd to move northward. About 0600 hours (6 am) we arrived in Namur, Belgium, where we waited to receive orders for the placement of our road blocks. Joe Orges and I had been unable to sleep since 0500 hours on the 20th. We could hear sounds of large guns while we were in Namur. Orders were received to proceed to Rheims, France. We mounted up and began moving toward Rheims. We had been 25 or 30 miles from Rheims on the 20th. Just after crossing back into France, a courier caught up with us and told us that we had been sent toward Rheims by mistake.
We unhooked our guns and turned them 180 degrees by hand while our driver jockeyed the halftrack. After hooking up the gun again, we topped off our gas tanks and proceeded northward again. It was now the 21st. Joe and I still could not sleep in the halftrack. Orders were to proceed to Manhay, Belgium, which was where Battalion HQ was located. Company B was sent to Soy, Belgium. We left two guns in the town of Soy. The other two guns were deployed on north-south roads east of Soy but not as far east as Manhay.
While waiting just north of Soy, we had our first greeting from the Germans. A shell came toward us but exploded about 100 yards to our left. When we left Fountainbleau, we were told that our destination would be a “battle conditioning area.” Friendly fire would be going out over our heads. Nothing was said about enemy fire coming in. Third Armored Infantrymen hit the dirt when the first shell landed. When nothing more came in for awhile, they moved toward our rear to keep up with tanks of the 3rd Armored Division. Soon another group of armored infantrymen approached. As they passed us, another shell exploded knocking off the gable of a house ahead and to the right of us. These men hit the ground too. As they regained their feet, they told us that a German 88 mm artillery gun was shooting at us. Believing that it was friendly fire like we had encountered while training in the States, I had been sitting atop 80 rounds of our ammunition. In addition, there were racks around the halftrack with about 20 anti-tank mines. I decided that it would be safer to get down within the four walls of the armor of the halftrack. Only a direct hit to the halftrack would be more dangerous than being surrounded by so many explosives. How much more gullible could I have been? To move away from this incoming enemy fire we moved forward and left the two guns in the town of Soy.
We set up our roadblock on the northward slope of a ridge with about a 200 yard field of fire to the crest of the ridge in our first combat mission. We were there from the 22nd to the 26th. Each night, the Germans dropped in harassing fire, which is one lone shell to hit anyone out and about at that time. From one to three hours later they would send in another shell.
Joe and I wrapped up in our blankets and lay down on a straw stack a short distance from the gun. We still could not sleep. When Joe and I went on our first 2-hour watch, we found ourselves going to sleep standing up. You don’t fall down. You wake up when your knees buckle and gain control of yourself to keep from falling. On January 2nd, we proceeded to the location of our second mission. Along the roads, even though it was dark, we could see dead Germans and horses as well as horse drawn weapons. We had never seen horse drawn weapons nor had we heard that they were being used.
We finally arrived at our destination which was a chateau that the 82nd Airborne Division had liberated earlier in the day. What importance that chateau possessed, I have never figured out except that the basement had sealed off rooms that contained lots of alcoholic beverages. Many of the paratroopers were about three sheets in the wind and many of our Company B men proceeded to catch up with them. At that time I was, and still am today, an abstainer. It was dangerous enough to be sober so why allow oneself to have his wits dulled by alcohol?
Shortly after dawn, I and two other company B men were walking along the side of the chateau. There were trees to our right. Bang!!! A shell had exploded in the branches of the tree to our right. Boulanger fell to the ground. Caren ran back to the safety of the basement from which we had just come. I saw a doorway to my left. I went through that doorway and found myself in a two-hole privy. It might have been a rest room for groundskeepers because there were more modern facilities in the chateau. Boulanger had been hit by shrapnel in the big muscle below and toward the rear of his armpit. He crawled under a metal truck bed that was leaning against the tree trunk. Heavy shelling kept up intermittently for what seemed to be forever. The intermittent fire was for the same reason as the lull between shells in harassing fire. There is more detail that I could relate for the rest of the day, but I will go on about the next couple of days.
About three inches of snow fell. We moved forward about a mile and set up a new roadblock. There was a wood lot to the right of our new position. I dug a slit trench to the left of the woods but near the gun so I would have protection if it became necessary. My shoes were wet from walking in the snow and my feet were cold. I lay down in my slit trench to try to sleep before going on watch. Being unable to sleep, I prayed more fervently that I had every prayed before. All of a sudden, a flood of warmth came over my entire body and I went to sleep. We had several more missions before the Battle of the Bulge ended in late January. My combat experience was mainly during the time between Dec. 22, 1944, and the end of January, 1945.
Company B crossed the Rohr River at Julich, Germany, on February 24, 1945. Three days later, a Messerschmidt 262 jet fighter-bomber flew over us in Muntz, Germany. We had seen them while we were in Julich. The banks of the Rohr River were lined with anti-aircraft guns to protect the pontoon bridge we had used to cross the Rohr. Even though we were about 3 miles beyond the river, we had seen shrapnel and spent .50 cal projectiles falling into the street at Julich; four of us had been talking out in front of the house where we planned to spend the night, we walked into the space between houses for protection. Suddenly I heard a sound that I heard as “Thwack”. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground and was numb from my waist down. My friend, Joe, our driver, Andy and another ammo handler, John, who I had been talking to, just stood there looking at me. After I said “I’m hit” three times, Andy came to me and took me by my right arm to help me to my feet saying, “Let’s get you inside and see how bad it is.” As he led off, I tried to lift my left foot and it refused to respond. Down I went again, and Andy fell on top of me. Joe came and got hold of my left arm. They got me on my feet and I felt blood running down the back of my left knee. They took me inside the house and split my long johns and wool O.D. pants from the waist to my knee exposing what the boys described as a pencil hole in my left thigh about half way between the knee and crotch. Andy, of Italian descent, said, “It is a good thing you aren’t Italian.” Implying that Italians would have damage to genitalia.
Medics were called and our Executive Officer, Lt. Pulsipher, came with them. A .50 cal machine gun projectile had gone through my left thigh after ricocheting off the house next door. When Lt. Pulsipher saw my wound, he said, “Haas, I’ll give you a million dollars for your wound.” My response to him was, “Sir, I’ll take care of this one myself. You will have to get one for yourself.”
I was taken to a collecting station manned by the 83rd Infantry Division that was also in the IX Army under Field Marshall Montgomery. The rest of the battalion proceeded on to the Rhine River at a town called Neuss. We had never fired our 3” guns during the Bulge because the Germans avoided coming near us. We did take one prisoner while at the chateau, but that was the only German casualty I had any part in causing. He had had enough and was trying to find someone who would take him prisoner.
At Neuss, Company B was called upon to participate in action related to our secondary mission, artillery fire. When that artillery mission was completed, the battalion withdrew back near Aachen where they would turn in their towed guns for M-18 self propelled 3” guns. Some time before the 643rd received the M-18s, we learned that General McNair had been killed in the D-Day Invasion. I venture to say that nary one member of towed tank destroyed units shed a tear when this was learned. After receiving the M-18s, and a quick introduction to them, they went northward to a town called Wesel where they crossed the Rhine.
Montgomery wanted to put another feather in his cap by being first to reach Berlin. The 643rd was attached to the 83rd Infantry Division for the remainder of the time until VE Day. Our guys say they were the only group that successfully crossed and held the ground they bought. This was just south of Madgeberg, in a town called Barby, where the 643rd had taken casualties. Seven men from Recon Company were killed in an ambush on April 12, the day that Franklin D. Roosevelt died.
Other units say they were first, but in my reading, it says those were repulsed but the 83rd, with the 643rd attached, had crossed. To avoid clashes with the Soviets advancing westward, Montgomery was called back to the west side of the Rhine so they claim to be the first to cross the Rhine without being repulsed. They advanced across the Rhine to a town called Zerbst. It is about 50 miles from Zerbst to Berlin. Monty was denied being first into Berlin.
After VE day, the battalion conducted maneuvers in the Harz Mountains, a resort area for Berliners. Beautiful wooded mountains similar to Eastern Ohio, where I rejoined the 643rd.  I can’t recall the housing there, but I do recall missions similar to those in the Tennessee Maneuver Area.
While the 643rd was involved with fighting a war without me, I was in hospitals in Germany and France. The wound was only a flesh wound and surgery was performed in Liege. Sutures were to be inserted in Paris and I was sent to surgery a number of times, but surgeons said there was infection and they couldn’t close the incisions as along as infection was present. The “infection” was actually an allergic condition. I was then sent to Cherbourg.
I was in hospitals in Aachen, and Cherbourg plus replacement depots until I got back to the 643rd on May 11, 1945, which was three days after VE Day. My recuperation time dragged on so long because I was allergic to the tape that was used to hold the bandages in place. I didn’t know I was allergic to tape and the doctors apparently had no knowledge of recognizing that was my problem. 
On May 11, 1945, three days after VE Day, I was assigned to gun #1 in 1st Platoon, Company B, 643rd TD Bn as the assistant driver. Before being hospitalized I had been an ammo handler on 3rd gun, 1st Platoon, Company B. If we had been required to invade Japan, there was no gun commander I would rather have been with than Sergeant Mitch Lucas, commander of 1st gun, 1st Platoon, Company B.
The battalion was soon preparing to Le Havre, France, to board the Sea Robin for our return to the States on June 25, 1945. Nine days later we dropped anchor in the harbor at Newport News, Virginia. We stepped back on land the 5th. After a 30 day furlough out of Camp Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, we boarded Pullman cars to spend the next 5 days and 4 nights on the way to Camp San Luis Obispo, California. Between Risco and LA, we stopped to take on water for the locomotive. The wife of a telegraph operator came down from his tower saying “The war is over.” A bunch of guys jumped off the train and she kissed every one of them until the engineer blew the whistle telling us he was pulled out for SLO. This was on August 14, 1945, VJ Day. Now, it would not be necessary to invade Japan.
Most of the time from that day until November 21, I played cards, volleyball and went to movies, killing time for the day we would accumulate enough points to qualify for discharge. I then returned to my parent’s home and to the girl I had hoped to find waiting for me to return. She was there, but we didn’t have enough money accumulated to get married. Besides the money, we had only met the night before I was inducted on December 15, 1942, so our courting had been conducted through mail correspondence. Would we be compatible enough to get married to each other for the rest of our lives? I guess we were because we were married in June, 1947, and we will observe our 63rd anniversary in June, 2010.
We were blessed with the birth of our son in 1950 and our daughter in 1951. I worked two years for Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass factory and then took advantage of the GI Bill to earn a couple of bachelor’s degrees at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH in August 1952. I taught chemistry and physics two years in Morenci, Michigan and 14 years in Napoleon, Oh. The next 16 years I was a Supervisor and Curriculum Coordinator in the Sandusky County Schools whose offices were in Fremont, OH. I retired in 1983 at age 60.

Bernard_Haas___RecentBernie passed away on September 6, 2016, and was buried at the Milton Township Cemetery, in Custer Ohio.
 
I want to thank Bernie for his assistance with my research. He was one of the first Tank Destroyer veterans that I contacted and he was very willing to provide me with pages of documentation that he had either written or obtained since he left the service.  After all these years, Bernie is still supporting me and this site with his contributions of knowledge and particular insight about this subject.