Tag Archives: Harry L. Jackson

What Does Victory Feel Like?

“Photograph of a Young Nazi”

It was clear that it was May 8, 1945, but in his eagerness to reach out to his family in Bowling Green, Kentucky from “the Heart of Germany,” Captain Harry Jackson misdated his letter April 8.  “To-day is VE day in Europe!” he exclaimed, but rather than “a day of great revelry and excitement . . . the day has been spent in sober reflection and rest.” 

Casting his mind back on the struggle – which, for him, had begun at Normandy only days after D-Day – Jackson found it difficult to appreciate the significance of the occasion.  He and his men felt less like conquering heroes than “bewildered children contemplating something too powerful to comprehend.”  No one could quite believe that, all of a sudden, “there will not be any more guns, snipers, buzz bombs, rockets, mortar shells, blood, suffering, death, and devastating destruction. We cannot realize that the hour is free – that the fighting here is over.”  Overshadowing any relief Jackson felt were the ghosts of “our men drifting and driving through the maelstrom of battle endlessly, tired, weary, footsore, cold,” and of those “who have fallen along the roadside in the mud . . . awaiting the Graves Registration units to come pick them up.”  His reserves of emotion, he admitted, were empty – “and yet moist tears even now trickle down my cheeks.”

Three days later, Jackson took up his letter again.  Still unable to sort out his reactions, he had wandered the sunny streets of the medieval village in which he was staying, then tried to shake off his indolence and reenter the “world of reality” and resume his officer’s duties.  “I must finish this letter now,” he wrote apologetically, “although I have failed miserably to fulfill my intentions when I began it.” 

But if Jackson could not yet understand the meaning of victory he had, only a month earlier, contemplated the wages of hubris, aggression, and defeat.  Billeted in a house in Hanover, Germany, he had come across a photograph of a German soldier. The discovery had moved him to compose a poem “Written Upon Finding a Photograph of a Young Nazi”:

Oh!  Imperious young man – Thou!
Where lies thy destiny?
Has the pillars of thy philosophy withstood
The gamble of the conqueror’s game,
the fanatic’s creed –
Which leads blindly into hate?

Think! – when returning to the remains
of thy heritage,
Of what price you have paid
…….
Weep! and survey the ruin.

Harry L. Jackson’s papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Have something to say, then say it

Harry Jackson (tallest, at rear) with “my crew,” Kerkrade, Netherlands

When Captain Harry L. Jackson landed in France five days after D-Day, the special services officer with the 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division had yet to encounter the worst of his war experiences.  His tour, however, was preceded by lengthy service in the National Guard and, after his unit was activated, by duty at stateside camps and by training at Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia and Special Services School at Washington and Lee University.  His training groomed Jackson to be responsible not only for a variety of tasks but for coordinating the activities of his staff to best serve the needs of soldiers and civilians caught in the European theater of war.

Jackson learned that military life was more than the receipt of and obedience to unfathomable orders and meaningless procedures; rather, leading and motivating others required skills that were necessary in any well-functioning organization, military or civilian.  Included in his papers, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Library Special Collections, is a two-page list of 28 points summarizing the “Management of the American Soldier.”  Among the items of advice:

Treat the American soldier as a man; look him squarely in the eye when you talk to him and treat him justly.

Give short talks to men on subjects which they ought to know.  Be sure the talks are short.  Have something  to say; say it; then stop.

Be extremely careful about your manner in dealing with soldiers; they are entitled to a respectful and patient hearing.  Some officers seem to go on the theory that military efficiency consists in a loud voice and an impatient manner.

[Soldiers] respect and admire an officer who requires a strict performance of duty.  The true rule for handling soldiers is: Don’t nag them; don’t neglect them; don’t coddle them.

Look carefully after the company mess.  Much of the discontent in a company is founded upon dissatisfaction with the food and the way it is served.

Be an optimist; cultivate that habit.

Remember Napoleon’s maxim, that in war the moral is to the physical as three to one.

There is always something to be done; the efficient officer sets to work earnestly and loyally to do it, overcoming obstacles as he goes along.

Prohibit the use of dirty, vulgar language – Punish offenders and see that your instructions are carried out.

This last admonition was, perhaps, more honored in the breach than the observance, as indicated by the motivational techniques of another officer whose words were also preserved in Captain Jackson’s papers.  A week before D-Day, legendary General George S. Patton gave a speech to the men of the Third U.S. Army.  Here is some of what he had to say by way of motivation (edited for PG-13):

Death must not be feared.  Every man is frightened at first in battle.  If he says he isn’t, he’s a #&%@# liar.

All through your army career you men have bitched about what you call “this chicken$#&* drilling.”  That is all for a purpose.  Drilling and discipline must be maintained in an army, if only for one reason: INSTANT OBEDIENCE TO ORDERS AND TO CREATE CONSTANT ALERTNESS.  I don’t give a damn for a man who is not always on his toes.

An army is a team.  Lives, sleeps, eats, fights as a team.  This individual heroic stuff is a lot of crap.

Why, by God, I actually pity those son-of-a-$%&# we’re going up against.  By God, I do.

Every man in the army plays a vital part.  Every little job is essential to the whole scheme. . . . Even the Chaplain is important for if we get killed, and he was not there to bury us, we’d all to go to Hell.

Sure, we will all want to go home.  We want this thing over with, but you can’t win a war lying down.  The quickest way to get it over with is to get the #%&$#&.  The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we go home.

Thank God that at least, 30 years from now when you are sitting around the fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you what you did in the Great World War II, you won’t have to say, “I shoveled #&$@ in Louisiana.”

Click here to access a finding aid for the Harry Jackson Collection.  For more World War II collections, search TopScholar and KenCat.

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“There is nothing romantic about it”

Harry Jackson despaired at homes blown out “like the bowels of a butchered pig”

As a U.S. Army Special Services Officer during World War II, Warren County, Kentucky’s Harry L. Jackson (1907-1985) saw combat up close.  Landing at Utah Beach five days after D-Day, he and his men pushed toward Germany via France, Holland and Belgium.  Jackson’s duties included arranging recreation for the troops, writing a regimental history, distributing ballots for the 1944 presidential election, and preparing applications for decorations.  Before long, however, he found himself doing much more: burying war dead, helping to manage waves of refugees, and juggling pleas for favors from desperate civilians.  He experienced the far-away look in the eyes of exhausted combat soldiers, and the utter destruction that war brought to once-beautiful cities and villages across Europe. He also learned to cope with his own emotional tailspin after witnessing a vast panorama of human suffering that included a visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in summer 1945.

So it was with much authority that Jackson reflected on the bitter fruits of war in an October 9, 1944 letter to his sister Juanita:

While I write this there is a terrible battle raging. . . you will never know (thank God) the terror of war – all evening long I have been listening to the artillery fire – the concussion of which shakes the building to its foundations – then there are the mortars and machine guns – then the tanks. . . the planes are over most every night. . . then to-morrow the casualty lists. . . . 

I went out today – all of the houses are torn to bits – everything blown from the inside with large holes blown through the walls – all the inside contents spilling out like the bowels of a butchered pig – there are no windows – just large gaping holes in the walls through which the wind and weather plays jauntily with the lace curtains – curtains hung by some proud hand to make a home. . . makes one feel ashamed to look into the intimate privacy of these houses as they stand stripped of their raiments and stand naked before you.  The people – the people that once called them home have been driven, helpless away . . . to make way for the mighty god of war and destruction. . . . .

No there is nothing romantic about it.  Beauty and the lightness of life is gone. . . . but we are winning – and there will be a to-morrow of a better world I hope whether I am here to see it or not. . . . My eyes have seen too much – and my mind is filled with revolt at the scene – but I must go on – for them that have gone and for those that are out there to-night and for you at home.

Harry Jackson’s letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid can be downloaded here.  To browse our World War II collections, search TopSCHOLAR and Ken Cat.

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What They Saw

Lowell Harrison; Jewish memorial at Bergen-Belsen (Wikimedia Commons)

Lowell Harrison; Jewish memorial at Bergen-Belsen (Wikimedia Commons)

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Arriving on April 15, 1945, British troops surveyed a landscape of unspeakable suffering and cruelty.

Kentuckians serving in Europe at the end of the war were among many eyewitnesses to the atrocities perpetrated in the camps.  Their experiences are documented in some of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

WKU history professor and Russell County native Lowell Harrison was serving as a combat engineer when his division arrived at the concentration camp at Nordhausen, in the heart of Germany.  “It was something that was unbelievable,” he recalled.  “You see pictures. . . , you read about it, but you couldn’t believe that people could be treated that way until you actually saw them.”  Richardsville native William R. Hudson, drafted after the Nazi surrender and sent to Germany to serve with occupation forces, was exposed to German atrocities when he was appointed to guard war criminals, including Hermann Goering.  It was then that he witnessed the evil infrastructure of the Holocaust: railroad cars, gas chambers, crematoria, and the bones of victims “stacked up like haystacks.”

Soldiers struggled to convey their experiences to incredulous civilians.  Writing from Germany in May 1945, Bowling Green native Harry L. Jackson reacted sharply when his sister complained of being inundated with “atrocity propaganda.”  “I HAVE seen more than enough,” he assured her, to know that the reports were not exaggerated.  But trying to describe to her the sight of a German slave labor camp, with its stench, filth, and starving inmates reduced to “the basic instincts of the animal” was beyond his capacity.  While man’s power to degrade and destroy seemed boundless, “our inadequacy and limitations surface,” he declared, “when we are asked to define what WAR really is.  It cannot be put into words.”

Click on the links to access finding aids to these collections (contact us at mssfa@wku.edu about the Harry Jackson Collection).  For more collections on World War II in Germany and beyond, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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