Cumberland Times-News

Local News

May 29, 2011

World War II life fresh in mind of Cumberland man

Fred Harshberger served with 14th Armored Division

CUMBERLAND — At 88, Fred Harshberger’s memory of the action he saw in World War II is precise.

Sitting in an easy chair in the living room of his Bedford Street home, Harshberger can take you minute by minute through his year of hard combat as both a chief ammunition supplier and also a commander of American armored vehicles.

The old soldier remembers names, numbers, units and distances as if the 67-year-old experiences happened 67 seconds ago. As he pauses occasionally to collect himself, it is clear that he remembers faces as well, some dead from the war, some dead from age, and some, like him, surviving to continue telling the stories of what author Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.”

Before fighting for the 14th Armored Division, Harshberger was a Johnstown, Pa., kid. After his time with the tanks, he moved to Cumberland to work at first at his brother’s Mechanic Street company, Sun Heating. He would then toil almost 40 years for Hiser Supply as the company’s outside salesman.

But in 1944 he was a soldier.

“We went from being trained in basic engineering at Princeton University, where we were living pretty high on the hog, to joining the 14th on maneuvers in Tennessee,” Harshberger said. “They tossed me a bedroll and said ‘go get ’em.’ I slept in 6 inches of snow the first night.”

After stops at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Shanks, N.Y., Harshberger was part of a 100-ship convoy crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It was October 1944.

“Within two weeks we were rolling through the French mountains heading for the Alsatian Plain,” he said, of the portion of northeastern France that borders Germany.

For several miles, Germans would knock down trees on the road in front of the armored convoy, Harshberger remembered. “Some of the blockades would be booby-trapped,” he said. “It took us a while, but we moved the trees and made it through.”

During one treacherous leg of the journey, the tanks traveled on an elevated roadway and were ambushed at night by German troops. Harshberger remembers seeing tracer bullets all around him, but he was not struck and the armored vehicles were able to move on.

Near Phillipsburg, France, the Americans were attacked by six enemy divisions and overrun.

“We had 17 rounds left and I was told to take a tank and when the first German tank came around a corner I was to eliminate it,” Harshberger said. “We could hear the tanks coming and we were ready to fire, but when it came around the corner it was one of ours.”

Harshberger, then a sergeant, said it seemed like an eternity as he attempted to determine if the tank was being operated by U.S. or enemy troops. He soon discovered, though, that there were two American tanks that had broken through the German line.

Harshberger was interviewed at length by author Timothy J. O’Keefe, who wrote “Battle Yet Unsung; The Fighting Men of the 14th Armored Division in World War II.” The book includes a photograph of Harshberger and his crew atop an armored vehicle.

Harshberger annually at-tends reunions of the division and his 62nd Armored Infantry Brigade. He travels yearly to a high school in Spotsylvania, Va., where he talks about the war and shows students the photographs he took at the German concentration camps.

“We were called the liberators because we went in and liberated the prisoner-of-war and concentration camps,” Harshberger said. “I took photographs at Dachau to document the Holocaust, so that people in the future could not say it didn’t happen.”

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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