Work Horse from Iowa

Warren Watson

In the following document I will make a feeble attempt to convey the thoughts, emotions, and reflections of two Old Hickory men from Iowa.  Both were drafted, both did their duty honorably and both came home.  This is a work in progress...I'm sure I'll rewrite and change things often...I hope to tell their stories accurately.

 ‘Work Horse from Iowa’


This is not a story about the great men of history…but rather of good men who made history.  If you want to read about Eisenhower, Patton, or Bradley, there are many sources.  The stories of good men are seldom heard:

 They graduated from high school in places like NE Iowa or Sioux City, IA not into the normal transition from the safety of home and parents to the world of college pranks or employment.  They graduated from the innocence of youth straight into Hell.  The study of the English language, history of Greece and algebraic equations would soon be replaced by anxious dissemination of German heard in the other room, sprints across the actual fields of Waterloo, and desperate estimates on the trajectory of incoming “screaming meenies”.  This is not a story about “great men” of history whose photos fill the history books.  It is about the good men of America, the ones whose pictures are found only in the cedar chests of their children.  It’s about grandpas whose main goal today is watch their grandkids play football or about those who have passed.  It is a loss of innocence, a sacrifice of belief in all that seemed ‘right’.  For some it is a story cut in mid-sentence(Heerlen Museum)…making the ultimate sacrifice…never seeing the end of the story.  Hopefully it will give a fleeting insight into some Iowa boys’ journey through the country sides of France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany.  This was not a walk through a travel guide…but a dash through Hell.  It was running to the Gates of Hell with a ‘friend’ you just met…and sometimes….going on through.  On graduation day when they should have been making the transition from stealing a smoke behind the barn to open smoking outside the dorm or from taking midnight ‘bush-wacking’ runs down familiar back roads to ‘learning the secrets of real passion’ in halls of higher learning, no that was not to be.  To steal a smoke they would first have to dig their own grave into the side of a hedgerow.  And the only passion they found was in the grateful smiles of liberation

(Heerlen Museum) or a letter from home. 

It is a story of Iowa Workhorses, those of the 30th Infantry Division; an American farm boy and a Midwest “city kid”; who now plowed and tromped the ancient battlefields of Europe.  They took their new school-book learnin’ to Europe, but more importantly, they brought along their Iowa Midwest “Common Sense”.  It was this natural American way of making the most out of nothing, finding a way where none was marked that sent the Germans back across the Elbe.  Their quest was never one of glory, romance or praise.  It was a quest of how in the hell to get HOME. 


GREETINGS: (From the President of the United States)

Having submitted yourself to a local board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining your availability for training and service in the armed forces of the United States, you are hereby notified that you have been selected for training and service in the Land or Naval Forces.


They did not volunteer to go kill men. At 18 years old they put little string nooses around holes in the ground and waited for ground squirrels to stick their heads above land.  They’d march hours through the cold and snow hunting pheasants.  They loved to hunt. But to hunt men you had to hate.  It was easy to hate the Japs.  Every adult around hated them, they were mysterious and faceless.  It was easy to hate Hitler, the image of evil.  But just north of town was a Lutheran church that still held one service completely in German.  Your best friend’s grandparents still talked German around morning coffee.  Hating all Germans would not come as easy.  But their next lessons in life would not be how to make life better.  The lessons they were to learn were how to take IT.  They had been drafted.


At places like Camp Croft in South Carolina, long ago covered by suburban sprawl, the boys of Iowa joined with the boys from New York, Georgia and Arkansas.  Camp Croft was an infantry replacement camp.  Here you learned how to kill.  And understand it was kill or be killed.  You learned how to fight as a team…and follow a leader.  As they found out later, this doctrine was not always adhered to.  Not every draftee was a fighter…and not every leader could lead.  Many times the lessons you learned hunting pheasant were more useful than all this; being able to fix a broken baler ½ mile from the barn more useful than mechanics school. 

I will try and recreate this story about two Iowa Workhorses, one an old man (age 26, married with a 1 year old boy: my dad) and a young pup (age 18: machine gunner in my dad’s section).  Both drafted, both replacements, both Iowa Workhorses.  I will tell their story as I have read it first hand from my father’s letters and told first hand from both dad and Warren Harbaugh. Both were draftees into the 30th’s 117th Infantry Regiment, Co. K, Machine Gun section.  I will include information obtained from other vets but will keep their names anonymous.

Pvt. Watson left his wife and one year old son behind in Iowa; also, his immediate family that included an overprotective mother that would not let him forgot how unfair it was to her.  Through induction and infantry training a few new found friends from Iowa seemed to be within yelling distance.  This all changed when he left for England.  He was placed in a melting pot of draftees from all over the US.  It was as if it was the original American melting pot in reverse….and headed in the opposite direction, Europe.  Landing at Omaha beach in the middle of August, he trucked over ground paid with much precious blood of 30th men.  Across the Vire river,

Along the road to Pont-Herbert…pass St. Lo,

and finally joining Co. K on Aug. 18th as they regrouped east of Domfront:

Little did Pvt. Ralph Watson realize that for those miles from Omaha Beach to Domfront what a  terrible price the 30th had paid.  It was on these roads, over these hedgerows, and across the ancient fields of France that the ‘Old Hickory’ lost most of its’ Tennessee, North Carolina originals.  Ralph and many more were being asked to step up and take their place.  Not an easy task.  Even during this early stage of the invasion, replacements were not readily accepted.  Good friends had been lost at the Vire Canal, St. Jean De Daye, Pont-Herbert, during Operation Cobra, Tessy-Sur-Vire, St Barthelmy, and Mortain.  What those veterans had just been through was nothing like what they had anticipated or what had been taught in infantry school.  This was true also of the officers.  They had to learn on the run.  Now in a couple of days the new replacements had to be taught these new lessons.  But the greatest teacher was experience….they were to get their opportunity to learn.  Ralph wrote home on Aug. 24th, just after chasing Germans across the Eure River, that he was in the ‘real battle’ now.  But the veterans told him ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’.  How right they were. 

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