On Veterans Day we are given the opportunity to recognize those soldiers that have sacrificed so much in order to protect our freedom. In the past, I have shared the story of my uncle, Carl B. Rosenfeld, who died aboard a B-24 in April 1944. But today I want to share the story of my wife Pat’s uncle, Harold R. Zeiger of Sawyer, Mich., who died this year at the age of 92.
Uncle Harold was in the U.S. Army in Europe in 1944 after graduating from the Army Specialized Training Program in Syracuse, N.Y., and Infantry Basic Training (at Fort Benning, Ga.). Eventually, he was transported across the Atlantic Ocean, part of a 35-ship convoy. The biggest threats were German submarines and treacherous weather. Halfway across the Atlantic, the destroyer escort dropped depth charges to take out one of the German submarines. Fortunately, the convoy was able to dock successfully in Southampton, England. The soldiers were then taken by train to Salisbury, England (about 75 miles southwest of London).
Uncle Harold’s battalion organized a Battle Patrol. This unit would do all the patrolling for the battalion so the men from the companies would not have to be removed from the front lines to do it. He went from 1st Gunner in the Company K machine gun squad to squad leader in the Battle Patrol.
It should also be noted that Uncle Harold was armed with a Colt .45 pistol and then replaced it with a .45 caliber submachine gun (nicknamed grease gun). He received special training for night operations, land mine detection, advancing through barbed wire and complex concealment.
On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans made a breakthrough in Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge was on the horizon. For the next month, Uncle Harold’s regiment continued to train for combat. Finally, during a snowstorm, on Jan. 21, 1945, he sailed from England and headed for the coast of France, going by the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. They arrived in Le Havre, France, and disembarked down the side of the ship onto a landing net instead of walking off the gang plank.
It was a tricky operation because the soldiers were burdened with a full backpack, submachine gun, trench knife and ammo clips. His unit was then transported across France by truck and housed in war-damaged houses. The meals were mostly C rations, which came out of a box. Eventually, they all became part of the 1st Army in Born, Belgium, replacing the 99th Infantry Division.
The 1st Army moved up to the front lines and arrived in the German “Bulge” area, which was littered with destroyed German equipment, dead horses and dead Germans. On Feb. 27, the 1st Army was attacked, but was able to overrun six towns and reach the Siegfried Line. On March 5, Uncle Harold was assigned to night patrol, having to crawl under barbed wire and through snow while carrying explosives. He destroyed an enemy stronghold with delayed explosives and arrived back to camp around 3 a.m. For this, he received a Bronze Star.
The entire division moved through the Siegfried Line on March 6 and 7, and headed toward the Rhine River near Waldorf. They crossed the river on a pontoon bridge during continuous fire from the German artillery. Eventually the division moved toward Kassel, an industrial city that had been completely destroyed by Allied air strikes. The eastward journey continued to Witzenhausen on the Weir River, where Uncle Harold and two others captured 12 German soldiers.
The division was moving toward Leipzig and was able to capture the city on April 18. And much to the delight of Uncle Harold and his brothers-in-arms, VE Day was declared on May 8. That being said, all of the work was still not completed.
Uncle Harold helped operate a city jail in Zeitz and then was transferred to Bremerhaven and then to Bremen. Finally, in October, he was transferred to Berlin and worked as a clerk, filing records. It wasn’t until March 1946 that he was able to return stateside and finally discharged in April.
While Uncle Harold didn’t sacrifice his life, he was a dedicated soldier, having earned the Bronze Star and the accolades of his fellow soldiers. He was able to marry my wife’s Aunt Lovey and raise two children. Uncle Harold successfully owned and operated his own plumbing business in western Michigan and was loved and respected throughout his life. Thank you for your service and may you rest in peace.
Barry Rosenfeld is a longtime resident of Bakersfield. He is a Chartered Financial Consultant and works closely with families who have special needs children as well as local business owners.