Skip to Main Content
Unsung Valor

Unsung Valor: A GI's Story of World War II

A. Cleveland Harrison
Copyright Date: 2003
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Unsung Valor
    Book Description:

    Thirty riveting months in the life of a common infantryman, one among the "citizen soldiers" who took the Allies to victory

    When drafted into the army in 1943, A. Cleveland Harrison was a reluctant eighteen-year-old Arkansas student sure that he would not make a good soldier. But inside thirty months he manfully bore arms and more. This book is his memoir about becoming a soldier, a common infantryman among the ranks of those who truly won the war.

    After the Allied victory in 1945, books by and about the major statesmen, generals, and heroes of World War II appeared regularly. Yet millions of American soldiers who helped achieve and secure victory slipped silently into civilian life, trying to forget the war and what they had done. Most remain unsung, for virtually none thought of themselves as exceptional. During the war ordinary soldiers had only done what they believed their country expected.

    Harrison's firsthand account is the full history of what happened to him in three units from 1943 to 1946, disclosing the sensibilities, the conflicting emotions, and the humor that coalesced within the naive draftee. He details the induction and basic training procedures, his student experiences in Army pre-engineering school, his infantry training and overseas combat, battle wounds and the complete medical pipeline of hospitalization and recovery, the waits in replacement depots, life in the Army of Occupation, and his discharge.

    Wrenched from college and denied the Army Specialized Training Program's promise of individual choice in assignment, students were thrust into the infantry. Harrison's memoir describes training in the Ninety-fourth Infantry Division in the U.S., their first combat holding action at Lorient, France, and the division's race to join Patton's Third Army, where Harrison's company was decimated and he was wounded while attacking the Siegfried Line. Reassigned to the U.S. Group Control Council, he had a unique opportunity to observe both the highest echelons in military government and the ordinary soldiers as Allied troops occupied Berlin.

    This veteran's memoir reveals all aspects of military life and sings of those valorous but ordinary soldiers who achieved the victory.

    A. Cleveland Harrison is an emeritus professor of theatre at Auburn University.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-849-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxiv)

    I am staring at Paul Baumer, who is leaning against a parapet of sandbags at the front of a trench. Bright sunshine is drying up the surrounding sea of the battlefield’s glutinous mud. This beautiful spring morning, like most days on the front line, is quiet; only the nights leap alive with patrols and the drumbeat of artillery.

    How depleted Paul must be! Pained by the loss of his comrades and resigned to the war’s horrors. After four years in the German trenches, he awaits still more fighting.

    In the stillness and comforting silence of the early morning, Paul sees,...

  5. Reluctant Draftee: Little Rock, Arkansas September 1942–August 1943
    (pp. 1-20)

    In September 1942, nine months after Congress declared war on Japan and Germany, I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at Little Rock Junior College. Half the students enrolled were teenage boys nervously expecting the minimum draft age to be lowered and complaining about the possibility of fighting before being eligible to vote. But our peevish suspense was short-lived. In November, the war was going so badly for the Allies that Congress amended the Selective Service Act of 1940, lowering the draft age to eighteen to meet the military services’ manpower needs.

    This sudden turn of an expected event would abort college...

  6. Basic Trainee: Fort Benning, Georgia August 22–November 23, 1943
    (pp. 21-54)

    At Union Station, we peeled off the bus following the sergeant who escorted us from Camp Robinson and squeezed ourselves and our bulging duffel bags through the terminal’s revolving doors. Inside the waiting room’s echoing cavern, the NCO ordered us to sit on the long slick oak benches near the ticket windows while he dealt with the railroad agent. When he returned, the sergeant handed the thick brown envelope filled with our personnel records and travel vouchers to a slender young man whom I had not seen before he joined us on the bus.

    The soldier’s sudden responsibility for our...

  7. University Student: Oxford, Mississippi November 1943–February 1944
    (pp. 55-77)

    We left Columbus for Oxford, Mississippi, on an afternoon train, passing through Montgomery, Alabama, and getting off for a layover at Birmingham at twilight. We waited for our train connection to Memphis, Tennessee, sitting up on the station’s mezzanine level, gazing through a broad window across the wide, busy railroad yard. Since the train for Memphis didn’t depart until quite late, we scrambled for our supper, paying out of our own pockets.

    When we arrived in Memphis around 0330, an NCO from the ASTP unit at the University of Mississippi met us and led us through the noisy throng filling...

  8. Rifleman-Clerk: Camp McCain, Mississippi March–July 1944
    (pp. 78-110)

    Soldiers and coeds alike cried foul when General Marshall ended most of the Army Specialized Training Programs across the country. The GIs at Ole Miss had deep misgivings about being transferred into the Army Ground Forces, particularly to the infantry or artillery, and the coeds were dismayed about social prospects on campus without five hundred stalwart men in uniform. Most of us GIs at Ole Miss were being sent on February 26, 1944, to Camp McCain, just fifty miles south of Oxford on State Highway 7.

    The weather on the bright, blustery Friday of our departure contrasted sharply with the...

  9. Army Transient: The Queen Elizabeth and Wiltshire, England July 25–September 3, 1944
    (pp. 111-131)

    For five days, troop trains pulled out of Camp McCain on the way to New York State. Company B departed on a train pulled by a coal-burning locomotive in the late afternoon of the second day. We were crammed into the stiff, hard, upright bench seats of ancient chair cars, probably abandoned before the war began. Surrounded by our bulging duffels stuffed into the overhead storage racks and between the seats, we hardly had room to lie down or stretch out.

    The train had no air conditioning, so we pulled up the windows for fresh air, only to catch coal...

  10. Switchboard Operator: Lorient, France September 3–December 29, 1944
    (pp. 132-180)

    Foot soldiers of the 301st, under Lieutenant Colonel Hardin, were the first units to depart for the port of Southampton on September 3 in preparation for crossing the English Channel to France.

    When orders for Company B came down from division headquarters that same night, rumors circulated that certain company officers were not in their quarters and had to be sought elsewhere. Purportedly, they were found partying with nurses at a nearby military hospital, one of them caught on a gurney with a nurse in flagrante delicto (a phrase I didn’t yet know)! Company B didn’t leave for Bath on...

  11. Combat Rifleman: Wehingen and Orscholz, Germany December 29, 1944–January 20, 1945
    (pp. 181-210)

    On the dark, frigid morning of December 29, the Ninety-fourth Division set out for Germany to fight on the “real” front. Company B marched route-step to a forest of evergreens some distance behind the front lines to wait for trucks to pick us up for the first leg of the division’s trek across France. Gathering far too close together inside the woods, we didn’t observe basic infantry training that prescribed spreading out in most circumstances for safety. Instead, we lay under the pines in beds of needles side by side, talking and laughing loudly, snacking on K rations, and relaxing...

  12. Patient and Replacement: France and England January 21–May 10, 1945
    (pp. 211-248)

    Suddenly, I was floating. About 0235, medics lifted my litter, carried me out from under the open-sided aid-station tent, and slid the litter onto a rack in an ambulance, beside three other wounded GIs. When I asked the medic where we were going, he threw a blanket over me and said, “The evacuation hospital at Thionville.” Before I could speak to the other wounded, my exhaustion and the warmth inside the ambulance lulled me back to sleep.

    At Thionville, doctors were conducting triage in the spacious foyer of thehotel de ville,or city hall, which had been converted into...

  13. Clerk-Typist: Versailles, France May 12–June 8, 1945
    (pp. 249-265)

    After V-E Day, I may have felt light as air, but I was still on the ground with the troops. A group of us, sitting in the uncovered bed of a two-and-a-half-ton truck, were on our way to an unknown destination. We didn’t go far. About thirty-five miles down the road, the truck turned onto the broadest boulevard I had ever seen. Looking across the cab’s roof, I saw ahead a tall iron fence and gates in front of a sprawling palace that resembled photos of the palace at Versailles I’d seen in movies and books.

    What a piece of...

  14. Mail Clerk-Draftsman: Frankfurt am Main, Germany June 8–July 6, 1945
    (pp. 266-285)

    Our big move to Frankfurt am Main started the morning of June 9, 1945. With a truck and driver assigned to me, I made the rounds of State Department billets in a thick mist, collecting luggage for our flight. The heavily overcast morning turned into a rainy day, adding to my anxiety about flying for the first time. I hoped the flight would be canceled and changed to a sunny day. But shortly after noon, on the tarmac at bleak Orly Field just outside Paris, we loaded the luggage on a C-47 and took off in a steady, driving rain....

  15. Message Center Chief: Berlin, Germany July 10, 1945–January 7, 1946
    (pp. 286-330)

    On July 10, I was out of bed before daylight and in the cafeteria at sunrise, ready to leave for Berlin. After breakfast, we picked up K rations and thermos jugs of hot coffee to take on the one-day trip. Those being transported in our caravan were mostly junior officers and female clerks. I was accompanying two women from the message center—Lenore Bobbitt and Esther “Dusty” Rhodes—riding between them in the back seat of a black Mercedes. The car, commandeered from our enemy, reminded me of German sedans in movies about foreign correspondents and Nazis. Another enlisted man,...

  16. Returning Veteran: Little Rock, Arkansas January 7–February 16, 1946
    (pp. 331-346)

    On the gray, frigid Monday afternoon of January 7, while I was packing to leave Berlin, Rote was preparing for a furlough with Howy, hitchhiking on Army vehicles to Switzerland. Rote helped me carry my duffel and smaller bag down to the truck. We chatted until the sergeant bellowed, “Saddle up, you’re moving out!” Rote and I shook hands, urging the other to keep in touch by writing. He told me later that as I boarded the truck, he walked back into our billet with “a grenade-size lump” in his throat and watched me depart from his front window upstairs....

  17. Afterword: College Student, Head of Family, and University Professor 1946–1991
    (pp. 347-355)

    My neglect of the letters I wrote during the war forced me to draw principally upon my memory in these recollections. My mother had saved my letters to her and my father, in chronological order, in the bottom drawer of her secretary. Tumpy kept hers, too, but after graduating from college in 1945 and moving to Washington, D.C., she left my letters in a small overnight case in the basement of the Pi Beta Phi Annex at Fayetteville. We forgot about both sets of letters for years, remembering them again when Mother died in 1981, leaving only a handful in...