The Bartlett Express, Bartlett TN
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was sent by Harold King with a request that it be shared with Checkerboard readers. He added that he sent a unit picture with names of the men in Service Battery 924th FA Bn. to the Camp Van Dorn Museum in Centreville MS.
Margarette King of Bartlett (TN) still knows exactly how long she had to wait before her husband returned from fighting in World War II.
To the minute.
Ten months, 11 days and 45 minutes had passed before she was greeted by Harold King at a train station in Memphis.
It was July 1945, and he was on a 30-day convalescent leave before he returned to the war to fight the Japanese when the news came that Japan had surrendered.
The news brought an end to a journey that had taken Harold King halfway across the world and introduced him to his future wife.
“I was an old farm boy and had never been more than 400 miles from home,” said Harold, 84, who has lived in Bartlett for the past 25 years.
Growing up in Dyer TN, Harold had four brothers and a sister, and graduated from Yorkville High School, where he played on the basketball team and served as president of the senior class.
After graduation, he worked for a local shoe company and later drove a truck for a Trenton dry cleaning business until he was called to active duty by the Army in November 1942.
As a 21-year-old, he found himself on a bus bound for Fort Ogelthorpe GA, where he spent two weeks before leaving for eight months of basic training with the 99th Infantry Division, Service Battery, 924th Field Artillery unit at Camp Van Dorn in southwestern Mississippi.
Now holding a corporal’s rank, King was off to Camp Maxey near Paris TX, in November 1943. It was Paris on Dec. 1, 1943, where he spotted Margarette working at a local drugstore soda fountain.
“I went in there to drink milk shakes,” Harold recalled. “This boy was with me and I said, ‘I’m going to marry that woman right there.’ He said, ‘You haven’t even met her’.”
Eventually, they started talking and Harold used the excuse that he was looking for the local dry cleaners as a reason for her to show him where it was located. Margarette, now 82, still remembers the phone call she received from Harold inquiring about their first date.
“The first date we ever had was on a Sunday night, and he called me and wanted to go to a show that afternoon,” Margarette said. “I said, ‘If it’s a Sunday, we don’t go to the show on Sunday, we go to church’.”
To get the date, Harold had to go to church, which he did and on March 15, 1944, (Harold’s 23rd birthday), the two were married.
Less than six months later, Harold left Camp Miles Standish on a ship named Exchequer where he spent 13 days and nights on the sea. Due to bad weather and submarine attacks, the ship was forced to make landfall in Scotland.
By train he headed to southern England, where he crossed the English Channel and from France went into Belgium where he was thrust right away into the biggest land battle of the entire war for the United States at the Battle of the Bulge.
Lasting from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 28, 1945, the battle was fought by more than one million soldiers with heavy casualties on the German side. Harold was one of only 11 men to survive the battle in his battery, which contained an estimated 80 to 90 men.
“The Germans surrounded our outfit and for two or three days we were right there surrounded,” Harold said. “We managed to filter back to the rear echelon. We hadn’t eaten in two or three days other than what we had with us.”
When they did make it to a little safer ground, they were just minutes away from eating a breakfast meal from a nearby kitchen truck when a German bomb hit the middle of the truck.
“They sent reinforcements in and restocked our battery and gave us new equipment,” Harold said.
After the battle, Harold became a sergeant and was in charge of three ammunition trucks and 10 men at the Battle of the Remagen Bridge at the Rhine River. Harold’s division was the first to cross the bridge, which had been weakened by German explosives already, and his unit was nearby when the bridge finally did come down.
“We unloaded the ammunition at the guns and came back to go across it,” Harold said. “I’m five minutes off the bridge when it collapsed and fell in. There were a lot of men on it when it collapsed.”
The battle, which is dramatized in the 1969 film, “The Bridge at Remagen,” is viewed as one of the last German stands in the war.
It wasn’t too long after the battle when a lieutenant approached Harold with good news.
“We were in a convoy moving further up to a different position, and the lieutenant came down to the side of my truck and said, ‘Harold, get a place to stay because the war is over’,” Harold recalled of that snowy day. “A German plane came flying over with a white flag, a bedsheet behind it.”
From there, he was transferred to another division in Czechoslovakia and was transferred back to the states, where he expected a month’s rest before training to battle the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.
In July 1945, the Kings were reunited at that Memphis train station and 66 years later, the couple proudly boasts three children, seven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.