Birthday: April 23, 1922
Birthplace: Loyal, Wisconsin
Family: Louis and Dorothy Henke
Unit: 552nd Motor Division Ambulance Corps
Henry H Henke
Henry H. Henke
Henry H. Henke
Henry H. Henke
Henry H. Henke
Henry H. Henke
Henry H. Henke
On June 18, 1943 at the age of 21, I was drafted into the US Army. I started active duty on July 2, 1943, upon induction at Milwaukee, WI. I was taken with others like myself to Camp Grant, IL. By this time many of my baseball team friends from Arpin, WI, had already left for the service. However, earlier I had my left knee severely injured when my parent's horses ran away with the empty wagon and I was thrown from the wagon. When my knee healed I was drafted. I had never been away from home and was single, and living with my parents on our farm near Arpin.
From there I was sent to Camp Reynolds, PA. It was cold by then and snowing. We had to camp out for two weeks and I caught a terrible cold. The doctor there ordered some cough syrup for me and I picked it up at the Army Pharmacy. I was given the wrong medicine and was almost poisoned. They pumped my stomach to save me. I had a uniform and a M-1 rifle. I won awards for being a sharp shooter. The rifle was very heavy.
On December 23, 1943, I departed for overseas on the Queen Mary. It was the fastest ship at the time, being very narrow, and the army used it for transporting troops to get as many soldiers overseas as fast as possible. It rocked easily. The waves came over the top deck and many soldiers broke their limbs slipping down. There were over 10,000 soldiers aboard and soldiers slept wherever they could find a place. I slept on the dining room table. Hammocks were hung side by side. Many of the soldiers were sick on the little boats that took us out to the Queen Mary, before they even got on board and then they were sick all the way over. It was not fun and the ship smelled terrible.
When we reached Scotland we boarded a troop carrier called the Empress of Russia. We were headed to Iceland with a torpedo boat on each side of us. Our ship had to constantly zigzag to avoid torpedoes. We were dropping torpedoes off of our ship too. In the morning before day break one of the torpedo boats went down in the cold and rough water and the sailors were all lost. The second torpedo boat went down just as it got light, and all the service men on that boat were lost as well. We were sure we would go down next. The officers even had us put our life jackets on and take down the lifeboats. We finally made it to Iceland.
It was about 11:00 PM in the evening when we got to our Quonset huts. We were very hungry. We went to the hut that had the kitchen in it and asked the cook to give us something to eat. He said he would not because it was past mealtime. One of our men shot him and killed him right in front of us. It was cold and very windy with a lot of snow in Iceland. We had a rope from our Quonset hut to other places and we had to hold on to the rope when there were snowstorms to find our way. There were treacherous snow and wind storms. It was very bad. One day some of our officers got stuck with a truck in the mountains and we had to find and rescue them. We walked all night in the blowing snow to find them. I got blood poisoning from a cut while working on our 6x6 trucks. We had to put dual chains on the tires to get through the snow.
At night we had to take turns doing guard patrol. One night, one of our soldiers called, "Halt." The footsteps kept coming, and he shot a 14-year-old boy that was deaf.
From Iceland we went by ship to England where we camped out in an apple orchard. It was there that I got diverticulitis. It is an infection of the intestines from eating spoiled food. It hurt so bad that I could not stand up straight. I passed out and was operated on in a field tent without electricity. We kept moving south in England until we were transported by ship to France right after the invasion in France along Normandy Beach.
I was overseas for one year, nine months and eighteen days. Besides Scotland, Iceland, and England, I also was in Belgium, France, and Germany. Nine months were spent stationed at the Saint Lazare Railroad Station in Paris, France. There I was with the 552nd Motor Division Ambulance Corps. I repaired the ambulances, fixed flat tires, drove a wrecker, and taught soldiers and nurses to drive the ambulances. It was a center for transporting the injured from the battlefront. There were land mines in the roads. We had a lot of breakdowns with severely injured on board, and many flat tires. Seeing the injured and suffering was very hard day after day. We worked very long hours.
I found out where one of my friends from Arpin was stationed in Germany, and I wrote him a short letter saying that the next Saturday I was going to go over and see him. He had married a girl I knew from Arpin just before leaving for the service. The day before I was going over to see him, the letter was returned with "Killed in Action" written on the front sideways on the letter. He was killed on the Rhine River in Germany. Before I returned home, six of the guys from Arpin that I knew and played baseball with were killed.
There were twenty-seven sets of railroad tracks and trains that came and went from the Saint Lazare Station. While I was stationed there I had my two front teeth knocked out when another mechanic caused a tire to blow up. The rim flew up in the air, and came down on my mouth.
Another terrible accident that happened to me was when a carburetor on an ambulance blew up and caused a gas fire that burned both of my hands very severely. I was put in the 48th General Hospital for treatment. To prevent infection I was given strong doses of sulfur drug, which was experimental at the time, and caused me to be sterile for several years after I returned from the service.
On December 24, 1944 I just drove a wrecker truck into the Saint Lazare Station at 11:00 at night when two German bombers dropped several bombs on the station. The roof was mostly skylights and the glass fell everywhere. The lights went out and one train car bounced up to the fourth floor of an adjacent building. They were aiming to kill General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill who were predicted to come into Paris at the Saint Lazare Station. Actually they got off the train out of town, yet many people were killed in the bombing at the station. One of my friends Tom Farrell was killed. I will never forget because his Rolex watch was running when he was dead. I think the total dead were thirty-seven, not to mention how many injured.
We worked all night pulling the dead out from the rubble, glass and dust. Besides the soldiers, some girls were killed at the Red Cross Station and the Donut Shop in the station.
I could not hear for three days after the bombing, and had cuts on my face and hands. I did not think that a doctor could do anything for my ears and the cuts. I taped up the cuts myself. The doctors were very busy. I did not see a doctor for these injuries. I felt very lucky to be alive.
I traveled to Belgium to accompany an officer that was taking two soldiers into confinement that needed psychiatric care. When we got to the gates of the psychiatric hospital, planes came over and dropped bombs, the ground shook and the sky turned red. We were told to stay in the hospital until it got quieter, and then we returned to Paris. I will never forget the men and women in cells, with bars, that we saw there.
I stood up for two weddings in Paris of soldiers marrying French war brides.
On October 10, 1945 I returned to the U.S. I had to stay in the hospital to gain weight before I could be released. I was sterile. On January 30, 1946 I was honorably discharged from the US Army. Since then I have tried to forget the war, never think about it, nor talk about it. I never read any books about the war, never watch any TV shows about the war, nor go to any movies about the war. I had a German P 38 which was stolen from me and also my Rolex watch was stolen. I do have a German Mouser pistol, my uniform, and a box of pictures and letters. I miss the guys that I used to run around with in Arpin before the war, and also the guys that served with me that were killed.
under Learn and Serve American Grant #00LSFWI104