Legion pays tribute to WWII veteran

BARK RIVER – The following tribute to World War II Army veteran, Harvey Arkens, was prepared by the Rheame-Knauf Bark River American Legion Post 438 as a “thank you” for his years of service during WWII and later as a member of the Legion.

Raised in the Wilson area, Arkens was working on the family farm when, at the age of 19, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was inducted at Marquette and transferred to Camp Blanding, Fla., for 17 weeks of basic and advanced infantry training.

He was later transported to England onboard the Queen Elisabeth and arrived there four days later. He was then transported to Normandy, France, arriving about two weeks after the June 6, 1944, invasion. Arkens then joined F. Company, 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division at St. Lo. France. His unit fought its way to Brest, France, which turned out to be a very hard-fought battle. Eventually the city was liberated.

From there, Arkens’s unit made its way to Paris. He remembers arriving there around 4 in the afternoon. “Finally some rest,” he thought, but at 9 p.m. that same night, Arkens and two of his buddies were put on a train to guard German wounded and to walk wounded prisoners who were on their way to Le Havre for transport to the United States. Arkens and his fellow soldiers performed train duty several more times when the Battle of the Bulge began and they were sent there to replace another division. During that battle, Arkens was wounded and he was transported to an Army field hospital for treatment and recuperation.

As he was healing, Arkens and a fellow soldier would go for walks. One day they approached a French house, and Arkens, knowing the Belgium language, which has similarities to the French, began a slow conversation with the occupants, who invited them in. That night the French locals asked them to sleep over and they consented. After they were in bed, the lady came in with a hot iron for each of them to put at the bottom of the bed near their feet to keep them warm. He said they slept like babies and the couple treated them like kings. He joked that they were never missed at the tent hospital and it was pretty happy-go-lucky in the rehab area they were in.

After he was healed sufficiently, Arkens was informed that he could be relieved of combat duty due to his injury. He requested to be returned to his unit so he could be with his buddies and finish the job they started. He was granted his wish.

After the Battle of the Bulge, Arkens and his unit were sent to set up defensive positions along the Belgium-German border in the Ardennes Forest. Part of his unit, including Arkens himself, were given the mission to observe enemy operations in a large open area at night. They were headquartered in a well-built concrete German pillbox where they stood guard two hours on and two hours off throughout the night. They would have to crawl on their stomach for a quarter of a mile to get their rations at night. For their return trip to the bunker, their lieutenant would light a cigarette inside the bunker and drag on it to indicate the right trail back.

His platoon sergeant was fluent in the German language and anytime they took prisoners, he would listen in on their conversation, relay their information back to his superiors and then select ones who were sent back for interrogation.

After the guard duty operations, they began to conduct night patrols. At the same time, Arkens began having trouble with his stomach, but the medics could not figure what was wrong. On the first night patrol, it was required that the troops be very quite in their movements. However, Arkens was nauseated and began to vomit and had to back off the patrol. Later a medic asked him to scrape his face and he found that his fingernails were full of some kind of oily substance, which was all over his face and neck. Being sick and somewhat weak, his unit entered a small town at night and someone noticed an open building and Arkens was taken inside and put down on a cot. He thought it was a pile of firewood that they laid him near, but when he awoke in the daylight, he realized the building was a bakery and what he thought was firewood was, in actuality, shelves of bread. A short time later, at a medical unit, he was diagnosed with yellow jaundice and was hospitalized in Leipzig, Germany.

After treatment, Arkens was healed and rejoined his unit in Czechoslovakia and the war in Germany ended. The Second Infantry Division had fought its way over 1,665 miles in 11 months. It had to travel 500 miles back to Le Havre for embarkment. Upon arrival, he boarded the U.S. Monticello at Le Havre, France, bound for New York where there were welcoming ceremonies in the harbor and all the soldiers went to one side of the ship to see the activities. There were so many that the ship tilted a bit and wasn’t able to dock. Many of the troops had to move to the other side in order to dock properly.

After the troops landed in the United States, they were ordered to report to Camp Swift in Texas for jungle training in preparation for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. But before they reported, the troops were granted a mandatory 30-day rehabilitation leave at home.

Even though the Japanese surrendered while Arkens was on leave, he was still ordered to report to Camp Swift. Arkens relaxed there for a while and was then ordered to report to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin for discharge in November of 1945.

He returned to his home a short time later.

Over the ensuing years, Arkens has attended several reunions of his outfit and a number of them were held at the House of Ludington in Escanaba.