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Interview with Harry Ackerman [8/12/2011]

Harry Ackerman:

My name is Harry Ackerman. My birthday is August 17, 1919, so I've got one next week.

Mary Davidson:

Congratulations. And what war did you serve in?

Harry Ackerman:

I served in World War II, U.S. Air Force.

Mary Davidson:

U.S. Air Force. And what was your highest rank?

Harry Ackerman:

Highest rank, I reached the rank of major and turned down the rank of lieutenant colonel and went home.

Mary Davidson:

Today is August 12th, 2011. We're in Dallas, Texas.

Harry Ackerman:

Okay.

Mary Davidson:

And this interview is being conducted at the Court Reporting Institute of Dallas.

Harry Ackerman:

This assistant's name is Sally Casey.

Mary Davidson:

And my name is Mary Anne Davidson. And my relationship to the veteran is I'm a new friend. And assisting, we have Peri Wood. We have Sally Casey, and we have Gail Utley. And we also have a lady, Lesley -- I'm sorry -- Lindsay Ruebens from the "Dallas Morning News." This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Now let's start with some biographical information. Where were you born, Harry?

Harry Ackerman:

I was born in Van Nuys, California.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. And we already know --

Harry Ackerman:

1919.

Mary Davidson:

We already know when.

Harry Ackerman:

Okay. My parents -- my mother was American born. She was raised in Chicago, Illinois. My dad was born in Germany, and he ran away from home when he was about, I think, around 14. He ran off to Russia, and he lived in Russia for a number of years and made his way to England. And he stayed there until he around -- let's see, I was born 1919. My brothers were born ten years -- five and ten years ahead of me. So if he came to the -- he ran away from England probably right around the end of the, of the 1890s.

Mary Davidson:

Oh.

Harry Ackerman:

And made his way to, got on one of those, I guess, ships with other people going to the U.S.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

He finally made it down to St. Louis.

Mary Davidson:

Oh.

Harry Ackerman:

And he was down there for quite a while. And then he finally got himself moved up to Chicago, and that's where he met my mother-to-be.

Mary Davidson:

Fantastic. What was his occupation?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, at that time, he was -- I don't know what he was doing at that time. That was before I was born.

Mary Davidson:

And after you were born, what was he -

Harry Ackerman:

He became a -- had his own store most of his life. When I was born he had his own store in Van Nuys.

Mary Davidson:

Like a general store?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah. It was a -- well, basically a men's store.

Mary Davidson:

Oh.

Harry Ackerman:

And then he decided after I was born -- the -- he and his wife, my mother-to-be, they had one boy who was born and he passed away when he was five years old. My brother -- my brother then was born, and he remained to be for the rest of his life five years older than me.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

And so we moved down to San Diego, and he had a military type more -- military type of store than anything else.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

We were there several years until finally he decided that best thing he could do would be to move out of there. So he moved to Culver City in California.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. How many --

Harry Ackerman:

Right on the border of Culver City and Palms.

Mary Davidson:

Oh. Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

And settled down there. Got old enough to finally go to grade school. I went to Palms Grammar School. My brother went on through grammar school and made it to Venus High School and became a football player and did all those things.

Mary Davidson:

How many brothers and sisters --

Harry Ackerman:

Well, I only had the one after the first boy passed away.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

And --

Mary Davidson:

Okay. He's okay. We're fine. Number of children -- how old were you when you entered the Service?

Harry Ackerman:

Hum?

Mary Davidson:

How old were you entered the Service, when you went into the Air Force?

Harry Ackerman:

I was -- let's see, I was in college at the time. And I had heard that the -- I had worked summers for the U.S. Land Office, and I was taking engineering. I was in the -- at the University of Nevada.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

We had moved up to Reno and my brother had already graduated from the University of Nevada. Had gone into the -- he had been in the, what you call --

Sally Casey:

The Corps. He was in the Corps during the war.

Harry Ackerman:

Well, first he joined the -- what is it they have -- a home -- the home guard --

Mary Davidson:

National Guard?

Harry Ackerman:

National Guard.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

And then when he got out of college, he joined the -- in fact, he turned down an appointment to West Point and went into the, joined the Army and got his commission as a second lieutenant.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

And he did surveying all around the countryside, and then finally they sent him down to Brazil.

Mary Davidson:

So you enlisted?

Harry Ackerman:

But I was growing up. And when I got out of -- into college, I had heard that -- I was taking engineering. I heard that the Air Corps was looking for people with engineering background to join the Air Force, because what they were looking for was those who could go on and become navigators or learn to teach navigation. They didn't have enough aerial navigators, and -- but engineers could be flipped over in, you know, a very short time.

Sally Casey:

This is when you went in Dad, 1942. You went in, in 1942. January of 1942.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, 1942. So I wound up at -- being as I was interviewed, they sent Air Force team to Reno. And I was interviewed and out of -- I think there were 15 or so of us. I was the first one to pass the thing, and there were five of us ultimately that were accepted as being capable of joining the Air Force.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. And can you tell us something about your training once you were enlisted, and what type of training did you have?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, it -- in the military part of the training --

Mary Davidson:

Right.

Harry Ackerman:

-- yeah, well, that took learning military activities, first of all. It didn't matter which branch of the Service you were in; you had to learn what they were all about.

Mary Davidson:

Sure.

Harry Ackerman:

And then just started learning the special duties that would be assigned to you.

Mary Davidson:

What were some of your special duties?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, I was sent down to Mather Field in California, and there I went to that was my first attendance at anything close to a navigation course. And they had a bunch of us there. So I had already been through pilot training, cadet training, and basic pilot knowledge, and could fly Stearman BT-13s. Other than that, I couldn't fly anything. And -- excuse me. I'll have a sip.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

But they sent us to -- from Mather, we were sent down to -- down in the south, and to a school down there that taught -- they were teaching navigation.

Mary Davidson:

Um-hum.

Harry Ackerman:

And we went through that course. Then we got transferred to another one north someplace. Finally got back to Sacramento where we started.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

And I was assigned to teach there in California to the navigation class. I became the instructor there.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

Was getting along fine with that when -- well, tell you one funny thing that happened. One of my classmates was a -- he had been in cadet pilot school with me. Had done the same thing I did.

Mary Davidson:

Um-hum.

Harry Ackerman:

He took up this navigation business. And we got sent down to Louisiana to evaluate a navigation school down there. Actually, it was a little more than that, because what they were doing were taking returning airmen from the far east and middle east that had a whole lot of different rules and different processes than what we had as being flying around in Europe and whatnot. And so we called it a show-and-tell program. And this one day we had to show and tell and my buddy, Pete, my classmate, we had the class from 1 o'clock to 3 o'clock. And at noon he said -- he asked me, he says, Hey, Ache, what are we going to show and tell? And I said, Well, I thought you were going to decide that today. He said, No, you got to do that. I said, Well, I don't know. I thought a minute. I said, Well, it's lunch time. Let's go downtown and get a dry martini, and then we can show and tell how to make a dry martini. He said, That sounds good. So we went downtown. We got some vermouth and a bottle of gin. Went on back out to the branch -- to the school and proceeded to tell the class. Now we're going to have a show-and-tell here, and -- but what we're going to do, we're going to show you how to make a dry martini. And you get a sip of it so you know that it was a martini. And so I was about halfway through the thing when a guy got up about the first row of seats in front of me and walked out of the class. I didn't ask him where he was going or anything. But about ten minutes he came back and he said, Ackerman, the colonel wants to see you right now. And I said, Well, I haven't finished my course here. He said, No, he wants you right now. I said, Okay, so Pete take over. So I went down the hall -- got down the hall about 50 feet, and the door had a glass window in it. And I looked through there and here's this guy sitting at his desk and he's -- his face was about as red as my hair was in those days. He was just tearing up paper. Just -- you could tell he was madder than hell. And I tapped on the door again and he looked up. He said, Come in. I got about halfway to him and he says, Ackerman, what in the hell were you doing in that classroom? And I said, I don't know. I do what I was told to do, showing and telling. He says, But what were you showing and telling? I said, Well, we were showing and telling how to make a martini. He said, Well, you know you broke the law?

Mary Davidson:

Oh?

Harry Ackerman:

I said, Well, no, I don't. What did I do? He said, Well, you brought liquor into the room, and that is illegal in this base.

Mary Davidson:

Now, what were you supposed to be showing and telling?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, how to operate a radio, or you know, how to take -- do things that were military, but we had been through most of that. We could -- we didn't think it was going to hurt.

Mary Davidson:

Something really practical.

Harry Ackerman:

As the colonel says, Well, he says you violated the law. He said, We're going to have you court marshalled. He said, Get back to your barracks. And he said, We'll send you home tomorrow and the colonel at your base will take care of you. And I said, Well, that's fine. Whatever you got to say you've got to do, we'll do it. So that night I did something I hadn't done before. I got down on my hands and knees -- and this was in Texas at this time -- and I said, got down on my hands and knees before I went to bed and I said, Good Lord, if you let me out of Texas tomorrow morning, I promise you I will never set foot in Texas again.

Mary Davidson:

And here you are.

Harry Ackerman:

This is how many years now being here?

Sally Casey:

Long time later. 30.

Harry Ackerman:

So anyway, the next day I went home. When I got back to Blythe -- I had been stationed in Blythe, California then. I got to Blythe and the sergeant met me down at the foot of the aircraft and he said, The colonel wants to see you right now. He said, I'll take you over there in my car. So he picked up my bags and he took me over to the office. And I walked down the hall there again, pounded on the glass window, and he was sitting there tearing up paper and laughing. Like he couldn't believe. Finally, he waved me in, and he said the same thing. He said, What the hell were you doing down there? I said, Well, we were doing what we were sent there. We evaluate the program and show them how to do things, and we thought we were doing okay. And he said, Well, you know, the only thing you did wrong was make that liquor business. I said, Well, it wasn't really that much anyway. All we did give them a better taste of it. He says, Well, anything you were supposed to do -- but he said, Well, go on back to the office and go to work. And so that was the end of that episode.

Mary Davidson:

Now I got a question. Were the people that you were teaching in this situation, were they other Americans or were they our Asian allies or --

Harry Ackerman:

No, no, these were American military personnel.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

They had been sent down here to be brought up-to-date. Like, they had entirely different radio programs --

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay. Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

-- and that they would transmit, you know, to transmit information where they were, whatever. And we had a lot of trouble following it, quite frankly. But they were in there for a reason there.

Sally Casey:

From there, you wound up in England.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah.

Sally Casey:

Somehow.

Harry Ackerman:

After I got finished there at Blythe, I got sent back overseas.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. Well, talk to us --

Sally Casey:

He wasn't court-martialed.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay. Good. Talk to us about your experiences in World War II and where you were and what you did and just what was going on.

Harry Ackerman:

Well, when I got relieved of being an instructor, I was sent to Sacramento. There was a team of -- well, it was most popular --

Sally Casey:

Are you talking about the man who flew the missions in Japan? You became part of the 91st Bomb Group. Is that what you were trying to tell them?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, that was leading up to it, yeah. But I -- they wanted me to join this crew, this army crew that was there at Sacramento. They were getting their aircraft overhauled and all checked out. They didn't say where they were going, but we knew pretty well it was --

Sally Casey:

You mean Jimmy Doolittle? You're trying to think of Jimmy Doolittle.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, Jimmy Doolittle. And he was taking his group.

Sally Casey:

Was that the bombing raid they made?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah. So what we were assigned to do while he was there, they wanted to fly so -- they hadn't been around Sacramento or anywhere, so we became their navigators for the day and took them up north to the state line and then down south into Southern California and then back. And he took his crews over to the other side of Oakland, and he still didn't say where he was going or anything. We didn't know it was -- he said he was headed to Japan. And couple days later, we heard about Japan being bombed. It was Jimmy Doolittle and his group. And he lost some of his boys there. But that was kind of the thing we were doing there. Well, then finally our -- well, we got invited to join what turned out to be the 91st Bomb Group, and they were getting ready to -- they had been formed down in Florida originally, and flown in the states. They hadn't been anywhere else. So we joined the 91st Bomb Group, and we made our way up to Washington D.C. -- not Washington -- Walla Walla, Washington. And then we flew around up there for a while trying to -- a few days, and trying to get everybody loosened up and ready to tackle this overseas trip. Then we left Washington headed to go to Europe --

Mary Davidson:

Um-hum.

Harry Ackerman:

-- and we went down -- flew down by way of -- well, made it down to Florida, and then from Florida we started leaving to go across the Pacific.

Mary Davidson:

Do you remember what year that was?

Harry Ackerman:

Hum?

Mary Davidson:

Do you remember what year that was?

Sally Casey:

October 13.

Harry Ackerman:

On October 13, 1942, the 91st Bomb Group was ordered to England and was assigned to the 8th Air Force. And during the operational tour in European Theater of Operations from October 13, 1942, until July 17, 1942 -- '43, July 17th, 1943, I flew three missions as an Air Force lead navigator, six missions as wing leader, ten as a group leader, and six as a squadron leader. On my 22nd mission in 19 -- May 22, 1943, which was to Wilhelmshaven, Germany, I was wounded by a German fighter plane, along with other crew members. We managed to return to our base, and I was hospitalized until June 9th, 1943. And returned to the 91st Bomb Group on June 28th and flew my 23rd mission and completed my 25th mission and operational tour on June 29th, 1943. On July 1st, '43, I received orders which ordered me back to the U.S. and Glasgow -- Scotland via Glasgow, Scotland, where I boarded the "Queen Elizabeth" on June 10th -- July 10th of '43. Set sail for the USA that evening. I had been in Halifax, Nova Scotia in '42, July '42, no '43. And disembarked on July 15th and boarded a train, which took me to Camp Myles Standish in New York, arriving there at 12:00 p.m., July 17th, 1943. On July '43 -- July 21, '43, I received orders to report to the 18th Replacement Wing in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 24th. I was immediately assigned to the 34th Bomb Group at Blythe, California, as group navigation officer. And on March 28, 1944, the group was ordered overseas. After special processing at Midwestern Field, the first group of B-24 Liberators departed the U.S. from West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 19, 1946, and arrived at Pendleton Air Base in Suffolk, England, on April 17th, 1944. So that was beginning of my second tour in Europe.

Sally Casey:

And the actual story -- I'll interrupt for a second. The actual story he prepared to tell you-all is with the 34th Bomb Group, and it's quite a story. On the second tour, he really --

Mary Davidson:

Can you tell us that story?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah.

Sally Casey:

This is his main -- this is such a story, you don't want to miss this.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

Here's my bailout story.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. Now we're going to hear a good story.

Sally Casey:

This is his second tour. He did two tours.

Harry Ackerman:

This is on my second tour.

Mary Davidson:

What was the date of the second tour?

Harry Ackerman:

I wasn't supposed to be flying on any missions on my second tour.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

I had finished and they were -- what they were afraid of, if I got shot down and captured by the Germans, they would beat me to death to find out everything I knew, you know, previously.

Sally Casey:

Because he had already done a full tour.

Mary Davidson:

He knew a lot.

Sally Casey:

They usually didn't come back to do a second tour flying during the war.

Mary Davidson:

Now, you said your dad was German?

Harry Ackerman:

What?

Mary Davidson:

You said your dad was German?

Harry Ackerman:

No -- yeah, my dad had been born in Germany, but he --

Mary Davidson:

Do you speak --

Harry Ackerman:

He had been raised everywhere else.

Mary Davidson:

Oh. So did you speak German?

Harry Ackerman:

No.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

No, we spoke English or Spanish. He spoke like seven languages.

Mary Davidson:

Oh.

Harry Ackerman:

And -- but never worried about it. With me -- he always spoke English with me.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

Well, on August 7th --

Mary Davidson:

What year?

Harry Ackerman:

Can you hear me all right? My throat's not in the great shape. On August 7th, 1944, I flew as group navigation officer on lead aircraft of our group. The mission of which was actually a diversionary effort to draw German fire away from the Main 8th Air Force effort, which was headed for targets in Germany. Our plane, a B-24, was shot down while -- near Alken, Germany, by antiaircraft fire. Upon orders of our command pilot onboard, the entire crew started to bail out. As I prepared to bail out through the nose wheel, I saw two shoots landing across the river and mountainside from -- near us. I bailed out and came down on the same side of the river we had been on. And upon my landing, about 500 feet up the slope from the river, I took off my shoot and buried it in some bushes and started down the hill. As I worked my way down the hill planning to get to the other side to join the two shoots -- I figured misery loved help -- I had -- I began to hear a lot of noise from the area just under me on my side of the river. And as I got closer, I saw two fellows coming across the river. They hollered at me and waved me to their place. And when I reached them, they greeted me in English. They told me to follow them close behind and do whatever they told me to do. As we got to the bottom of the hill, the land had flattened and the -- there were several trucks and a firm number of people. And I heard a woman's voice singing, "It's a long way to Tipperary." And she kept singing that over and over. That's all she sang was "A Long Way to Tipperary." And I figured she sang it in English and I figured that was good enough for me. I rushed over to her to thank her for singing in English. The two young men who had helped cross the river now took me away from this group of people. We were backed out about 9:00 a.m., and we were back down --

Sally Casey:

Bailed out.

Harry Ackerman:

Bailed out about 9:00 a.m. in the morning. It was now about 11:00 a.m. and we started walking. The boys said we were going to a farmhouse which was -- he thought wasn't too far away. And about 2:00 p.m., we came to a farm with a number of haystacks but no sign of a house nearby. The boys pulled out one of the stacks which had a tin roof, pointed it out and told me to climb the stack and stay under the roof and to not answer and make noises unless the persons trying to reach me identified themselves in English. Finally at about 4:00 p.m., I heard someone crawling around the stack and finally heard my name called. As I responded, I was told to come down now. I did so and the boys were there again. They said they would walk to town and for me to walk behind them and try not to attract any special attention. Well, we made it into town and I did attract one cause of attention. I forgot to write it in here. On the way -- when we got to town, the boys took me to a store, and there they got a bicycle. They asked if I knew how to ride a bicycle. I said, Sure. I've been riding one since I was about five years old. So they said, Okay, get on this bicycle and you follow this old guy here riding his bicycle. You don't talk to anybody, just follow him. Do what anything he might happen to tell you. So we started down the road and after riding a long way we started up a hill. And there wasn't a whole lot of traffic. But we got about halfway up this hill, and I started to stand up to pedal that bike. All of a sudden, the chain sprang out off the wheel gears, you know.

Mary Davidson:

Yeah.

Harry Ackerman:

I couldn't ride the bike anymore, and the guy was way up the hill ahead of me, the old man riding his bike. And he finally disappeared. And I thought, well, I guess I'll sit here and somebody will help me out. And so the day kind of passed by pretty quick. The old man came back down the hill and when he got to me he said, What's the matter? I said, Well, I don't know. I started to stand up to pedal and the chain jumped off this sprocket. And he said, All right. Get off that bike. And I gave him the bike. He put the chains back on and then he said, All right, now get on. And he slapped my hands. He said don't touch those chains again. Leave them alone. If they fall off, I'll come get you. So we started down -- up the road again. And so this time we arrived at the house and into town. And about 5:00 p.m., arrived at a house in downtown Vervie, Belgium. After knocking on the door of the house and sitting at a table entering the house, we saw sitting at a table were a lady and two men, one of whom was about my age. Turned out was a British RAF lieutenant who had managed to escape Germany and who had been taken into the Belgium underground in Brussels. And the lady that took care of him there was a sister of the lady sitting at this table. And so they sent word to her about me, and they already had checked up on me to find out that I wasn't some German that had conned his way into this whole deal. And they knew that I had been shot down. They had confirmed that. They found out that I did belong to the Bomb Group, and so they continued to help me. And to -- then Dick Taylor, the Englishman in the Air Force, British Air Force, he and I decided that henceforth, if the British military, which was establishing itself in the area, took over, then Dick would be the boss. But if it was U.S. troops that was doing something like that, then I would be the boss so far as he and I were concerned. And whatever they decided we should do, we would then do.

Sally Casey:

And you didn't put this part in there, but they were hidden for quite a while in a farmhouse and then this is the end of it.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah. As it turned out, the US troops were the first to arrive in Vervier, and so Dick agreed that we would return to London -- he would return to London with me. We went downtown into Vervier to see what was going on, and when we got down there, there were about half a dozen troops and they had a pretty good-sized military truck. They were passing out cigarettes to the girls, and getting familiar with them, and having a great time. Paid no attention to us because we were in civilian clothing until we walked up to them and I said, Hey, fellows, can I talk to you a minute? And they kind of looked at me like, hey, where's this guy from? You know, civilian clothes not military suit.

Mary Davidson:

Um-hum.

Harry Ackerman:

So I told them who we were and that we were trying to make our way out of there, and could they give us a hand in any way. Could we go up to the borderline and see if that would help. He said, No, we can't take you up there. But he said, We'll arrange to get you downtown and then the troops, your office can take you. So as it turned out, the --

Sally Casey:

You got transported to England.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, the US troops were in downtown Vervier, and they explained our situation, and we got transported to England in late November of '44. They sent us by -- actually by way of Paris to get there, so it took a few days. But after we got there, I was assigned back to my -- they got me back to my base, the 34th Bomb Group, and I was reassigned to duty as a group navigator at 34th Bomb Group then. And on December 16th, 1944, I was promoted to major, and I served until April 26, 1946, at which time I was returned to my home in Reno, Nevada. The end.

Mary Davidson:

The end. I've got a question, who were the fellows that sort of helped you out in Germany? Were they --

Harry Ackerman:

Helped me out what?

Mary Davidson:

You said you -- where did you crash?

Sally Casey:

He was shot down in Belgium, over Belgium, where he parachuted out.

Mary Davidson:

So the --

Sally Casey:

It was Belgium underground.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Sally Casey:

That's who hid them out for -- they actually were taken to a farmhouse and held there and hid out. The German soldiers came and they hid them in a coal shoot a couple times. They were there a while. That's the concise version.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay. MS. ACKERMAN: In fact, there was a house -- this house that we lived in there with the -- Lou -- Madam Lou, a woman, and probably 50 feet across the way, there was a huge home, and there was a bunch of German troops living in it. And so they would see us out in the garden doing something, and they would come over and want to join us. And we were in civilian clothes and they were in uniform patrol. And we told them, no, can't do that. So they went back in their own yard. We talked across the fence now and then, but we didn't -- you know, we didn't become big buddies with these Germans, you know.

Mary Davidson:

Yeah.

Harry Ackerman:

We had -- we did have one experience that I didn't put in here, which after we had moved into the house, and shortly after about, oh, a week or so later, Lou took both Dick and me down to the basement. She says, I want to show you what you do in case the Germans come to visit at any time. She said, I've got a -- two coal bins down here. One of them is full of coal, but the other bin is empty. She says that's where I want you to go. She walked across the room, opened the door. It was pretty good size coal bin. And there was an axe and a rifle in there.

Mary Davidson:

Oh.

Harry Ackerman:

She says, Here, Harry, you take the axe, and Dick, you take the gun. And when you're in that cupboard in that room in there, if anybody knocks on the door and tells you their name and you know them, okay. But anybody knocks on that door and tries to open it, you use the gun, Dick. And, Harry, if they get the door open, you hit them in the head with the axe. So that was the law in the house while we were there. And fortunately, it never happened. We did get in there one day when we thought they were going to get to that door, but they didn't. And they just -- Lou said they came downstairs, took a look around the room real quick and went back up. They didn't open any doors down there fortunately.

Mary Davidson:

All this time were you really scared?

Harry Ackerman:

Hum?

Mary Davidson:

All this time were you really, really scared? Or were you -- did you really think you were in serious trouble?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, I was -- well, I wouldn't say I wasn't scared, but I wasn't -- I mean, you know, I didn't get real totally upset because I figured that we had things pretty well under hand. And I knew the American troops were close by. And then they finally got us out of there, you know. I stayed in touch with Madam Lou for years after the war, and -- but she was quite a nice lady.

Mary Davidson:

That's what I was going to ask, did you ever visit back in Europe and visit your friends and the lady -- how did you keep in touch with her?

Harry Ackerman:

Unfortunately, I tried to get back to Belgium, but I never did make it. I don't know what happened there, why I was never able to go back.

Mary Davidson:

Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your life after the war, coming back home and readjusting to civilian culture.

Harry Ackerman:

Well, that was -- wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done. When I came home from this ordeal, and I was living in Reno, at that time. Yeah. My dad had moved back up from wherever he had been previously, he had moved back up to Reno. He had a store in the town again. But people were -- some of them were kindly. The local -- what really got me was that the local retirees that belonged to the -- what you call them? -- the --

Sally Casey:

You mean the people that stayed at home that didn't go overseas?

Harry Ackerman:

No, they were out of the Service.

Mary Davidson:

Retired --

Sally Casey:

The veterans?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, the veterans that belonged to the -- that -- I can't think. MR. CASEY: Like the local militia, you mean?

Harry Ackerman:

They still have them to this day.

Sally Casey:

The National Guard?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, National Guard.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

They belonged to that, but they never made any effort to get me down there to any meetings or come down and have a meal or come down and do anything. Never. And that kind of really bugged me because, you know, there I was, you know -- well, I won't say famous, but at least I was known pretty well around Reno by now for all the things I did, the two tours and being shot up and shot down on the first tour -- or not shot down, but shot up and into the hospital. And then on the second tour, getting shot down and being wounded on that as well. And so I had, you know, a lot of things I could tell them, but they didn't seem to want to listen.

Mary Davidson:

They weren't interested?

Sally Casey:

They didn't ask.

Mary Davidson:

That's terrible. How were you wounded the first time? How were you wounded the first time?

Harry Ackerman:

How am I doing what?

Lindsay Ruebens:

How were you wounded the first time?

Harry Ackerman:

The first time --

Gail Utley:

What injury did you have?

Harry Ackerman:

That was with the 91st Bomb group, and we were -- let's see --

Sally Casey:

She wants to know your wounds, the shrapnel wound. Your eye.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah. This -- we were --

Sally Casey:

I've got it right here. Let's see. We've got everything written down so he can remember.

Mary Davidson:

That's good.

Sally Casey:

He said, "I was wounded by a German fire plane along with other crew members. They returned to their base."

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah.

Sally Casey:

Then he took shrapnel. Where were you wounded, Dad? She wants to know where you were wounded.

Mary Davidson:

Well, I was flying as a -- actually, I was on a mission I shouldn't have been on. So I was up in the cockpit standing behind the pilot, and the bomb bay was right behind me. And we were trying to divert hopefully some of the German fighters, lead the rest of the group away. And we were flying along the border of Germany, and the German antiaircraft fire got us. They lodged a -- what really hurt was they lodged a shell in the bomb bay of our plane. What it did was they -- it got stuck up on top of all the other bombs. There were six -- what were they? About 500 pounders in there. And if those things exploded, we were in -- we were dead right away.

Mary Davidson:

Yeah.

Harry Ackerman:

Fortunately, they were sitting up there on top. So after we got out the boonies somewhere, the -- meantime, while we were flying around, the German fighters attacked us. We had shrapnel in the cockpit. I got hit in the -- one shell over in the eye and this side of my face, down my leg here, the other side. Much to say -- so there were three or four of us on the ship that were hurt to some degree or another, but we managed to make -- get the plane back to the base. They got us all to the hospital.

Mary Davidson:

I assume you got a Purple Heart.

Harry Ackerman:

I got a Purple Heart.

Mary Davidson:

What other military honors did you receive?

Harry Ackerman:

I was supposed to have a -- a --

Sally Casey:

I don't know if you can read my handwriting, but what he was he had the American Defense ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon, American Theater, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, the air medal and French Croix de Guerre.

Harry Ackerman:

Well, some of these -- the Purple Heart I was supposed to have an equivalent of a second Purple Heart. It's just a little star that you pin on your ribbon. I got that for -- the distinguished service cross, I had three of those. The French Croix de Guerre, they gave me that because something I did. I didn't know I did it. The whole crew didn't know we did it. But then --

Sally Casey:

Just kind of interesting to know, Dad's group, if you ever saw the "Memphis Bell," and it was a big -- the "Memphis Bell" came back to raise money for war bonds. Dad was in the same outfit. Their plane -- Dad still -- his group still feels their plane was the one that was supposed to come back because they had actually completed the missions, but they took the group from the "Memphis Bell." That's kind of interesting.

Mary Davidson:

Oh, wow.

Sally Casey:

The TV show "Twelve O'clock High," they talk about -- that's his about his outfit, and they even mentioned him when was shot down, and that Harry Ackerman was shot down today and stuff. It was in the TV show that was on in black and white.

Mary Davidson:

Neat. Yeah. Okay. What about life after the war? You just mentioned -- told us a little bit about the local National Guard was not too friendly.

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah.

Mary Davidson:

Tell us a little bit what you did after the war, your businesses and so forth.

Harry Ackerman:

I settled down in Reno.

Sally Casey:

I'll help, because I know you guys --

Mary Davidson:

Sure.

Sally Casey:

-- he's probably going -- he has a long life after the war.

Mary Davidson:

Of course.

Sally Casey:

He joined a construction company called Morris and Cadus, an international company, and they were based out of San Francisco and Boise, Idaho. And he spent the next 30 years pretty much overseas as everything started surveying, in Afghanistan. He met my mother in what is Sri Lanka now. She was in the State Department. And they spent well over 30 years in the far east and doing -- Dad eventually retired as vice president of international marking.

Mary Davidson:

You were there?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, I was there. So that -- I mean, they just --

Sally Casey:

Then they retired in 1985 to Boise, Idaho, and then moved here.

Harry Ackerman:

My family -- we moved down here with their grandchildren. I didn't want to retire from the job I had, but they said that at age 65, you were out of here. MR. CASEY: Which still bothers him.

Mary Davidson:

Unfair.

Sally Casey:

And then he did consulting work for a couple far east groups.

Harry Ackerman:

At 65 I left the group and that was it.

Mary Davidson:

How long have you been in Texas?

Sally Casey:

Since '89.

Harry Ackerman:

Well, first --

Sally Casey:

You moved here in 1989. You've been here ever since when you came down from Boise, you and mom. My mother passed away in 2000 from breast cancer.

Mary Davidson:

Okay. And how many brothers and sisters do you have?

Harry Ackerman:

I was adopted. I'm an only child.

Mary Davidson:

And how many kids do you have?

Harry Ackerman:

I have two. My son is in the United States Air Force, flies F-15s. And my daughter lives here with her child and husband and so Pops is a great-grandpa. And we all live real close to each other.

Mary Davidson:

Fantastic. Well, it's been an honor to meet you and to know a real hero --

Harry Ackerman:

Thank you very much.

Mary Davidson:

-- from World War II. And can you think of anything else that you would like to tell us?

Sally Casey:

We could be here all day as far as -- let me tell you. He did just come back from the Honor Flight. We went to the Honor Flight in May with all the other World War II veterans to see the World War II --

Mary Davidson:

Oh, that was wonderful.

Sally Casey:

And I tell you, when he said they weren't really welcome when they came home, because the men came back and women came back from World War II, it took months to get home. Well, when -- they were honored certainly over and over again on the Honor Flight. When we left here, they did big water cannon salute on the plane. They had admirals and generals at the airport to greet them. Everywhere we went, they were greeted and paid tribute to. He enjoyed it.

Mary Davidson:

After all these years, he finally got the hero's welcome.

Sally Casey:

We had a good trip.

Mary Davidson:

Excellent. Does anybody else have a comment?

Harry Ackerman:

I'd be glad to answer questions.

Lindsay Ruebens:

I have one question. When you were in Belgium hiding out, now the "Battle of the Bulge" started that fall, the battle. Did you know that was -- did you know that was going on? When the "Battle of the Bulge" started about the time you were --

Sally Casey:

When you were in hiding, did you get the news?

Lindsay Ruebens:

Did you know about what else was going on?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, yeah, to some degree.

Sally Casey:

But not a lot. They knew -- when the troops came, then they knew the US -- that they were --

Mary Davidson:

You knew there was a big battle starting?

Harry Ackerman:

Yes.

Mary Davidson:

Was there any radio communication at that time, any like -- could you get the BBC or any --

Harry Ackerman:

Well, not much.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Harry Ackerman:

That was part of the trouble with that teaching class that we had. Those boys came back from the far east and Southeast Asia, and they had entirely different types of radios in their planes and everything. And it was nothing like what we were doing, you know, in the United States or in war effort over in England.

Sally Casey:

What they were wondering is when you were hiding out, were you able to hear radios. Like when you were in the underground, were you guys able to hear any U.S.-speaking radio stations or no, like the british broadcasting? Do you remember?

Harry Ackerman:

Yeah, well, we always -- I mean, we could hear the Germans talking.

Mary Davidson:

I have one other question. How did your father feel about the war with Germany?

Harry Ackerman:

Well, he didn't make it that long.

Mary Davidson:

Okay.

Sally Casey:

He died after the war. He died after the war.

Harry Ackerman:

He died after the war.

Sally Casey:

Yeah. He died after the war. He died in --

Harry Ackerman:

That's right. I was at Major Field. I was still in the Service.

Sally Casey:

His dad -- his dad was quite a character.

Mary Davidson:

What caused him to leave Germany at such a young age?

Sally Casey:

He was Jewish and --

Mary Davidson:

Oh, okay.

Harry Ackerman:

He picked a bad place when he went to Russia. Bad choice there. Okay.

Sally Casey:

So, yeah, he was just -- he's buried in a Jewish cemetery in Reno, Nevada. In fact, my dad and his brother grew up a little separated from -- my dad's mother died when he was born, and the boys grew up in a home in California and their dad --

Harry Ackerman:

He had moved to Reno, and I kind of grew up basically in Reno. When I was in high school, I had to out -- I got out of high school at 3 o'clock. I had to go down to his store which was about a half a block from the gambling joint. And he would go down to the gambling hall, and I would have to clean up whatever mess, if any, in the store at 3 o'clock and get ready to shut it down. And he'd go down there and play Bingo or he would play different card games. But he never let me go. Of course I couldn't go anyway because I wasn't old enough to be in the gambling at that time. But he was. That was his --

Sally Casey:

Was a gambler.

Mary Davidson:

He mad a wise choice to leave Germany. A good choice. Okay. Well, that's -- that's it. We thank you so much. Thank you for your service.

Harry Ackerman:

It was my pleasure.

Lindsay Ruebens:

Thank you so much. [THE INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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