Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

World War II soldier relates story so private odyssey not forgotten


All Harry J. Wade wanted was to imprint his memories of World War II on the pages of a book. That it will never be a best seller is of little importance to the 75-year-old Sykesville resident.

The images of the war have never faded for Wade, but he feared the story would die with him.

"My Private Military Odyssey" gives his children and grandson a written record of the experiences of an 18-year-old draftee who became a military police officer guarding German prisoners of war.

His account is of a soldier, who participated in D-Day, marched through Europe and helped liberate a concentration camp. He paid $6,000 to publish the 50-page book and dedicated it to his son, daughters and grandson.

"It is for my children, so they'd know what happened to me," he said.

Doris Wade said her husband of 51 years had wanted to write the book since she has known him.

"It lets people know what people went through during the war," said Wade, who met her husband a few years after the war, when both were clerks at Social Security. "Without books like this, a lot would never know."

The book opens in 1943, the year an orphaned boy graduated from high school in Reading, Pa., and almost immediately was sent to war.

He writes of the fear and loneliness. The first time he shaved was at the insistence of his drill sergeant. "It seemed like I stepped away from the senior prom and into the Army," he said. "You become a man quickly."

An injury during basic training almost kept him from combat, but he insisted on rejoining his unit - the 552nd Military Police Guard Company, even before he had fully healed. He met his first POW's while stationed in Brady, Texas.

"They didn't look any different than the American soldiers, except they were deeply tanned from the African campaign," he wrote.

For the next two years, he would encounter thousands of German soldiers, whom he was charged with protecting.

The military police kept logs with the name, outfit and ages of all captives. They set up camps throughout France until the prisoners could be moved to permanent locations, in England or in the United States.

"Some weeks, we were 135 men guarding 20,000 prisoners and we had no transport to move them," he said. "The biggest problems were food and water. They ate the same K-rations that we had and lived in the same unhappy conditions. Our medics cared for them. Most were happy to be out of the war."

The military police had to remove from the prisoners any personal item that could be a potential weapon. Piles of those items were buried throughout France.

"I often wonder what farmers think today when they dig up that stuff," said Wade.

He had two photos to include in the book: one from the Army camp in Texas and the other a picture of Wade with several smiling German children, all posing on a "Big Bertha" tank.

At his last station, Wade guarded Nazi SS Troops at Dachau Concentration Camp. The Germans had planted bombs in most of the camp buildings.

"We had to make sure nothing was destroyed so we could see what happened there," he said. "There was a strange order to the place and it was quite depressing."

He heard stories of "unspeakable horrors" from former internees who had stolen photographs to attest to their accounts.

"The minds of rational people would have difficulty comprehending the horrors of this extermination camp," he said.

After nearly 2 1/2 of war and a brief leave in Nice, Wade finally boarded a ship for home. But five days of a fierce North Atlantic storm made that another perilous journey. The waves hitting "a very small, unseaworthy and rusting" ship sounded like boulders. "The ship vibrated so wildly, I was sure it would fall apart," he wrote.

The homebound soldiers survived the storm, but missed the Christmas at home they had been promised. Wade was discharged in January 1946. "I would not want to do it again, but I would not trade the experience for anything else," he wrote at the close of his story.

The book, published by Vantage Press, costs $7.95 and is available at county libraries and on the Internet.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad