WWII experiences, memories woven into couple’s history

Pat Eaken

For Elmore residents Calvin John Haar and his wife of 73 years, Betty, World War II is not just a memory – it’s a part of their life; part of their history.
Calvin, who turned 95 on Oct. 31, was a paratrooper who signed up after growing up in Lindsey and graduating from Fremont Ross High School.
“They were talking about the troopers like it might be a lot of fun, so I signed up, went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and I did my paratrooper training,” Calvin said. “And then there was a small outfit for me, the Fighting 17th, and I joined it.
“We went to Camp Mackall in North Carolina, and that’s where we shipped out overseas,” he said. “So, we went overseas as the Fighting 17th, fought through the war and joined the 82nd Airborne overseas, and I did my time and came home.”
Calvin was with the 517th Parachute Combat Team, which called themselves the “Battling Buzzards.”
It was not at all as matter-of-fact as he makes it sound, though. Like many paratrooper regiments that dropped into southern France, they had trouble hitting their target.
“We missed our target,” Calvin said. “The glider people had it bad — hit steel posts in the vineyards. We jumped past them. We were lucky.
“The guys running the planes did everything they could to make it easier for us, but we jumped at 700 feet at that time, maybe a little higher or lower. One time it was 300. You know, you open up and pow, you hit the ground. That’s the way a combat has to be trained. You get down quick. I don’t recall anybody getting hurt on any jump as long as they did what they were told.
“We went toward Italy and that’s where the Nazis were, in northern Italy, so we settled there for a while,” he said, adding that he developed jaundice and was hospitalized.
Meanwhile, his outfit moved up to northern France to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. “I sat in the hospital; I was fortunate,” he said. “The outfit took a beating. I eventually joined them then and I saw a little in the Battle.”
Calvin said the Europeans appreciated the Americans so much, it was overwhelming.
“All of those people welcomed us. I went into Italy, and those people were so darn glad that the Germans were out of there. France was the same way,” Calvin said.
Getting around Europe was not easy.
“We traveled around Europe by truck and foot; short distances we went through the mud and snow,” Calvin said. “One time, I can’t recall the place, we were in northern Germany, we dug our fox holes. It was cold; we covered up with brush to keep warm, woke up in the morning and couldn’t find our way out. We had snow that deep during the night and we got covered up, but it kept us warm.
“We were in France getting all set up, working down so anybody with 71 points could make the decision to go back home, go to Japan, or stay for occupation. I had 73 points,” he recalled. “I made one mistake — I stayed and went to Berlin for occupation.
“In the meantime, all our boys got discharged, the war in Japan ended, and here I am sitting in Berlin and all the other guys were discharged,” he said. “But I had a beautiful time in Berlin. The people there treated us wonderful. We got up there in August and we could go all over Berlin, but pretty soon it got clamped right off because of the Russian zone, but they could come in our zone.
“The word came down to keep your mouth shut. Here, next to the side of you was a Russian, and pretty soon here’s another one. All of them spoke English. They listened to every darn word you said,” he said.

A celebration
Calvin remembers to this day the day his unit found out the war was over.
“Oh gosh, it was a celebration,” he said. “I happened to be on the switchboard at the time. Our outfit was going to make a jump to a big concentration camp in Yugoslavia or somewhere when word came over that the war is over. I dropped the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I got back on and broadcast it for the troops. We were lucky we didn’t have to go down there.”
Calvin said even the German prisoners seemed relieved.
“I never captured any Germans but the people I talked to said those guys were so thankful they were out of the war,” he said. “They didn’t want to be in there. They were glad people were treating them decent.”
“I was lucky — I got to see Rome, Italy, Paris and got to Berlin. Rome was the worst one — the downtown areas were beat up awful bad. The Pope didn’t come out, but we could see where he would stand and greet the crowd. The Coliseum was great to see.”
Betty, who grew up in Elmore and will soon be 93 years old, and Calvin got married after the war, although they knew each other beforehand.
She, too, remembers hearing about the war ending and the celebration that followed.
“I was in beauty school in downtown Toledo, and the streets were packed solid with people. We couldn’t get home that night because we couldn’t get out of town, it was so packed,” Betty said.
Betty remembers the German prisoners, too, because many were brought to the United States and held at the Depot Ordinance in Rossford.
“They worked at the basket factory in Elmore where I worked,” she said. “They looked just like us — young kids — that was all they were. They lived on the ordinance and they brought them by bus to the basket factory. We weren’t allowed to talk to them, and we didn’t, but some of us kids, we’d sneak around and say stuff, you know.”

A good life
“After I got home, I started with farming a little bit, but that didn’t pan out with me, so I went to work with Martin-Marietta in Woodville in maintenance most of the time, and then I got into a special unit that built parts for steel mills. So, I got on the road a lot delivering, and I retired from Martin-Marietta. I can’t believe that plant, the way it went, got so big,” Calvin said.
Calvin also got involved in the American Legion, eventually becoming a post commander.
“He’s a good man; even after he got out, he’s always wanted to help people,” Betty said.
“We’ve had a wonderful life. I don’t know how many times we were in Europe, and we’ve been to Hawaii four times, Alaska and every state in the country except two — Rhode Island and Connecticut,” she said.
A highlight of their travels is a trip to see the World War II monument in Washington, D.C.
Calvin and Betty call their grandson Cody, a 2017 Woodmore High School graduate, their “guardian angel.” They had three sons, two of whom are now deceased, and have seven grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.
“We’ve had a good life,” Betty said.


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