Daughter of WWII veteran talks about liberating Dachau
Chillicothe Middle School students got a glimpse of military service — hearing from a retired major general, one of their own teachers who serves in the National Guard, and the daughter of a soldier who helped liberate Dachau Concentration Camp during World War II. The school conducted a Veterans Day program Monday afternoon in the field house.
Larry Warren, a retired major general for the U.S. Air Force, served in Vietnam and flew 147 combat missions. He told the group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students how fortunate it is to have been born in the United States of America.
“I did not earn it, but it was given to me by those who have gone before me, starting with the founders of our nation,” he said, adding that it is important to preserve the freedoms that Americans enjoy. “It is our duty, even though we didn’t earn it, to preserve it and to hand it off to those who follow behind you.”
He told the students to delve into the U.S. Constitution.
“When you get into studying the Constitution, go further than what is in the books,” he said. “Get curious.”
Warren said that the words of the Preamble were carefully chosen and includes: “provide for the common defense...”
“I think the word ‘provide’ — provide for the common defense — is the strongest word in there,” he said. “If we don’t guard our borders and we aren’t able to defend our shores, we don’t have our own security and we don’t have a country. It is critical to our survival.”
Looking at the veterans gathered in the gymnasium, Warren said, “These folks here are the ones who have been providing for the common defense.”
Warren introduced the next speaker for the Veterans Day program, Karlene Hart, daughter of World War II veteran Carl Hart.
“Carl Hart... was there until they won it. It wasn’t a one year tour like I had, or a one-year tour like many had in Afghanistan or Iraq. He was there until it was done.”
Carl W. Hart was a member of the 42nd Rainbow Division, of the 232nd Infantry, Company E.
“My dad was just a regular farm boy born and raised about three miles north of Hale,” Karlene Hart said.
He was drafted at the age of 21 and began his military service on May 25, 1944, at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.
“On December 9, 1944, my dad stepped onto foreign soil in France to begin his duty at the front line,” she said.
He was a machine gunner.
“I grew up knowing my dad was a soldier in the war, that he was in the Battle of the Bulge, but I never heard about the terrible things he saw,” she said.
Karlene told the assembly that she knew that her father had some special pictures that had great meaning to him — pictures that would cause people to be upset when they saw them.
“All of this was connected to the word of Dachau,” she said. Reading from a passage of the “42nd RAINBOW” Infantry Division History World War II” book, Karlene said, “Men and women who entered those massive stone gates as prisoners never came out. Inside them was practiced systematic murder. Men who had seen friends die and witnessed all the horrors of war were to turn pale and sick at what they saw at Dachau.”
Dachau was established in 1933, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany and a model for the other 11 that were built.
Hart and the rest of the Rainbow Infantry Division were not prepared for what they would see at Dachau.
“We didn’t know what was going on when we walked in — so much confusion, lots of screaming, crying, prisoners grabbing us, trying to kiss us; it took awhile before we could even get control of things,” Hart would later tell his daughter.
Warning the students first at what they may see, Karlene proceeded to show on a large screen some of the pictures that her father had taken inside the concentration camp. Some photos from her father’s collection were removed because they were too horrific to view.
The first photograph was one of a severely malnutritioned man, whose skin appeared just to hang on his bones. Several more photographs followed. Among them were photographs of the “shower bath” where many of the prisoners were gassed to death — often 200 a day, and the ovens that were used to burn bodies.
“Most survivors were not Jews, but Protestant or Catholic,” Karlene said. “Almost all the Jews had been killed a few hours before the Americans got there, as told by one of my dad’s friends who was there.”
Many were political prisoners, or just people the Nazis didn’t like or considered a nuisance to society; people who were handicapped; people who didn’t have the right qualifications to live in Hitler’s world.
“Anyone who opposed Hitler was sent to this camp or one of the other 11 camps operated by the Nazis,” Karlene stated.
During the 12 years Dachau was in operation, records showed 206,206 prisoners were registered and that there were 31,951 deaths. But, they do know there were many who were never “catalogued,” as the Nazis called it.
There were 32,000 freed captives that had to be identified and relocated.
Hart said that her father and all the soldiers there had to be given shots because they had been exposed to so much death and disease. They were given “halazone” tablets to purify any water they drank and had candy bars to eat that had enough protein in one for a man to survive on for three days. Before leaving Dachau, they were ordered to go in an open field, remove all their clothes to be disinfected. They were sprayed with DDT, a chemical so dangerous it is no longer used in the United States.
After the liberation of Dachau, Hart was assigned as a prison guard in Austria, guarding Hitler’s high-ranking Nazi officers for the Nuremberg trial.
The horrors of his time at Dachau lingered a lifetime for Hart.
“Being concerned about drinking water was still on my dad’s mind many years later,” Karlene recalled. “The first time we went on a vacation trip to the Rocky Mountains, my dad didn’t want my mom and me drinking water from a stream coming down the mountain.” Although it was safe for the public and others were drinking it, he kept telling us something could be in it to make us sick and they were not allowed to drink from streams like that overseas.
“My mom later told me why he was so adamant about not drinking purified water — too many war memories.”
Hart was discharged on June 17, 1946. Only about 60 (one-third) of the original company made it back home. He received the Combat Infantryman Badge, Good Conduct Medal and three battle stars for three major battles he was in before he was discharged. In 2008, at the age of 85, Hart was presented the Bronze Star Medal.
Karlene said that her dad was concerned that future generations would forget the horrors that took place under Hitler’s reign.
“Nothing would upset him more than hearing someone say it didn’t really happen or it wasn’t that bad, when, in fact, it was worse,” she said.
“For years he loaned his pictures to area schools to show students just a glimpse of what he saw and to warn all of you that something like this could happen, again, if we don’t stand up, fight for our freedoms, and protect all people from such atrocities. You could be like the ones you just saw in these pictures.”
Hart died in March 2012. He was 89.
Mike Jones, a CMS eighth grade social studies teacher who has two daughters currently attending CMS, also addressed the crowd during the assembly.
He has been in the National Guard for 22 years, joining in 1991 to go to Desert Storm. He went to Iraq in 2005 and 2006 as a postal sergeant, and has also served in Kosovo and Bosnia. He presented a slide show and talked about his experiences.
CMS Principal Steve Haley closed the assembly by talking about the Washington, D.C., trip which is available to CMS 8th graders, and recapping the horrors of WWII, noting that the eighth-grade trip includes a visit to the Holocaust Museum.
“Hitler had a plan to develop a national race,” Haley told the group. “He didn’t want to stop in Germany. He didn’t want to stop in Europe. He had a vision for the world.
“Your world would be a whole lot different now if it hadn’t been for the men and women that fought for us to keep that from happening,” Haley said.
The Veterans Day program was coordinated by CMS 6th grade reading Kristy Clampitt. Gavin Seeley led the assembly with the Pledge of Allegiance, Faith Robinson sang the national anthem, and twirlers Ruthie Vinson, Gracie Ellis and Harlie Jones performed a routine to a patriotic song. Skylar Chapman read a patriotic poem..