Pennsylvania native almost missed WWII
By Les Stewart | Lebanon Daily News | Published: July 20, 2014
Harry R. Yeagley's service to his country during World War II almost didn't happen.
He tried to sign up but was turned down because he is color blind.
But the military's feeling about the condition changed as the war wore on, and the it began to overlook medical conditions that kept some out of the fighting earlier in the war.
Yeagley, who grew up in Jonestown, Pa., was working as a welder when his draft notice arrived in the mail in the spring of 1944.
He was sent off to Camp Meade, Md., and Camp Blanding, Fla., for basic training before being moved on to Camp Swift in Texas.
"We were all over the place," he said of his stateside time in the service.
At the age of 21, Yeagley was shipped to Italy in January 1945 with the 10th Mountain Division, 87th Regiment, M Company and saw action as a heavy machine gunner along the northern Apennines mountains overlooking the Po Valley. He remained in Italy until the end of the war.
While at Camp Smith, Yeagley, who now lives in North Cornwall Township, remembers a train load of mules being unloaded at their camp. They were still used at the time to haul supplies.
The "city kids" who were 18- and 19-year-old soldiers didn't know how to handle the, and the mules kicked and bucked as they tried to lead the animals off the train.
"They were scared all to heck," he said.
It was up to the "farm boys" to get the mules under control, Yeagley said.
Yeagley saw them again in Italy, again as supply carriers. In Italy, Yeagley said he and his fellow soldiers were constantly on the lookout for the enemy in the Apennines.
Germans were never far away, he said.
"You didn't know if you were going to get killed or what, because you didn't know where the Germans were hiding. They could come out and tear into you," said Yeagley, who was honored for his military service at this year's Jonestown Memorial Day parade.
"You had to watch yourself," Yeagley said. "You'd hide whereever you could."
While marching along a river, he remembers seeing something unusual in the woods.
"I saw three guys up in the trees, and they looked like they had spikes in their ears. They were Germans," he said. One of Yeagley's fellow soldiers took care of them with a machine gun burst.
Another time, they were marching along a road when two German planes flew toward them, Yeagley said. The soldiers ran into an orchard to hide while several officers took cover in a building. The Germans bombed the building and killed one of the officers. The soldiers hiding in the orchard were not injured, Yeagley said.
In another incident, a German fired a cannon at an American tank and hit it straight down the middle its barrel, splitting it.
"It blew it all to pieces," Yeagley said.
The tank still had machine guns on it, and their colonel wanted them to remain in place and fire at the cannon, but their sergeant wanted them to get out of there, Yeagley said.
"Us poor guys were just standing there going, 'What are you going to do?'" he said.
The Italians were thankful to see the Americans. After a trek up a mountain, American soldiers came upon some townspeople who gave the GIs a wine bottle and told them to fill up their canteens with wine, Yeagley said.
One of the better known members of the 10th Mountain Division was former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, who was seriously wounded in April 1945 during the Allies' spring offensive.
After he returned from the war, Yeagley returned to work as a welder, taking a job at Bressler Metal Works in Lebanon. During the 1950s, he served on Jonestown council.
After his wife, Christine, died, he moved to Washington, D.C. after marrying his second wife, Daisy, and worked at Elizabeth Hospital as a welder in the facility's maintenance department until his retirement.