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Interview on experiences in World War II

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RICE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

WORLD WAR II VETERANS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

INTERVIEWEE: Harlond D. Bruce

INTERVIEWER: Marian Poe

DATE: March 2, 2007

LOCATION: Pretty Prairie, Kansas (Prairie Sunset Home)

(Mr. Bruce's son, Wesley, and Wesley's wife, Mary, came by to visit right at the start of

the interview. They stated they would wait outside of Mr. Bruce's room until the

interview was over.)


POE: I'll go ahead and turn the camera on. And this is Marian Poe, interviewer, here today with Harlond Bruce in the Prairie Sunset Home in Pretty Prairie, Kansas. And I just want to make sure I'm spelling your name right. That's H-A-R-L-O-U-N-D?


BRUCE: L-O-N-D.

POE: H-A-R-L-O...

BRUCE: O.

POE: N-D.

BRUCE: Right.

POE: And your last name is Bruce, B-R-U-C-E.

BRUCE: Right.

POE: What's your birth date?

BRUCE: The 25th, in February. I was born in ' 17.

POE: 1917. Okay.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Where were you born?

BRUCE: I was born in Rawlins County, Kansas.

POE: Rawlins County. Name me a city that's in Rawlins County.

BRUCE: That was the county seat.

POE: Okay. Did you grow up there then?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And what did your father do?

BRUCE: Was a farmer.

POE: Farmer. So you were raised on a farm?

BRUCE: Right.

POE: Okay. And you went to school there in Rawlins, in that area?

BRUCE: Yeah. In Rawlins County, yeah.

POE: Yeah. Was there an elementary school in the country that you...?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Okay. Where'd you go to high school then?

BRUCE: I didn't go to high school.

POE: You didn't go to high school. Okay.

BRUCE: No.

POE: And what did you do instead of going to high school?

BRUCE: Just worked on the farm.

POE: Worked on the farm until - what age did you join the service?

BRUCE: Well, I was about 24 years old when they drafted me then.

POE: Okay. You remember when that, the date that you went into service?

BRUCE: I was thinking about that... I could count it out, but it'd be -1 was born in ' 17 and I was about 24 years old, so however you can figure that, why...

POE: Let's see... it'd be about '41? BRUCE: Yeah, that's about when I went in.

POE: Okay. What branch of service did you go into? BRUCE: I went in the Air Force. Army Air Force. POE: Army Air Force. BRUCE: They call it the Air Force now, you know.

POE: Right. But at the time there was no separate... yeah. And did you, what - okay, tell me about... you were drafted, okay.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And so you went... ? Where did you go for your basic training?

BRUCE: Went to Columbia, South Carolina, is where I took the basic. But I was drafted in at Ft. Leavenworth.

POE: Okay. And then you took the train to...

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: ...NorthCarolina.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And then where did you go after basic? You went to more training, right? Somewhere...

BRUCE: Went to California then for - North American Air Force, is where I went. And we took 30 days, I think it was, of training there.

POE: Okay. And what part of the Air Force did you train for? BRUCE: Well, I was a Crew Chief, is what I was. POE: Okay. And so, what does a Crew Chief do?

BRUCE: Well, they just take care of the airplane and get it ready and keep it flyable all the time. Works on it that way.

POE: So after you finished all your schooling did you, where were you assigned? BRUCE: Well, we went overseas right away, after we took all our training. POE: Okay. Pacific or Europe?

BRUCE: Europe.

POE: Okay. Where were you stationed?

BRUCE: Oh, we were in the south part. We started right along the desert over there, is where we started in, and come west behind the British 8th Army, till we got up to the 5th Army then. The Americans come from the west in there and they got up there and then we was under their command there. Then headed back east through Sicily into... oh, I can't think very good... Headed back east into Italy and come up through Italy, part way anyway, cause they finally give up or we whooped 'em and they... Oh, they made one big run on us. That was the only time I was over bombed, was the last run they made over there, down in Italy. And, of course, they finished up in France, I guess it was, that they... cause there was a bunch went from, out of our outfit, and a bunch of 'em went in from the south. I forget his name, the General that went in from the south and met the others up there. They come in from the west, through... oh... [chuckling] my mind ain't very good...

POE: [Chuckling] That's okay. But anyway, but they had kinda like a pincher movement, one coming up from the west and from the south and then they beat 'em.

BRUCE: Yeah. That is where they give up.

POE: Now, you were stationed -1 mean, were you like flying with the plane or were you stationed on the ground getting the planes ready to fly out?

BRUCE: I was stationed on the ground. POE: Okay.

BRUCE: Yeah. We had B-25 Bombers, is what we had. And they were, had about a five-man flight crew, is what they had on 'em. And they bombed with it, of course, and done everything with it, in fact. I mean, it flew around here and there and a lot of places, you know. But its job was to bomb, you know. They run about 12 planes to a crew of bombers, is what they done.

[Marian's cell phone starts ringing in the background]

POE: Sorry. It's my phone. I forgot to turn it off [chuckling]. Playing you a little musical interval here. So you were on the ground, well, now did you just do - were you assigned like one plane or were you assigned a group of planes? Or all the planes or... ?

BRUCE: No. Each Crew Chief had a plane and before I got out I got to be a Flight Chief, then I had six planes.

POE: Oh, okay.

BRUCE: You kept them ready. I mean, you kept the guys working on 'em anyway. And you oversee them all the time to see that things are getting done.

POE: What was the highest - what rank did you have when you got out of service?

BRUCE: Flight Chief.

POE: Flight Chief.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Okay. Is that like a Sergeant or...?

BRUCE: Well, I started in as a Crew Chief I was second in command of that and a Flight Chief then was fixll command. I was a Tech Sergeant, is what I was all the time.

POE: Okay. Do you remember your service number? That's not a - you don't have to.

BRUCE: Well then, I did remember up until I had this stroke and there's a lot of things I don't remember. 37017950,1 believe.

POE: [Chuckling] It's amazing the things that one does remember, right? BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: When you were - what division did you say you were attached to after you...? You were with, you were following the British...

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And then whenever - what group then of Americans were you part of?

BRUCE: Oh, it was the 5th Army.

POE: The 5th Army, okay.

BRUCE: Yeah. We followed them back from there in the north part of Africa then. We was getting on some better lands, you know, getting out of the desert. We got on there and started back through Sicily and Italy and jumped around, you know, from one place to another.

POE: Uh hum. Were you injured at all? BRUCE: Injured? POE: Yeah.

BRUCE: No.

POE: Either in combat or... ?

BRUCE: Well, I got my nose broke right in through here and tore up.

POE: Oh...

BRUCE: And they took me out for about a month and thought they got it fixed up, but it's not fixed up in there. My nose is different in one side than it is in the other.

POE: Hum... When did that happen?

BRUCE: Well, it was... we was over in Italy when that happened. And that explosion over there that, out there... the things, you know, that blows up every once in a while over there. A mountain, you know...

POE: Oh! A volcano?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Oh! You got caught in that?

BRUCE: Yeah. We was stationed at the bottom of that, I mean, several miles from the bottom. But anyway, it went ahead and blowed off and, boy, that stuff come down in big cakes of stuff, red hot.

POE: Oh, wow.

BRUCE: And that's-I got hit. I was looking up, cause they said, you know, it was getting so heavy on them buildings that we -1 was in a building there - and it gets so heavy the roofs would cave in on 'em. It never happened to me then. Guess it got two or three feet deep on it. Anyway, that's what happened. Then we left from there, left out of Italy and went up to - well, the little islands up above it there... Stayed there eleven months. Catania, I guess is where we was at. One of 'em belongs to France and one belongs to, did belong to Italy, so... well, it did. Went across on it with a boat, when across from Italy, went across on a boat over to Catania and then we went on back to Italy then. Later on, after eleven months - it's slow going up through Italy there. They didn't want to tear up a lot of that stuff over there and they decided they had to or they wasn't gonna take it, you know. We was right in close to it there, on that island. I mean, it wasn't as far off- it took longer to get in the air and get formed than it did to fly over to where we was gonna bomb, you know. And that's the only time we were really bombed, was over there. They made their last fly, is what they, you know, the Germans did. They made their last fly in there. You could see - when I was landing in the sled trench there - you could see 'em just flying over us, you know. But they didn't happen to

hit me anyway, and the sled trench was all around me, you know, everywhere. And course, we had guys that got injured in it, too.

POE: Did you get any special medals or service awards?

BRUCE: Oh yeah. I got some -1 can't tell you what they are now, but I've got 'em at home.

POE: Did you get like a Purple Heart or... ? BRUCE: Yeah. I got the Purple Heart.

POE: For your - yeah, for your nose... Purple Heart and others. I assume you got the Good Conduct medal?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Okay. You were a good boy then [chuckling],

BRUCE: [Chuckling] Yeah.

POE: Okay. When you got out of the service - oh, I know what, let's... I'm going to go ahead and read you this permission slip. I mean, this Release of Information form. And so - you know what? Does your son have your Power of Attorney?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And he can sign on your behalf?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Okay. Well,then...

BRUCE: He's the boy right here.

POE: Yeah. Good. We can have him sign it for you.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Okay.

BRUCE: You can have him do it.

POE: Yeah. That way we can - it'll be legal. Okay. So we will note that his son will review this with him and sign it for him since his son and his - what's your son's name?

BRUCE: Wesley.

POE: Wesley Bruce will sign it for his father who, due to a stroke, cannot write. When you got out of service did you take advantage of the GI Bill in any way?

BRUCE: No, they didn't have anything that...

POE: Nothing that you wanted, huh?

BRUCE: Well, they didn't have much, didn't seem like. They just...

POE: What did you do when you got out of service?

BRUCE: Went back on the farm.

POE: Same farm, huh?

BRUCE: Well, no. I got one of my own.

POE: Okay. And did you get married and... ?

BRUCE: No. I was married just before I went in.

POE: Oh. You were married the whole time you were in service then. No wonder you got drafted.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Now, did you have children when you went in service?

BRUCE: Had one. Had this boy [referring to his son who is waiting outside of Mr. Bruce's room]

POE: Oh, okay. And then when you got out, how many other children did you have?

BRUCE: Two.

POE: Two. Boys or girls?

BRUCE: Boys,

POE: Oh, all boys. And you have grandchildren now?

BRUCE: What?

POE: You have grandchildren now?

BRUCE: Yeah. Yeah, I got a 5th grandchild. POE: Oh.

BRUCE: Something that you don't hear of too much, you know. That was just the last two or three months...

POE: Oh...

BRUCE: ... it was born. That was this boy's boy's daughter.

POE: Oh.

BRUCE: Was married and had it.

POE: I forgot to ask you when you got out of service. What year - do you remember the date that you got out of service?

BRUCE: Well, it was '45,1 think it was. About the middle. POE: Okay.

BRUCE: I come home and they told us that we'd get 30 days and then we'd go to Japan. When we got back to Leavenworth there, where I was inducted, why, they counted up the points, you know. You had to have so many points and it'd all depend in what you was in. Pretty soon they said, "Do you want out?" Course, I was ready to get out and a lot of the others was too, you know. They kept...

[There is a problem with the battery in the digital camcorder and the camcorder stops recording at this point. Marian puts the spare battery in the digital camcorder and they invite Mr. Bruce's son, Wesley, and Wesley's wife, Mary, to come in for the remainder of the interview]

POE: Okay. We are back on the air after a battery incident [chuckling]. My battery, that I just put in, decided to just quit. So I put the old battery in, so I still have plenty of time and we're continuing with this interview. And I'm going to turn the camera around now and then you will introduce me to these people here.

BRUCE: Well, that's Wesley Bruce.

POE: Okay.

BRUCE: And that's his wife, Mary.

POE: Okay. Back to the man of the hour here.


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BRUCE: What did you say your name was? POE: Marian Poe. BRUCE: Marian Poe.

POE: [Speaking to Wesley] This is the Release of Information form and I need his signature here or someone who has power for him. And then there's some questions here that need to be initialed. Initial in front of. So if you could read that over and maybe explain that to him. [Speaking again to Mr. Bruce] And I've got to get you back in focus. I was focusing in your closet there, that's not very... But you were telling me about your time in Europe and all the different places that you had traveled while you were in the military. Now you were - when you got out did you join the American Legion or the VFW?

BRUCE: Yeah. I joined the Legion.

POE: Did you keep up your membership over the years?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And then - did you keep in touch with any of the other people from your flight crew?

BRUCE: Well, there ain't many of 'em left, but I haven't heard -1 heard from one. Just got a birthday card from him. He's out in Burlington, Colorado. And the rest of 'em, I lost track of. They've either died or I've lost track of 'em. I never kept track of everybody that was in the course, but... The flight crew was all together different than us ground crew, you know. We were more together and...

POE: Yeah.

BRUCE: But we was pretty close. I mean, when they come out to leave on an airplane, why, we was around 'em all the time.

POE: And I think I misspoke. I think I said 'flight crew' but it's really the ground crew what you were part of.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: And I called the whole thing 'flight', not being aware of what your different nomenclatures are.

BRUCE: Yeah.


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POE: Now, even though you were in the Army Air Force, when you traveled back and forth to Europe across the Atlantic, did you go by boat or did you ferry in a plane?

BRUCE: Well, us ground crew went by boats. We went across the Pacific and clear over to the desert, come in that direction. That's when we was behind the British 8th Army, because that's where they started pushing 'em back, you know. Well, they had run 'em pert near out in the desert. I mean, the Germans had. Cause they had to cross our desert and that's a long ways across there. And I got to fly though, across the desert when we moved up to the front lines. I think it took 24 days or something like that for the ground crew to go by trucks and stuff.

POE: And that's in North Africa? BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: You know, you were telling me about your nose being injured when the volcano erupted. Was that a common occurrence? Or was that just a one time eruption or...?

BRUCE: Yeah. POE: Okay.

BRUCE: It lasted several days, but I mean, it erupted all that time. But it moved from the northwest to the southeast, the way it done. That's the way the air current was in the air.

POE: Hum...

BRUCE: The north side of Italy there, around it, didn't get bombed, didn't get hurt at all. But everything to the southeast, clear across the continent, got it.

POE: I'll be darned. It'snot something we have too much of here in Kansas.

BRUCE: [Chuckling] No.

POE: Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

BRUCE: Well, I guess not.

POE: Well...

BRUCE: It's all over with [laughing].

POE: Well, yeah... but is there any particular memories you'd like to share?


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BRUCE: Oh, not right now, that I can think of anyway. My mind ain't very good here, to think like it should be.

POE: And then, did you farm - you came back and you bought your farm. Did you farm then the rest of your life? You said you lived in South Hutch.

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Where did...?

BRUCE: The boys went down there.

POE: Okay.

BRUCE: Left up there and went down there. I decided my health wasn't good enough to stay there, so...

POE: You moved to Hutchinson, er, South Hutchinson after you retired?

BRUCE: Yeah.

POE: Oh, okay. Well, I want to thank you again for allowing me to interview you today.

BRUCE: All right.

POE: This is a project for the Kansas State Historical Society, being done by the Rice County Historical Society. My name is Marian Poe, interviewer. We're here today with Harlond Bruce and today is the 2nd of March 2007. Thank you.

[Marian turns the digital camcorder off and the interview is concluded at this point]



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