This week we have followed Jim Hardesty of Hamlet from his time at Purdue University to the invasion of Germany during World War II. It is part of a story written for “Generations the Magazine,” a publication dedicated to telling the stories of those people who shaped our nation one generation at a time.
This final episode features Hardesty’s experience with the allied army as it fought the Germans in the Hurtgen Forest along the German-Belgian border.
In this two-month battle, there were 24,000 American and German soldiers killed. Almost all the casualties were caused by artillery fire. In these battles, both sides’ artillery burst the shells in the air above tree top level, raining down lethal, hot shards of jagged metal.
“We shot our shells in the air or on delayed fuses,” Hardesty explained. “This was an artilleryman’s battle and, unlike in any other fight in World War II, this battle was decided on that one weapon alone.”
After fighting in battle after battle, the 172nd finally moved to the Rhine River where they set up near the town of Bonn.
“I could go up the bluffs and watch our shells fire across the river,” Hardesty said.
The unit finally crossed the Rhine under a smoke screen and into the Siegried Line – the German’s last line of defense.
“We were in our last firing position when President Roosevelt died,” Jim recalled. “The war was winding down, we were at the edge of the Elbe River but not allowed to cross it; that was the Russian zone.”
James Hardesty was shipped home and discharged the week before Christmas in 1945 at Camp Atterbury. He went home to his Hamlet farm, where he remains to this day.
“I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life,” Hardesty said. “There was work to do here. I just never left.”
Today, this vigorous 90-year-old veteran still runs his farm and entertains neighbors and relatives. An idyllic life for this man who, when his country called, answered.