Granbury resident and World War II veteran Harry Whisler recently celebrated his 99th birthday with 63 family members – some from eight different states – on the momentous occasion.
Whisler grew up in Midland, Michigan, and enlisted in the military at age 20 on November 23, 1942. It was just five months after he married his beloved, Dorothy Grice.
His time during WWII included incredible events, including meeting General George Patton – and rescuing another soldier who caught fire.
After intensive training, he landed at Cherbourg, Normandy, France, on September 23, 1944, with General George Patton’s 10th Armored Division “Tiger”. He served as a medic and was given a jeep with the order to “follow the lead tank”.
“I heard the captain wanted to see me,” Whisler said. “He wanted to know if I wanted his jeep. I said, ‘Well yeah, I’ll take it.’ I started to walk away and he said, ‘I have to tell you what I want you to do. You are starting something new. I don’t know of anyone else doing it in the Armored Division. He said, “I want you to follow and be the third vehicle in the line when you go from village to village. And it was quite dangerous behind the tank. I did this for 17 months abroad.
The 10th Armored Division rushed towards Metz then liberated Lorraine. They were the first at the scene of the Battle of the Bulge – half of the division surrendered to Bastogne while Whisler’s unit defended Luxembourg. After the Ardennes, they cleared the Sarre-Moselle triangle, seized Trier, then rushed towards the Rhine where they joined the 7th Army and headed for Bavaria.
While Whisler was in Trier, he had a “brawl” with General Patton in 1945.
“I lost my jeep for some reason, but I was able to get back. A tank came up, and I said, “How about we take a ride?” and he said, ‘Yeah, jump in, I don’t have an assistant driver, just put yourself in his shoes.’ Don’t think about my helmet with the red cross on it. It was a no-no, ”Whisler said with a laugh. “We walked through the villages and came to about a block from the Roman Bridge. Eisenhower and all of his group was standing there and Patton got off the sidewalk and put out his hands and stopped our tank.
The gruff general chewed on Whisler and asked him where he was from.
“Finally he turned to go, turned around and said, ‘What would you have done with the machine gun if you had to use it? I said, ‘I would use it.’ (Patton said) ‘Good job, soldier.’ Everyone says Patton is so bad, yeah I hear you, but he always told me I was doing a good job, ”Whisler said.
While away at the war, Whisler wrote 700 letters to his wife, Dorothy, but always made sure to downplay events as he wanted to keep the war as far away from his wife as possible.
“He kept his stories to himself most of the time for the next 65 years until the death of his first wife, when he then started speaking,” said Whisler’s son-in-law Jim Jones.
Jones transcribed all of Whisler’s letters to Dorothy and put them in a book, so Whisler’s family could relive Whisler’s experiences during the war.
“Apparently she (Dorothy) made a comment once – it’s the closest he’s ever been able to give her an idea of what was going on,” Jones said. “She must have said she was sick of sitting on the weekends doing nothing. He says, ‘You know, I understand that you are fed up with sitting around on weekends, but I’m sick of dodging those goddamn German shells.’ “
Whisler served in the Army for three years, then joined the Ready Reserves where he served for six years.
He was wounded in battle three times, so he was awarded the Purple Heart along with two additional Oak Leaf clusters and three Campaign Stars. He was decorated by the Friends of the Veterans of the United States, Luxembourg with their Medal of Honor and received the Medal of the French Knights of the Legion of Honor. He received the Bronze Star in Trier and received a commendation in the United States for saving a comrade from a burning tank.
One Sunday, Whisler went to get his mail and encountered an Army technician who was on fire and was fleeing from a burning tank.
“We were cleaning our vehicles, waiting to move to Fort Gordon,” Whisler recalls of his encounter with the T-4 Raymond A. Craig. “It was Sunday. I got my mail and got halfway there and there was a guy named Craig. He was cleaning his tank, but he was cleaning it with gasoline which was a no-no and it caught fire just as I got there. I ran over there, tripped him, so he fell and took off my jacket in a hurry and put out the flame, but he was pretty well burnt.
He asked the other soldiers at the scene to rush to the mess to get some butter, which he then administered to the injured soldier.
“People started to train, so I asked a couple to bring me some butter. I didn’t know what else to put on a burn that would help him, which he did, ”Whisler said.
He took his comrade to the first aid station, but unfortunately it was closed and no one was on staff at the station.
Whisler’s captain was later reprimanded and demoted for this incident, which put Whisler out of favor for the remainder of his time with the 420th.
“Over time Craig recovered and they put on a big parade, he got a silver medal and I got a commendation which is wrong because my captain was not there to say that I saved his life instead of saving him a tank, which he shouldn’t have had. I should have had the silver medal, but I didn’t. I got the commendation, but I’m glad he got it… get the silver medal, but everything went well, ”he said.
Whisler said the “worst thing he ever saw” during the war were the concentration camps.
He was one of the first three soldiers to enter a concentration / satellite camp in the town of Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria.
“First, I headed for the ovens. One of them was in use, the other two were cold, ”he said. “I probably walked down the street and took a look at a few barracks and it was just awful. We went down to the end and there were two boxcars. I stepped forward and opened a door. You have never seen such a mess, the dead, the living, the same with the second. That’s when I left. I couldn’t take it anymore. I put my handkerchief on my nose, I got out of the tent. I later found out that there were four other concentration camps in this area.
“You hear people say today that there is no such thing. You know, it’s amazing that they could even say such a thing when others have experienced it, ”Pat added.
Whisler was almost shot at Oberammergau while standing in front of a half-track (military vehicle) with two GI’s (US Army soldiers) beside him.
A German sniper shot the two guys on either side of Whisler before ducking down and avoiding injury.
The German sniper was captured and brought to Whisler. The German soldier had a 28 caliber pistol, which was then handed over to Whisler, where he was told to ‘do whatever you want’. Whisler simply put the gun in his pocket and walked away.
“It wouldn’t have been very nice of me to have shot him in front of all these guys,” said Whisler.
“I’ve known him (Whisler) for 58 years, and during that time I’ve never heard him say a mean word about anyone,” Jones added.
After leaving the military, Whisler worked for The Dow Chemical Company for 44 years and now resides in Granbury with his 11 year old wife, Patricia (Pat). His two daughters, Margaret (Peg) Jones and Patricia Steinke also live in Granbury. He has nine grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren and four great great grandchildren.
At 99, Whisler is still active. Before COVID-19, Whisler and Pat went to WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma once a month. Now Whisler enjoys working on his puzzles. Together, Pat and Whisler go out to dinner and play games with other couples.