JUNE 26, 2013 • DELHI-PRICE HILL PRESS • A7
Area World War II veteran shares his story By Kurt Backscheider
Delhi Twp. — Sixty-sev-
en years after leaving Europe, Harry Lee recently returned to one of the countries he helped liberate during World War II. The 87-year-old Delhi Township resident, who served in the U.S. Army during the war, traveled to the Czech Republic in May with fellow members of the Yankee Division Veterans Association. The soldiers toured several villages they help liberate at the end of the war, and were presented the Commemorative Medal of the Regional Military Command by the Czech military for their active participation in the liberation of what was then Czechoslovakia. “It was out of this world,” Lee said. “The Czech people treated us like a million bucks. I never expected to be treated that way.” The trip included ceremonies in four towns, each of which has a memorial dedicated to the Yankee Division, he said. The veterans were presented their medals in a town called Pilsen, in front of a crowd of 10,000 people gathered in the town square, he said. George Patton Waters, the grandson of Army Gen. George S. Patton, also attended the ceremony in Pilsen and presented the Yankee Division members a medallion. After the ceremony, Lee and the veterans were the fo-
cal point of a parade through the town. “It was a really amazing thing,” Lee said. “I’m really glad we went. It was a wonderful trip.” His daughter, Joy Gilbert, accompanied him on the trip and said she is blessed she was able to share the experience with her father. “My dad and the other World War II veterans who traveled with us were treated like rock stars,” she said. “The Czech people really appreciated the U.S. efforts in liberating them and showed their appreciation. “Women blew kisses at my dad and some even threw flowers at him,” Gilbert said.
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Lee grew up in Price Hill and graduated from Elder High School in 1943. Like many young men his age, he said he wanted to join the military and serve his country during the war. “I went down to join the Navy, but I didn’t weigh enough,” he said. “So I had to wait until I was drafted.” The Army came calling in 1944, and soon Lee found himself in basic training at Camp Hood in Texas, he said. He became a rifleman in the Army’s 26th Infantry Division, and was shipped to Europe in 1945. “They called us the Yankee Division,” he said. “I was a rifleman. We had to fire all the weapons –
World War II veteran Harry Lee displays the medals he earned while serving in the U.S. Army during the war. Among the medals are the Bronze Star Medal and the Soldier’s Medal. KURT BACKSCHEIDER/THE COMMUNITY PRESS
pistols, mortars, machine guns.” Lee said his unit landed in France and then took a train to Luxembourg. “From then on we walked,” he said. “That’s when I started into combat.”
Lee and his unit fought their way through Belgium, Austria and Germany, and eventually met up with Russian troops in Czechoslovakia near the end of the war, he said. One of the battles he participated in was the famous Battle of the Bulge, he said. Most of what he recalls from the battle was the fact it was bitter cold. “It was usually no more than 5 (degrees) above zero,” Lee said. “The Germans wore their top coats, so they gave us orders to shoot anyone with a long coat on. Because of that, Patton wouldn’t let us wear our top coats. We had to make do with our field jackets.” After making it
through the Battle of the Bulge, Lee was awarded the Bronze Star for the bravery he displayed during combat in a small German town. He doesn’t remember the name of the town, but he can still picture the bridge he and two other soldiers were ordered to watch. The bridge served as the only means of crossing a river, and he said the Germans were trying to blow it up. Hunkered down in the basement of a nearby building, Lee and the other riflemen had to thwart a German attack until more U.S. troops arrived. As the Germans bombarded the upper floors of
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Before Lee returned stateside after the war, he said he was assigned to serve as a guard at a prisoner of war camp in Austria where German troops were being held. He fulfilled his duties and came back home to Price Hill in 1946. “Once you’re on the West Side you stay on the
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the building with mortars, Lee and the two other soldiers had to shoot the German infantrymen who charged on foot. “The three of us held off the Germans for about two hours,” he said. “When our guys finally got there, someone yelled in to see if anyone was alive. We said, ‘We’re all here,’ and we stepped out covered head to toe in dust. The Germans weren’t successful in destroying the bridge, he said.
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Hear Harry Lee describe his service. Go to Cincinnati.Com/delhitown ship
West Side,” he joked. Lee went to work for the postal service and then went to college for two years, he said. “I dropped out of college and my dad and I bought a bar,” he said. “We bought Gus Wagner’s old place at the corner of Hawthorne and Price avenues, and we called it Lee’s Cafe.” He met his late wife, Betty, on a blind date and the two were married in 1954. She died seven years ago. They have five children, 12 grandchildren and five greatgrandchildren. He ran Lee’s Cafe for nearly 30 years before selling the bar and taking a clerk job in the traffic department at the Hamilton County courthouse. He worked at the courthouse for 15 years before retiring. Lee said he’s proud of his service in the Army and he’s happy he helped liberate countries like the Czech Republic, but he wouldn’t wish war on anyone. “I would never want to go through it again,” he said. “It wasn’t easy.”
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