World War II Oral History interview
Date: 31 May 2002
Veteran: Howard Hoagland, CW2 (Ret)
Master Sergeant, United States Army Quartermaster Corps, ETO
Units: 44th Infantry Division, 119th Quartermaster Regiment, 324th Infantry Regiment
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Walt Borkowski
Howard Hoagland was born in Hopewell, New Jersey in February 1911, and grew up in both Hopewell and Belmar, New Jersey. A good athlete, he was scouted by the Boston Red Sox professional baseball team prior to his graduation from Asbury Park High School, but took a job as a butcher so he could stay home to take care of his ill father. In 1938 Hoagland joined the New Jersey National Guard’s 119th Quartermaster Regiment “for the extra money.” In his interview he recalled that “we had no basic training, but we drilled once a month at Sea Girt and went to camp for two weeks every fall. It was a two week paid vacation.” He remembered that “at Sea Girt we learned how to take orders, how to march, how to salute, how to drive a six by six truck, and how to set up a field camp.”
By September 1940 Hoagland was a corporal, and in that month his unit, the 119th’s third battalion headquarters detachment, was federalized along with the rest of the New York and New Jersey National Guard’s Forty-fourth Division. After activation, Hoagland was stationed with the rest of the division at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he received quartermaster training on maintaining equipment and supplies. He later became a motor pool sergeant and taught new recruits how to drive the diverse array of military motor vehicles on the base. The New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles required that all the military drivers attend and pass a certified driver training course. Hoagland worked with the Department qualifying drivers for quarter-ton (“Jeep”), half-ton, three quarter-ton, and six by six trucks.
The Forty-fourth Division was ordered into federal service for eighteen months, but the duration of that duty changed after the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hoagland remembered that his regiment was returning to Fort Dix from maneuvers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and bivouacking on an American Legion post field in a town somewhere in Virginia, expecting to be discharged shortly after returning to New Jersey, when he and his fellow soldiers heard the news that “the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. When we got back to Fort Dix, they tore up our discharge papers in front of us, [and] we were in for the duration,” he recalled. Despite this event, three years passed before Hoagland and the Forty-fourth Division would go overseas.
In succeeding months Hoagland was assigned to organize driver training courses at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Knox, Kentucky, but returned to the Forty-fourth Division at Fort Dix in early 1942. Shortly afterward the division was transferred to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, for additional training in preparation for overseas duty. While the men of the division were awaiting the transport ship that would take them to Trinidad, the first stop on the journey, however, they were re-assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, to replace the Fortieth Division, which was transferred to the Pacific Theater of War. In January 1943, the Forty-fourth’s 174th Infantry Regiment, New York National Guard, was ordered to Alaska for the Aleutian Islands campaign. The division had already lost the New Jersey National Guard’s 113th Infantry Regiment and was now under-strength.
A new unit, the 324th Infantry Regiment, was created to replace the 174th in the division’s tactical organization, which was predicated on three infantry regiments. The 324th was composed of new draftees and more experienced soldiers transferred from the Forty-fourth’s other two infantry regiments,
The Forty-fourth Division left Fort Lewis in 1943 for Camp Phillips, Kansas and further training. In the summer of 1944 Hoagland traveled to Boston, sailing out of Boston Harbor in an eighty ship convoy carrying all the unit’s arms, equipment, vehicles and armor. On September 15 the division landed at Cherbourg, France, on the Normandy coast. Hoagland recalled that “we were the first full division to go directly from the United States to France,” adding that “we rode on cattle cars from Cherbourg to Luneville, France and went on line on October 18, 1944 when we relieved the Seventy-ninth Division.”
Hoagland recalled that on “the 23rd of December … my C.O., commanding officer, told me to take my fifteen men and hold the line near a [frozen] canal. All of the bridges were blown, and that night some of my men reported that they saw movement across the canal. I told them to hold their fire until the Germans were on the ice, then open up with their weapons and grenades. But I found out that another division had come in to fill the gap. They were our own men on the other side of the canal.”
On another occasion Hoagland remembered that he had an encounter with what he believed to be German soldiers posing as American military police at a French crossroads: “Our mission was to bring supplies to our troops on the front line. At a crossroad, an MP signaled us to go left but I told my driver to not take the left, as directed by the MPs, but to make a right, which we did.” He was later advised that some Germans had infiltrated behind American lines, captured some American MPs and dressed in the captured uniforms to give false directions at crossroads. “They were the guards at the crossing we had gone through,” he said, adding that “after that we were asked all types of questions about the United States.”
After repulsing several German attacks, the Forty-fourth division drove south, crossed the Rhine River at Worms, Germany and within a few days crossed the Neckar River. The division captured the town of Mannheim on March 28-29. In late April, the Forty-fourth pushed through the Fern Pass and into the Inn Valley, capturing Innsbruck, Austria in early May. Hoagland recalled that by the time of the German surrender, the enemy had no gas for their vehicles, and they used horses and oxen to move their trucks. The draft-animal-drawn canvas-topped German trucks reminded him of films of American pioneer covered wagons crossing the prairies.
Hoagland spoke about how the weapons and equipment he and his men carried changed during their time in the service. He was initially issued a World War I era Model 1917 Enfield rifle and noted that .38 caliber revolvers were also issued to the New Jersey Guardsmen in 1940. [ed. note. These handguns may actually have been Model 1917 Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers in .45 caliber.] Those weapons were subsequently replaced by M-1 Garand rifles and .30 caliber carbines. Hoagland was not a fan of the carbine, issued to support troops in lieu of a handgun. He recalled seeing an American officer armed with a carbine trying to bring down a German soldier charging at him. “The carbine was like a BB Gun; the German kept on coming,” said Hoagland. “From then on I got myself a Tommy gun [.45 caliber Thompson submachine gun],” he continued. “I wanted something to stop them with. My carbine may still be sitting in some woods or some barn over there.”
Hoagland recalled that in the closing days of the war he and his men learned to trust some of the older German civilians but not the younger, presumably more Nazi-indoctrinated, Germans. “Whenever any German offered us food, I would make them eat it first,” he remembered. He went on to say that “whenever we moved into a town, we would sleep in a barn or house. In the winter we would confiscate any stove for our own use. There are things I could tell you about that I don’t think should be recorded. The Germans didn’t treat the French very well, and I could understand why the French didn’t treat the Germans very well in return.”
Hoagland marveled at how the army’s technology had advanced since his day. “We didn’t have night vision glasses, he noted. “We were told [that] when the sun goes down, you go down. ‘If you see anything move at night, shoot and see what it is in the morning.’ We had no ear protection. We were lucky to have gloves. We didn’t have proper shoes or boots and many men got trench feet. We were told to take our shoes off every night and dry our socks, but how can you dry socks without a fire? My feet have bothered me since then. We didn’t get good clothing until the end of the war.”
Hoagland added that “the conditions during war are hell, especially if you lose some of your buddies. I always had at least fifteen men under me, and I wouldn’t ask them to do what I wouldn’t do. You become very close-knitted. Most of my men were eighteen years old. They called me Dad, and I took my responsibilities very seriously. I passed on what I had been taught in the National Guard. I told them to take your weapon and helmet with you at all times. Some listened and some didn’t.”
When prompted by the interviewer on the subject, Hoagland said that “…during combat you think of your wife and children back home, but unfortunately I never heard from my wife back home. She thought it best not to write, so we never did. But it was heartbreaking to see other guys get mail, and I didn’t get any. I received one package from my aunt. I never got anything from anyone else, but I enjoyed sharing that one package with my buddies because most of the time they shared their packages with me.” He did not see any USO shows, but remembered getting donuts from the Red Cross.
Following the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945, the Forty-fourth served on occupation duty until July, when it returned to the United States to prepare for the invasion of Japan, which the surrender of Japan fortunately made unnecessary. Since he had been in the service for so long, Hoagland was discharged separately. He was told that he was going to go back to the United States by plane. “I wanted to go by boat, but I had no choice,” he remembered. He was transported by truck to Luxembourg, and then by train to Southern France, where he boarded a plane to North Africa. The aircraft made additional stops in South America and Puerto Rico before landing in Miami, where Hoagland was put aboard a train for a five day trip to Fort Dix. “The guys who went by boat were home and discharged before I reached New Jersey,” he stated. He had reached the rank of master sergeant. Hoagland was awarded the American Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge.
In 2002, Howard Hoagland was the oldest survivor of the 324th Infantry Regiment. He stated at the close of his interview that he never regretted his service and added that “…if I was any good to them I would go back in. but today’s war is far advanced to [what it was] was sixty years ago.”After the war Hoagland returned to New Jersey. He remained with the New Jersey National Guard until 1969, when he retired with the rank of chief warrant officer 2. He passed away on January 18, 2006 at the age of 94, leaving behind fourteen grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. At the time of his interview, some of his grandchildren were actively serving in the National Guard, and others were enrolled in ROTC programs.