World War II Veteran: Harold Lamont Schoolen

Time Frame: ca. 1940's

Harold Lamont Schoolen from Ottumwa describes his time in the 2nd Cavalry Division during World War II in Europe and the struggles he encountered as a black soldier serving under white officers.

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I started out taking basic training at Camp Walters, Texas in the infantry.

And then they organized the 2nd cavalry division and I went to Fort Clark Texas in the field artillery. And that was the 2nd cavalry division, I have the one. (Shows insignia) First cavalry division just has the one; we have this. They broke us up and shipped us over seas. I went into Quartermaster Trucking. 3568 Quartermaster Trucking Company. I stayed in that until we came back home.

One funny thing that happened to us going over, wasn’t funny at the time. We were in a convoy. And the ship outside ours got hit and rammed our ship which was the next line. We were supposed to be landing in Oran in North Africa and they took us into Casablanca. The destroyer escort took us in. But that night, it was at night when it hit. One of the guys that was sergeant under me, he was in a top bunk and he jumped down. And ran up the ladder and hollered “mamma mamma maama” (laughs). I had to make him go back down to help his people back up the ladder to get out of there. He didn’t want to go, he was out of Louisville Kentucky, and he’s probably still alive today because he was going to take care of himself.

Anyway, we went into Casablanca. Then we had to ride in the old French train, through the mountains. We stayed there for about a year.

And then we went to Italy and I stayed in Italy until they shipped me home.

And we had all kinds of adventures of hauling troops and hauling ammunition.

They still didn't trust us. A lot of times we'd have 5 or 6 trucks and one machine gun to protect that. And that's all. Some of the guys had their rifles and didn't even have ammunition for them. We had that happen all through the war. If any of our guys were on guard duty or anything, they carried rifles - maybe one bullet or none.

But that's the way it was during those days … for the black troops.

And, I think some of the guys that were in our outfit, one time -- all the non-commissioned officers put in to be transferred out of the whole battalion. They came down and straightened things out then. We had white officers and black troops. Very few black officers in those days. That's just the way it was.

When we were overseas, we didn't get into too much stuff -- combat -- firing on top. I can remember one time they sent a bunch of us up into Northern Italy to bring back a bunch of troops that had been on the line a long time. When you come back through the mountains you had a lot of tunnels and we would get into those tunnels and turn the switch back on and off, and the trucks would back-fire. It would scare those guys and they would jump off the trucks. But we used to do that for fun, (laughs). I spent two and a half years overseas. I stayed in Italy so long I might as well have taken on citizenship papers.

Did you like Italy?

Oh it’s all right. Just another town. I always said, I would like to go back and see what it’s like now. Naples, after you got away from the airport, “Cappa-de-Chino”, and away from the sea port it was a beautiful town. But a lot of it was larger towns like Rome and Naples and places, they didn’t clear it up that much. I can remember they called it the city of four story basements, because everything had been leveled and everyone lived down on the bottom. I saw them, not to far from Naples.

But we didn’t get into combat so much. We used to haul tanks. Just a truck driver, had to haul trucks in the mountains in Italy. I guess I did my part of it. The rest of them couldn’t have done it without us I guess. That’s about it for me.

Tell me about the first time you saw a full tank and new you had to haul it, what was that like?

Oh we wondered if we would ever get it on. Because we had big flat bed trucks and we had some enormous sized, like you see, they use them for semis now. But that’s what we used. We would load tanks up on the thing and then drive them. And make sure you had them chained down because we had one fellow that came down on a mountain in Italy and he was trying to get his cab away from the track because that cab was rolling off from the trailer. But he got it stopped in time.

We had to pry his hands off of the steering wheel because he was scared to death. Outside of that, it’s about it for me. I can remember walking with a … guard duty, with an empty rifle. That's scary. But we had that way. They didn't believe in letting us have….

Talk about that a little bit more, because that’s hard for me to understand.

You have to get yourself back to what the United States was like in those days. The guys came back from - even if they were heroes over there, when they get back to the United States you were just another second class citizen - back where you're supposed to be … according to what a lot of people think. It's a lot different now. Things have changed enough. I can remember coming back home and walking down the street with my uniform on. It didn't mean a thing when I got back here. The first thing I did, I owed a guy some money at one of the clothing stores. And I walked in there and he didn't say … he just said "when are you going to pay your bill?"

After you got back…

Ya, he didn’t say hello or anything, just when I walked in the door he said when are you going to pay your bill? We had to go through a lot of that.

You said most of your officers were white?

All officers were white except for chaplains and doctors, at that time. There was one black guy, Mobley was his name. He was a veterinarian but he was an officer in the cavalry division. We were the last horse-drawn fuel battalion before they sent us overseas. When they sent us overseas we had to join the trucking outfit. Had to learn how to drive truck all over again. But you did it … did your duty. That was it!


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