Hurl re­calls WWII mil­i­tary ser­vice

The Weekly Vista - - Front Page - LYNN ATKINS latkins@nwadg.com

When Charles Hurl started col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia, he signed up for the Air Force ROTC pro­gram, but it didn’t work out. He was home for Christ­mas in Sharpsville, Penn., dur­ing his fresh­man year when he ran into the mayor. The mayor of Sharpsville also ran the lo­cal draft board and he told young Hurl not to bother re­turn­ing to school.

Even to­day Hurl isn’t sure why he was drafted into the Army in­stead of be­ing al­lowed to en­list as an of­fi­cer af­ter col­lege, but he took the mayor’s ad­vice and didn’t go back to school. Within a few weeks, he was in 14th Ar­mored Di­vi­sion learn­ing about tanks.

He re­mem­bers an in­ci­dent dur­ing train­ing. He and a friend were al­lowed to travel to Kansas City on a Satur­day night. They were on their way to the movies. Leav­ing the ho­tel, they were pass­ing un­der an awning when they saw a Ma­jor Gen­eral on his way in. Hurl re­mem­bers that his friend was ner­vous about en­coun­ter­ing an of­fi­cer, but he wasn’t.

“We don’t have to salute him,” he told his friend. The awning meant that they were un­der­cover and no salute was nec­es­sary. As the ma­jor gen­eral passed, he asked the two young pri­vates why they didn’t salute. Hurl re­sponded that they didn’t have to. The ma­jor gen­eral went back to the side­walk, out from un­der the awning and saluted them, em­bar­rass­ing Hurl and his friend. They re­turned the salute.

“I started at the bot­tom,” he said. He was a ball gun­ner when he was wounded the first time in 1944. He was pro­moted while he was in the hos­pi­tal and re­turned to his unit as a gun­ner, but then he was wounded a sec­ond time.

When Gen­eral AP Smith, his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, came to visit Hurl in the hos­pi­tal, he told him about his per­sonal rule. Smith said if any of his sol­diers were wounded twice they had a choice of go­ing home and teach­ing re­cruits or be­ing trans­ferred to the unit’s head­quar­ters for a desk job.

Hurl thought about it and asked to re­turn to his unit.

“I had no friends left at home or in head­quar­ters,” he ex­plained. “All my friends were fight­ing in the front lines. I just didn’t know any­one else and I didn’t want to leave the guys I had been fight­ing with.”

He re­turned to his unit as a tank com­man­der.

The 14th Ar­mored Di­vi­sion earned the nick­name “Lib­er­a­tors” by free­ing 250,000 pris­on­ers of war, Hurl said. Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, the Di­vi­sion forced open the gates of Oflag XIII-B where they found a large con­tin­gent of Ser­bian and Amer­i­can of­fi­cer pris­on­ers. Next came Sta­lag XII-C where they found a large con­tin­gent of Al­lied en­listed men.

Af­ter more fight­ing, mem­bers of the Di­vi­sion ap­proached Sta­lag VII-A where 130,000 Al­lied pris­on­ers were freed. The Di­vi­sion is also cred­ited with find­ing and lib­er­at­ing sub-camps of the Dachau con­cen­tra­tion camp filled with Pol­ish and Soviet civil­ians as well as two ad­di­tional camps filled with Jewish pris­on­ers.

Between the time the war ended and the Di­vi­sion re­turned home, Hurl was hos­pi­tal­ized again, this time for ap­pen­dici­tis. He missed the chance to go home with his di­vi­sion and when he was re­leased af­ter weeks in the hos­pi­tal, no one could find his records.

He spent six weeks go­ing back and forth between Paris and Mu­nich, search­ing for his records. He was so well known along the route that the en­gi­neer on the train he rode in­vited him to ride up front and a soldier in Mu­nich

let him share his quar­ters. He never did find his records, but he was al­lowed to travel home with a reg­i­ment of Ja­panese-Amer­i­can sol­diers, many of whom had par­ents held in Amer­i­can camps.

Hurl came home and went back to col­lege. He grad­u­ated as a civil en­gi­neer and went to work Chicago Bridge and Iron. The firm didn’t build bridges or use iron, but Hurl had a long ca­reer that in­cluded ev­ery­thing from re­search to con­struc­tion man­age­ment. He and his wife had five chil­dren and the fam­ily lived in Brazil and later Ger­many as the kids were grow­ing up.

They re­tired in Bella Vista af­ter look­ing at re­tire­ment com­mu­ni­ties in Mex­ico. Hurl joined the Fly­ty­ers in 1991 and is still an ac­tive mem­ber. Sev­eral of his chil­dren have moved to the area too.

Like other World War II vet­er­ans, Hurl didn’t talk about the war very much. He didn’t want to talk about the friends who were killed nearby both times he was wounded.

“I didn’t think any­one should know about that,” he said. For his 85th birth­day, his

chil­dren ar­ranged a fam­ily re­u­nion and all of his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren at­tended, along with his sis­ter and her hus­band. One of his daugh­ters ar­ranged for his 10 grand­chil­dren to in­ter­view him and, one by one, each of his grand­chil­dren asked him ques­tions. To Hurl’s sur­prise, they all wanted to know about his mil­i­tary ser­vice. He didn’t tell them ev­ery­thing, but he did start talk­ing and he’s not sure why. In the years since, he’s opened up about the war.

Hurl is one of sev­eral World War II vet­er­ans liv­ing at Con­cor­dia.

Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista

Charles Hurl stands in front of the Wall of Honor in Con­cor­dia. His pic­ture from World War II is above his right shoul­der.

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