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Friday, November 13, 2015

Ross Haddix - Liberator

My grandfather, Arthur Haddix (center), with his sons, ca. 1945: 
Joe, Ross, Vergil and Bert

Veterans Day, 2015. Saw a post on Facebook from my cousin Mindy's daughter Holly Merz Argast, mentioning that her grandfather, Ross Haddix (my mother's brother, my uncle), was interviewed about his experiences in WWII, and the interview is available on YouTube. Wow - I didn't know! So of course I stayed up late, watching and listening to a precious voice from the past. Many thanks to the Mary L. Cook Public Library in Waynesville, Ohio, for the interview! (The video is slow-paced and lasts about an hour... the later parts are more interesting, after about the 49 mark.)

Ross was born in 1921 in Breathitt County - deep in the hills of eastern Kentucky. He rarely spoke to anyone about his time in the service; I had heard that he "went through the worst of it" - but didn't know any details. I was only familiar with the gentle, soft-spoken Uncle Ross who loved to play the guitar and sing, who loved to indulge his precious little girl, my cousin Mindy.

Ross volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1940 - it was the summer he turned 19, right after high school graduation. The U.S. wasn't actively "in" the war yet, but Breathitt County had a proud tradition of volunteers (in World War I, it was the only county in the nation to fill its quota with volunteers and no draftees), and "all the boys were gung-ho to fight Hitler." He had never spent a single night away from home without family, but soon found himself in a barrack at Fort Knox. He signed up for a three-year stint that lasted for five and half years.

He was part of the original formation of 1st Armored Division at Fort Knox, training on heavy ordnance. He describes hearing about Pearl Harbor - where's that? - during further training at Aberdeen MD. He moved around the country a bit for various training exercises that included driving tanks through Death Valley. As a staff sergeant, he was shipped with the 11th Armored Division to England, then into France, racing tanks through Paris and into Germany under General Patton to join the Battle of the Bulge. "It was horrible." Sub-zero temps, cold, snow. "Take no quarter. Give no quarter. No prisoners." After that they crossed the Rhine River, went through Germany and Czechoslovakia into Austria, where they met Russian troops on the Elbe when the war ended in May.

Unfortunately, war duties weren't quite over. In May 1945 Ross and his buddies liberated the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camps in Austria, which were particularly brutal and severe. (Simon Wiesenthal, of Nazi-hunter fame in later years, was liberated from Mauthausen.) Ross spent several weeks there, supplying clean water for the "walking dead." His matter-of-fact tone barely cracks when talking about what he saw there, even as he describes years of nightmares and post-traumatic stress. Suddenly it is understandable that his tone is so flat... a thin defense against the horrible inhumanity suddenly dumped on a very young kid from Kentucky.

The greatest generation. Indeed.

Ross Haddix - Obituary

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