Harold Demopoulos (whose photo is not seen in this article) was born in Providence, Rhode Island in January of 1924. He attended grade school, junior high and high school in his hometown, and stayed in state to attend Brown University. Demopoulos’ first stint at Brown did not last for very long however. He left the university early on and did not return for several semesters. Demopoulos did eventually re-enroll, finishing up his degree and going on to study law at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Miami, where he received his degree.

What caused Demopoulos to miss those formative college days? Why, nothing less than the greatest conflict of our century! Demopoulos left Brown to join the United States Army during those fateful days of mobilization for World War Two. His service took him across the Atlantic to Europe, and into direct conflict with the Axis forces seeking total control of that continent.

Demopoulos’ enlistment landed him at a few different forts across the country. Initially he was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, then Fort McClellan in Alabama. It was at Camp Carson in Colorado – a base created in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – that Demopoulos found his defining unit, the 104th Infantry Division, also known as the Timberwolves.

Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen (left) commander of the 1st Infantry Division, studies a map with the man who became his nemesis, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, commander of the U.S. II Corps. Censors have inked out a landmark between the two to avoid pinpointing their location in Sicily. Source:http://liberationtrilogy.com

Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen (left) commander of the 1st Infantry Division, studies a map with the man who became his nemesis, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, commander of the U.S. II Corps. Censors have inked out a landmark between the two to avoid pinpointing their location in Sicily.
Source:http://liberationtrilogy.com

 

The 104th was under the command of Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, Sr., a World War I veteran whose brash leadership style stressed combat readiness over military decorum. Allen had run afoul of military politics during his campaigns in North Africa and Sicily, and ended up taking on the 104th as a sort of consolation command. As Demopoulos remembers it, “[Allen] had an argument with [General George S.] Patton, was sent back to the states, and took over the 104th division.”

The 104th headed to Europe and immediately began supporting the Allied efforts there. “We landed at Cherbourg, [France] in September 1944,” Demopoulos remembers. “It was after D-Day – that was June. We were called the ‘Red Ball Express,’ we were driving, going on trucks, bringing supplies and things to troops down in France.”

There was also combat, and it was marked by Major General Allen’s strongly held strategic preference. “He was a great general,” Demopoulos says, “and we became night fighters. Fewer casualties at night.”

Demopoulos remembers one particular incident that took place near the Ruhr River in Germany. “One time… an airplane, a big one. I think it was… a B-24, a big plane. Three people came down on parachutes and landed on our side of the line, and the others on the other side where the Germans were. My division at that time was out front, my regiment was out front, my battalion was out front. My company, my platoon and my squad – and I was the first scout in the squad so when these three gentlemen came down one was a major, one a captain and the other an enlisted man. The rest landed on the German side of the river.

 

 

 

 

“Helped them off with the chutes and told them ‘Stay here,’ ” Demopoulos recalls. “I called for firepower and told them where to head to. And the captain asked me my rank and when he saw I was just an enlisted man he said ‘We’re taking orders from him?’ and the major said ‘Yes we are. He got us down safe didn’t he? And he’s getting us back.’ He was a big fella. He picked me up and said ‘Kid, I’m gonna pray for you every day.’ They went back, and he didn’t take my name. Later on Colonel Dancevic… it was too late when he found out, he said ‘We were gonna put you in for the Silver Star.’ I didn’t get that, I got a Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge.”

It was not the only missed opportunity for official decoration. “I had a bullet come through, just scratched me up,” he remembers. “I took care of my own wound.” In another incident Demopoulos was cut by barbed wire and dressed his own injuries. He would later realize that in doing so he failed to capitalize on valuable points toward combat medals.

But medal considerations paled in comparison to the actual perils of war. At one time, Demopoulos was taken prisoner. On a mission to blow up pillboxes with “beehives” of TNT in a Belgian village, Demopoulos and a fellow soldier came under fire and were taken into custody by two Germans. Fortune intervened however, before things became too grim. “We were coming down the four of us with two of them,” Demopoulos recounts.” Sergeant Abergast – who later became lieutenant with another company – shouted ‘Hit the ground!’ He stepped out of a draw and he shot the two Germans.”

Sometimes the war was simply about the dumbest kind of luck. “And the sad thing is, in April of ’45 when the war was over the Germans were surrendering,” Demopoulos recalls, “they shot a gun in surrender and [fellow 104th infantryman Howie] Broman – who I think was from Ohio – he got it and got killed. They weren’t even aiming at him.”

On the brighter side, the service gave Demopoulos opportunities to travel and see the world, both during and after the war. “I didn’t come home with the 104th,” he says. “I was in the hospital. I went down to Marseilles and Nice.” Though the war seemed to consume all the world, there were still pockets of relative normalcy, some of which Demopoulos had a chance to explore. “We had had three day leaves. One of my leaves took me to Sweden. [There were] Open cities – people from all… Germans, Russians and everybody. The war was on at that time, and there were three of us. My father told when he was in the army in World War One, at a certain base when somebody did something and they were punished, they’d nail their shoes to the floor. So in Europe you used to put your shoes outside in Sweden at night and they’d shine your shoes and everything. So when we were leaving at two o’clock in the morning – Stockholm – we nailed the German soldiers next door, their shoes to the floor, then we left.”

“When I was at the University of Oslo in 1947, I went over to Stockholm and went to the hotel with some friends. A fellow looked at me he said ‘He’s the one. What did you do to the German soldiers?’ I said ‘Nailed their shoes to the floor.’ They gave us a free luncheon.”

Demopoulos did not become an officer until after the war, while serving in the reserves. After his return from Europe, Demopoulos’ Brown contemporaries would rib him about his lack of advancement in the ranks. One particular incident had a significant influence on Demopoulos’ going through the war as an enlisted man, and perhaps on his career to follow. It happened in Georgia, well before the 104th shipped out for Cherbourg. “There was a fight going on and I stepped between and said ‘Come on fellas, stop it,’ ” Demopoulos remembers. “They stopped the fight and they ended up hitting me, and I ended up in Columbus, Georgia, in the town hospital. So I went back to base after three days and I was absent without leave. It was that which they used to throw me out of OCS [Officer Candidate School]. They didn’t want a 110-pound kid, 18 years old… [Laughs] that’s the truth. So, that was a thing that happened.”

Though being a career military man would have carried some prestige, returning to civilian pursuits allowed Demopoulos to achieve success in the legal field. He became a practicing lawyer, and eventually became president of the Rhode Island Bar Association.

Demopoulos still kept up with his fellow Timberwolves from the 104th. For several decades there was an annual convention for the division on Labor Day weekend. Demopoulos missed the first few due to his postwar studies, but attended several in the years following. 2009 marked the final official Timberwolves reunion. “Now, we have what we call the ‘pups,’ the children and grandchildren, and they run reunions,” says Demopoulos.

Demopoulos managed to keep touch with others as well. Through his service, he came to know Jascha Heifetz, the world-famous violinist. “When he came over to Rhode Island, I chauffeured him around for a couple of days.” Demopoulos remembers. Demopoulos’ friends wanted to meet Heifetz, so Demopoulos invited him out after a community concert series. “He met us all after,” Demopoulos recalls.

Demopoulos also headed up organizing a 50 year reunion of University of Oslo students from the class of 1947. “We had a great reunion,” he says.

There is one wartime regret that has stuck with Harold Demopoulos through all the long decades since the war. With the Nazis broken and Germany occupied, Demopoulos was finally headed back from Europe by sea, apart from his 104th and ready for a more peaceful existence. In that moment he made a gesture that, despite its earnest symbolism, still haunts him. “When we were out on the Atlantic, I made a foolish mistake: I threw my German revolvers and a Belgian revolver – I didn’t want to see a gun again – I threw them all into the ocean. They’d be worth a fortune today.”

-Editor, David Sano

 

 

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