A Spokane man has been given a window to the past, back to the day when his father served as a young soldier during World War II.
In November 1941, weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack, 21-year-old Harold Voltz left his home in Ohio and enlisted in the service. He went to boot camp and was trained to become a scout in the Army’s Fourth Armored Division. He was stationed at several training facilities around the country and then sent to England for more training. A month after the D-Day invasion in 1944, Voltz went to France for his first real taste of combat. All the while, he wrote letters to his folks, nearly 400 of them, and his mother saved them.
Seventy-five years later, Harold Voltz’s letters are now in the hands of his son, also named Harold.
“Dear folks, I have a few spare moments to myself, so I thought I’d drop you a few lines to let you know I’m now in France and still feeling fine and hope you are the same. I’m being quite busy, so if you don’t hear from me very often, you’ll understand," Harold Voltz reads a letter from his father, written sometime during World War II.
“When my father was drafted in the Army, he made a promise to his folks that he would write whenever he could and he kept his promise, based upon all these letters," Voltz said. "This is just a smidgeon of what he wrote because this is just to his folks and the siblings that were still under roof there. It’s not to friends. I don’t have any of the friends, girl friends, other acquaintances.”
The letters are mostly ordinary, not much in the way of salacious details, and certainly not forthcoming about where he was and what he was doing.
“They couldn’t be specific about where they were at, what they were doing, things of that nature because every letter, you’ll see that the letters, they’re stamped, passed by Army examiner, and then the commander writes his name on the bottom of the letter, the envelope and the letter. You open up a letter and it might be like Swiss cheese, that they shared too much and snipped it out," he said.
How much could you learn through his letters?
“I learned about a different man than I knew growing up under his fatherly guidance. I learned some new things about him and understand why he was the way he was," Voltz said. "He was known as The Banker in the unit because he either sent his money home or he had enough money so others could borrow from because they were losing it playing cards or playing dice or gambling. Most of the other guys didn’t have money left over. He was the responsible guy.”
Did you get a sense through his letters about scared he might have been or the anxiety he went through?
“He kept reassuring his mother and father, my grandparents, that he was ok. That’s basically why he was writing. He said, I’m fine. I chopped off my finger the other day, but they sewed it back on. He had some infections and stuff like that," Voltz said.
Was he wounded in combat?
“He received a Purple Heart, so yes, he was wounded in combat, shrapnel fragments into his hand. Nothing that was life threatening. He also earned a Bronze Star for valor during the Bastogne campaign, the Battle of the Bulge," Voltz said.
Voltz goes on to read from another of his father's letters. “Tell Buds and Margie, Bud is his brother, that about the only way they can hear from me is by reading your letters. Here of late I’ve been receiving a lot of mail and have not enough time to read through them."
Harold Voltz has a map that traces the path of his father’s Fourth Armored Division from its landing on the French coast in July 1944.
“So I knew where my dad was at, exactly, according to the date on the letter," he said.
The soldiers moved steadily east to Czechoslovakia and finished the war in May 1945 at an area a little northeast of Munich, Germany. Last spring, 75 years after his father’s tour of duty, Voltz went back to retrace his dad’s route.
“I took a tour with a Band of Brothers. It’s called Beyond Band of Brothers tour, just this past May for the 75th anniversary of Normandy and Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge," he said.
What did that trip mean to you to be able to go overseas?
“It was the greatest. I was able to acquire a personal tour guide. It’s called Tours by Locals. You can hire the tour guide and you set up your own itinerary," Voltz said.
He took along a battle map that allowed him to follow the Fourth Armored Division’s march through Europe.
“He had arranged for us to stay in a country farm house in Leglise. I discovered that I was sleeping in the same area that my dad had bivouacked in. That was cool. It still gives me chill bumps. I’m seeing everything that my dad had seen," he said. "What was really fascinating was hitting these named places that were these combat areas and here’s these little plaques, isolated from civilization, saying thank you, Fourth Armored Division, for what you did, freeing us from the Germans.”
By then, Voltz had combined the letters into a loosely-bound book. He took a copy with him to the war museum at Bastogne, Belgium and they showed some interest. So when he came home, he was determined to turn his first attempt at a book into something a little more professional. So he went and found photos of the day, including some of his dad and his buddies. He picked excerpts from the letters, added a flourish here and there, and self-published the book.
“Initially I sent them to libraries," Voltz said, "in fact, the presidential library of William McKinley, which is in Canton, Ohio. It’s also where the historical society is at. They wanted the letters and I go, I don’t know if I just want to put letters in the vault. No one has access to them. That’s why I compiled the book.”
The power of radio during the war
“My dad loved the radio. They all loved to listen to the radio," Voltz said. "He mentioned in one letter, ‘Just got finished listening to Bob Hope and Red Skelton. I about bawled. I about cried my eyes out because I was laughing so hard. I had to put in a little segment about who Bob Hope was during World War II and who was Red Skelton.”
The power of his father's letters
“I’ve gotten communication from three other children from the men I put in the back that my dad served with and they didn’t have anything either or very few letters. And he says, ‘When I read this I’m thinking about my dad because your dad was so thorough’ and explained ‘I could visualize my dad.’ This is all through Facebook," Voltz said.
"Another man wrote his father was in ‘A’ Troop, my father was in ‘B’ Troop, and this was in May 1945. My father was in charge of softball tournaments and he had to make arrangements between the troops to play games in tournaments and this man said, “My dad mentioned sometime that he had messed up his knee. I didn’t know if it was in battle or how he did that.’ He’s reading one of my dad’s letters and my dad explained that one guy busted his collarbone in their softball game and another messed up his knee and they were playing Troop A. That was his dad. And he said, ‘I just had one of those moments. Wow, that was my dad.’”
“It’s a history book, but I’m not a historian," Voltz said. "I wanted to tell the GI story and my dad told the story and I just put it together. If people get a warm fuzzy from that, then great.”
Harold Voltz’s book of his father’s letters is entitled, “World War II Cavalry Reconnaissance Scout.” It’s available in some of the area libraries and there are a few copies for purchase at Auntie’s Bookstore.