Henry Milton James
Army Corps of Engineers, WDC 4th Army,
61st Engineer Combat Unit – Colonel
World War II (1940-1944)
Henry James was born on December 18th 1916 in San Francisco, CA. He grew up in the bay area his mother was a housewife because unfortunately his father died at a young age. Before entering the military Henry had only received a Jr. College education. When asked for his reasons for entering the military he only had to say, “the war.” His parents were very proud of him when he enlisted. He wasn’t required go to boot camp, but he did attend engineer school for the Army.
His first assignment was in the Presidio, San Francisco. He was only a private at the time, carrying out general duties. At this assignment his unit’s moral was very high. “It was a good group of guys,” he said. From San Francisco he went to Officer Candidate School. OCS was very difficult but that is what comes with being an officer. He gradated from OCS a second Lieutenant. His military specialty as an engineer was to lay mines, disable mines, build bridges, build roads, and any engineering feat that was necessary for the advancement of the troops. As an officer he was the platoon leader, which meant that he was in charge of 45 men.
Henry was in over 60 units over his long career. His complete history is so long that he couldn’t remember all the details. But he remembers that he was deployed throughout Europe. He was part of the Invasion of Normandy, while a second lieutenant. The Invasion of Normandy was part of Operation Overlord in World War Two. The invasion had many parts, but there were five amphibious landings on five beaches in the early morning of June 6th 1944. This operation resulted in a decisive victory for the allied forces, which included Henry. Henry was in Europe when Germany surrendered. He was glad that the war was over and excited to get home.
Upon his arrival home he felt that people were proud of his service. They were glad to see him come home safe. As for the military, Henry only had to say, “They were glad to get rid of me.” He attended San Francisco Law School, after he was released from active duty and into the reserves. He graduated with a degree in law. He had many duties while in the reserves and was part of 15 reserve units. By this time Henry had earned the rank of Colonel.
Looking back, he said that there wasn’t one scary moment, but the fog of war always rendered a sense of fear in everyone, a fear of the unknown. War is always scary because you don’t know what is on the other side, or what type of area you are getting into. As for humor during the war he was reluctant to give an example because he said, “What was funny to us at the time wouldn’t be funny to you today. But there were a lot of pranks.” When asked if his service was justified he responded, “I don’t care what other people say, I did what I thought was the right thing to do.” He believes that war is unnecessary; there are other means to finding peace. But there is also a sense of unjust domination in war that is uncalled for. For example you don’t even know the man that you are firing at, you just do because you have been told to, among other circumstances you may be very friendly. Because of this, war is a very difficult thing to analyze.
Interviewed by Robert Kent on July 12th, 2011