Richard and Henry Kane, 1941
Brothers Recall Wartime Memories
December 18, 1986, The Sentinel, New Windsor, New York
Editors note: This is part one of a two-part feature. The second part will appear in our next issue.
by Linda Fehrs
It was while they were working on their family’s apple farm on Drury Lane that they decided to join the Civilian Conservation Corps. Henry and Richard Kane were just young boys then and eager to help their country.
Every eligible male it seemed back then wanted to help out and the CCC was a good place to start. They earned $30 a month and sent $20 of that home.
Henry worked at a Gypsy moth camp in Peekskill, 8 hours a day, and later transferred to Albany. Richard worked as a tree climber near West Point.
They stayed with the CCC for about six months. It was run by Reserve officers and the brothers say had the same discipline as the Army.
In October of 1940, they each had made the decision to join the Army. On the 24th day of the month they signed up in New York City. After two days home it was off to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn for six weeks basic training.
They became part of the 1st Division out of Fort Devens, Mass. and were there about a year. It was at Fort Devens they heard about the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor.
Henry says he was lying on a cot about one in the afternoon when he heard it on the radio. Richard was on guard duty outside a base theatre. “Dianna Durbin was playing in the movie,” he recalls.
It was Dec. 7, 1941. They served two years in the army without seeing combat. In the meantime, they put on a show of maneuvers for Winston Churchill and travelled from New England to Florida and back with the Army.
They then got notice they were going to Europe. “We went over on the Queen Mary,” said Henry. “We thought it was wonderful. We had swimming in the pool.” Richard added, “It was some ship. There was 24 hour feeding. We all had different color passes for different times. It was great,” but he laughs, “we were young and stupid.”
Five days out at sea the soldiers got a message, that Germans had made an announcement that the Queen Mary had been sunk three days before. Two days later an obviously healthy Queen Mary pulled in to Glasgow, Scotland.
From Glasgow, they travelled to Tidworth Barracks just outside of London. The brothers say they marched 25 miles a day with a full pack weighing about 70 pounds. For awhile it was back and forth between Glasgow and England. In Oct. they left Glasgow. There were 885 ships in Glasgow Harbor, waiting to go to North Africa. It took about a month for them all to assemble. Together the ships, along with a convoy from the United States invaded Africa in November.
When the ships got close to shore, the soldiers were transferred to smaller vessels bringing them closer. Harry says his landing went alright, it ended up in shallow water, but Richard wasn’t so lucky. There was no moon, it was dark and he didn’t hit the shore right, and landed in water over his head with his full pack on.
The battle consisted of four invasions and lasted two weeks. Two weeks of constant battle. Although they were in the same infantry and company, the brothers were in different platoons, so they didn’t fight side by side. But they both agree the experience is something you never forget. It was then the brothers said, you knew you were there for keeps.
Some time later they moved on to Oran, near Algiers. It was there they say that you could get shot for not knowing the password when asked.
When they were in battle they could see the enemy soldiers handcuffed to their machine guns, so as not to run from the fighting.
They were then bivouacked outside a small town that was held by the Germans. Ultimately the Americans took the town.
It was on to Tunis after that, with a quick trip to Casablanca, then back to Tunis. Richard said the convoy went to Tunis and it took about two weeks. “We went into combat and never got out of it again. Our company was being sent up to the front line.” Henry continued, “We were sent as a suicide company. We didn’t really know what was there. We were told to go up a mountain and hold it as long as we could. We were told it would be against snipers and machine guns. We went in knowing we wouldn’t come out, that we’d either be killed or captured. No one could help us.”
Richard says they fought straight through from 7 pm until 8 am trying to get the hill. He was on the top part of the hill, Henry was on the right and met with more opposition.
At 8 am Richard was captured. He says he stood there looking down the hill seeing the others being killed, not knowing if his brother was dead or alive. He didn’t know until later that day in a nearby camp that Henry was alive, when he was brought in about two hours later. Richard says his sergeant was killed. In all 75 men survived and were captured, 248 men had gone up that hill to fight. “Our captain surrendered us,” said Henry, “One he realized there was no one left to help us.”
They spent about one week in an interrogation camp in Tunis. All the while the surrounding area was being bombed by Allied Air Force. Henry said, “They bombed the buildings right next to ours. We were scared, but we had a lot of respect for the Air Force.”
“The Germans would ask us why we weren’t home vacationing in Fla,” said Richard. “They told us they knew where we had been, all about our ship movements. But they knew even then they were losing the war.”
Henry said the Germans who questioned them spoke better English than the Americans did.
Both Henry and Richard say the war then was different. It wasn’t good, but there was a mutual respect on each side. It was a controlled war, they said, with rules. It was bad, but even in the prisoner camps they were treated like soldiers.
After a week in the prisoner camp, they were transferred to a camp in Sicily where they spent one month. Many people died from sickness there, two or three each day. There was nothing to eat and the mud in which they walked was about a foot deep. Richard went down to 90 pounds. “It was one of the worst camps they were in,” he said.
After the month, they were sent to Port St. George on the Adriatic Coast and then Palermo where they stayed for a year.
At one point, Henry said he was put in handcuffs for having a slat missing in his bed. While there each morning they received a small container or chicory. Dinner was a big kettle of water with three pieces of cheese, a few carrots, and some noodles. The soldiers would ask that the contents of the kettle be stirred up each time so that they might get a morsel.
Henry said be spent a lot of time watching the ants, which were all over. Everyone had body lice, said Henry, and the place was loaded with bedbugs.
There was not much to do, though, except read and play games. Every so often they would get Red Cross packages in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
It was from Palermo that they escaped dramatically after blowing a hole in the wall.
(Next week we will continue the escape and recapture of Henry and Richard Kane.)
Caption: Richard (left) and Henry Kane have done many things together over the years, back in the 1930’s they joined the Civilian Conservation Corps., in the 1940’s they joined the army. Shortly thereafter they were both captured by the Axis powers and spent 2½ years in and out of prison camps. They are shown above holding a news clipping of the report of their capture.