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By the end of the war, over 19 million American women had left the kitchen and gone to work in factories, but Haak's mother was not among them. She did help coordinate a campaign to send letters and cookies to soldiers from the farmhouse in Wisconsin, but the farm required both Haak's father and mother to stay and work the land. A fair percentage of the food (potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and cabbage) raised on the Haak farm was donated by the Haak family to charities and other organization that were assisting injured soldiers and war widows.
Meanwhile, Bill Haak wanted to be in the Pacific theater where the fighting was, but he was ordered to work in England during most of 1942 and 1943, as part of the air effort; naval enlistees found themselves engaged in everything from supply efforts to ship maintenance. It made Haak a bit frustrated, but the colonel in charge of his company used patriotic speeches to keep the troops believing that they were as important to the war effort as the Marines charging up the beaches of Guam, Saipan, and the other islands in that chain of Japanese-held territories. There was never a question of re-upping his enlistment; Haak had long ago decided that he was in this war for the long haul, as long as he was fit and able to participate, he was going to be fighting against the Nazis and the Japs. One good thing that happened to Haak while in England was that he met an intellectually gifted and attractive member of the Women's Army Corps (WAC). Her name was Carol and she was stationed near Haak outside of London.
They met at a dance hall and after a couple draft beers, Haak got up the nerve to ask her to dance. She was the daughter of a well-known physician in New York City, a woman of culture and society who was not as down-to-earth as the farm girls Haak had known in Wisconsin, but was honest, and committed to her duties. She found Haak a refreshing change from some of the more pretentious males she had known in New York; his strong hands, made tough through a lifetime of farm work, his knowledge of world history and of the background reasons for this war, made him an attractive mate for a well-heeled woman.
Carol was particularly intrigued that what on the surface appeared to be a simple yet handsome farm boy from Wisconsin actually was a very well-informed and knowledgeable person who knew all the intricacies of the Treaty of Versailles, and understood the way in which Hitler had used that treaty to stir up passions in his country and eventually seize dictatorial control. They fell in love; and even though Carol's parents had warned her not to get involved with any "flyboy" or "ground soldier," she gave her heart to Bill Haak. Being in love with Carol added a reason to the long list of reasons that Haak was committed to this war to the end; he now had someone to look forward to spending his life with once the bloody war was over.
In June 1944, the day Haak had been waiting for was just around the corner. The Army, Marines, Army Air Corps and the Navy and its various divisions began rehearsing for the D-Day assault on Hitler's forces in France. Haak would not be among the troops slogging through the surf against heavy enemy fire on Omaha Beach (Normandy, France); but he would be a support person aboard one of the ships that would carry hundreds of thousands of highly trained troops into battle.
Haak was proud of the fact that he was part of a massive force of men and equipment training in England to take the fight to the Nazis, and take back Europe for the free world. About two million ground troops and two million Army Air Force personnel were preparing to board six thousand ships and cross the English Channel in a wave of force never before seen in the face of the earth or at sea.
Haak was bigger than the average GI in England who was readying for the invasion of France; he was 5' 10" and weighed 190 pounds. The average trooper was 5' 8" and weighed 144 pounds. Haak was solid muscle; he had been a fitness buff all through high school. Even when he was working all day on the farm at home, after cleaning the bard he would lift weights and run up and down the county road with wrights on his back and legs.
A talented high school football player (he played linebacker and offensive guard o a conference-winning team his last two years in high school) and a tough wrestler (he was only pinned once in three varsity seasons, he had a competitive edge over some of his military colleagues. He never backed away from a fight - but never looked for one, either. And he along with a couple million others went looking for the fight of their lives on June 3, as they boarded over six thousand four hundred and eighty-three ships for the assault that would be known as D-Day. Bad weather forced a delay, and many of the ships, including the warship that Haak was aboard, had to turn back to England to refuel.
General Eisenhower and his allies had to decide if June 6 was the right day to go notwithstanding the fact that terrible weather was making the seas very rough and reducing visibility for the attack bombers that were to fly over German fortifications on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach. June 6th it was. Haak was part of the U.S. 4th Division which got lucky and encountered fewer entrenched German machine gun nests. Haak's job was to assist the assault boats coming out of the back of the ship; it was a hideously scary moment for the troops that boarded the landing crafts, and Haak and his buddies tried to instill some calm and courage to the frightened marines. Each soldier that was bound for the beach in a landing craft was carrying packs on their backs that weighed almost 70 pounds. Some made it safely on shore only to later be killed in battle. Others never made it to shore. Haak could see through his binoculars carnage that was occurring onshore, even as the huge guns of his navy ship blasted the entrenched Germans.
Sixty years later, a gray-haired Bill Haak was talking to his grandson William out on the back porch of his family's farmhouse in Wisconsin. "What is your greatest regret, Grandpa?" William asked. Bill Haak paused and said, "That so many had to die to save the world from Hitler and Hirohito. About 300,000 American soldiers died, to say nothing of the millions slaughtered in those horrific years, including the Holocaust. And my fondest hope William is that you never have to go to war. Let's go in now, I think…[continue]
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