A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Harvey Fritz

A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Harvey Fritz

Harvey Fritz was just nineteen years old when he got called up to serve in the army during World War II. From Crown Point, Fritz was drafted into the 11th Airborne Division and made his way to Fort Benning, Georgia before heading off to Camp Toccoa for training.

“I went out of Crown Point,” Fritz said. “From there I went to Camp Toccoa, Georgia. They lowered the draft age and told us they’d give us our diplomas when we got back. That was a big laugh!”

At Camp Toccoa, Fritz was part of the army’s training of a new kind of soldier - a paratrooper. Fritz endured the rigorous physical challenges demanded of paratroopers in order to prepare them for battle. Curahee, which translates as ‘stand alone’ in Native American, was the name of the mountain at Camp Toccoa and was fitting as paratroopers quite often stand alone as they drop behind enemy lines.

After training, Fritz was sent to San Francisco where he boarded a ship that was bound for New Guinea.

“It took one month to go from Frisco to New Guinea,” Fritz said. “The bunks were about as high as this ceiling (9 feet) and they were ten high so you only had room to get in and out.”

From there he went on to Leyte in the Philippines and then ultimately to Luzon.

“I got wounded on Luzon on February 14th, 1945,” Fritz said. “Early in the morning we were going into an airport and I saw three Japanese heads above a U-shaped bunker. I had an automatic weapon so I told the man next to me that I’d spray the top of it and you throw the hand grenades. One of the Japanese had gotten up in a tree at night and about the time I started firing a bullet hit me and went in here and out here (pointing to his right ear and right side of his cheek). When I got back to the States the doctor stuck the X-ray up there and said ‘what in the heck are you doing here?’. I told him this is where they sent me and he said ‘No, where that bullet went in you should be dead!’.”

Fritz, who had received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and a Good Conduct Medal for his service, recovered in Springfield, Missouri where the army had built a hospital on the grounds of a golf course. After he was fully recovered he made his way back to Northwest Indiana after being discharged on April 17, 1946, and tried to readjust himself back to normal life.

“It was different after you're used to being with so many guys all the time and always doing something,” said Fritz. “I’d walk up and down downtown Crown Point and they would say to me, ‘why don’t you sit down?’. It was hard because I had gotten so used to always doing things.”

‘When I got back I couldn’t get a job no place,” said Fritz. “Eventually I got a job in the Post Office and I worked there for 34 years.”

Fritz recently had the opportunity to take an Honor Flight out of Chicago to Washington D.C. which proved to be an amazing and emotion experience.

“It was wonderful,” Fritz said. “We got into Washington D.C. and they had water guns shooting over the plane to greet us. We went through a bunch of people greeting you and get to go to the Aerospace Museum. We got to the Memorial and there was a lineup of kids there thanking us. Coming home, at the last I started to cry. All the red lights flashing, crowds greeting us, two long lines of sailors and an orchestra playing. We went downstairs where my family was waiting to pick us up and there were a thousand people down there greeting you.”

The 11th Airborne gained their nickname ‘The Angels’ for their daring raid behind Japanese lines to liberate and evacuate 2147 prisoners from the Los Banos prison camp in Luzon. Fritz wears his colors proudly and the back of his vest bears the insignia ‘Angels’ which is a testament to the sacrifice and the bravery of his beloved 11th Airborne.

The bond these men forged is concrete and is revitalized every year as they gather for a reunion in places throughout the United States. From Tucson to Nashville, Reno to Branson and everywhere in between, Fritz and his 11th Airborne still keep in close contact, a testament to the bond they formed.