US veteran recalls last days of WW II in Czechoslovakia

Plzen 1945

This Tuesday saw the 62nd anniversary of V-E day which marked the end of World War II In Europe. Harold Yeglin, a US GI at the time, was then part of the 97th Infantry Division which had secured parts of Czechoslovakia. His company was in the west of the country when the war in Europe ended on May 8th. As a result of his wartime experience he has continued to follow events in the Czech Republic since.

This week the WW II veteran spoke to Jan Velinger from his home in the US, describing his division's role:

"The division was first supposed to go to the Pacific but December 1944 saw the Battle of the Bulge in which the Germans counter-attacked, creating problems for the Allies. Our original mission was scrubbed and we were sent to the European theatre. We just had a job to do and we didn't know what would come next. Eventually we were sent to the front lines, which was then close to the Rhine River. The Ruhr had been surrounded by the Allied troops and the American army - a huge area, and in that area several hundred thousand German troops were trapped. So they couldn't get out and that pocket was gradually closed.

The liberation of Pilsen,  photo:
"From there the 97th was then transferred to near the Czech-German border until very early in May. Our part reached Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) a day before the war ended. That was my particular outfit."

When you entered Czechoslovakia near the end of the war, what kind of fighting did you see? Was it sporadic or intense?

"It was sporadic. The kind of defense that the Germans put up would be road blocks and we'd have to deal with those, it wasn't a continuous kind of thing where we were going into cities or villages and having to clean them out, house-to-house fighting. It wasn't that intense. But at the end it was mainly fast movement and a lot of prisoners being taken. The Russians were coming from the east and the Germans by choice preferred to give themselves up to the Americans if possible."

Pilsen 1945
It's said that General Patton regretted not having been able to push ahead to Prague.

"That's right. From what I've read of his memoirs he wanted to come to the defense of Prague but the High Command said 'No'."

After V-E Day Harold Yeglin was one of many American soldiers who expected to eventually be re-deployed to the Pacific to fight against Japan: in the end he only served there during the first year of its occupation. He was discharged on May 2nd 1946.

Regarding the Czech Republic Mr Yeglin returned several times in the 1990s when the American role in liberating parts of Czechoslovakia was finally properly acknowledged. He was part of a delegation that met with former president Vaclav Havel, and most importantly met his second wife here. Harold Yeglin is in his early 80s today.