Refugio County is historically rich with patriots. including the sons of Mary Margaret and Dave C Harsdorff, a World War I captain.
Glenn, Fritz, David, Furman and Homer and their good friend Driscoll Rooke, all boys of the 1930s, played war games in the thorny scrub brush that grows in random patterns on the northwest side of Woodsboro.
As Glenn laughingly says, he grew up “over by the dump,” next to a ranch whose owners produced gallons and gallons of moonshine.
A rough and tumble lot, the boys were drawn to the banks of the Mission River where trenches were easily dug in the sand and where the boys grew strong. Their bond were sealed for a lifetime on those banks.
When Japanese bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor, the Woodsboro boys couldn’t volunteer fast enough.
David joined the Army and fought at Normandy; Furman and Fritz joined the Navy. Furman was a weatherman aboard the U.S.S. Baltimore and served as a weatherman. cruiser Phoenix; and Homer intercepted and broke German codes. Rooke rose to the ranks of brigadier general.
During the years since the war and before Rooke’s death, he often told Glenn he would not have survived in the Pacific had it not been for the war games with Fritz and Glenn.
Glenn, in his young zeal to become a pilot, first joined the Navy then transferred to the Army Air Corps where he trained at Sheppard Air Force Base Field to fly gliders, the silent wings of World War II.
“An officer came in and talked to each one of us training at Sheppard at 9 at night,” Glenn says. “He wanted to know if we were interested in a mysterious project overseas. He said ‘I can’t tell you where you’re going to be, but you’ll only be overseas six months and you’ll come home a hero.’ All us young guys fell for that.”
The young pilots soon found themselves in Goldsboro, N.C. where they were indoctrinated in night flying. The young men experienced their first casualties.
“We lost a lot of guys there,” Glenn said.
A month later, Glenn deployed to India as a member of the 1st Air Commando Group which was sent to support British troops behind Japanese lines in Burma. Even the journey is indelibly etched into Glenn’s memory.
The first leg of the trip was to Brazil and finally to the Gold Coast of Africa.
“We got off the airplane and spent the night,” Glenn said. “The Africans were doing maintenance to the runway. They were hauling asphalt in wheelbarrows. Instead of pushing the wheelbarrows, they were carrying them on their heads. The wheelbarrows were made by the Ruben Manufacturing Company of Schulenburg. I’ll never forget that.”
The troops were greeted by Admiral Louis Mountbatten of the British Royal Navy, who said, “We didn’t expect this many to be here.”
But that was at the beginning. Their numbers diminished rapidly. The silent-winged gliders were dangerous. Night landings were espe-
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cially hazardous in terrain not fit for aircraft.
One especially harrowing accident changed young Glenn’s life forever.
“I was sitting in the plane waiting to take off when my friend Robert Kenny - we called him Hard Rocks - came up and said, ‘get out of this plane and let me show Patty how to do this.’ I got out, no questions asked.”
Into the flight, the horizontal stabilizer malfunctioned, sending Robert Kenny and all 15 soldiers aboard the glider spiraling to their deaths.
“Why did Robert Kenny come up and tell me he wanted to fly in my plane?” Glenn continues to ask himself more than 60 years later.
The men gathered all the bodies and placed them on a concrete slab on the strip known as Broadway until morning when a memorial service and burial was scheduled.
“The next morning, I was coming out of my bamboo hut and Joe Saterino was sitting on his jeep,” Glenn said. “Robert Kenny could whistle classical music beautifully. “As clear as day, I could hear Robert Kenny whistling. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Robert coming with his mess kit. Joe saw him, too. If it had only been me, I’d have thought I was crazy.”
The person he recognized as the fallen soldier slipped into the trees in the jungle. The soldiers buried his body later that morning.
“I started thinking differently about religion, spirituality and a person’s spirit that day,” Glenn said.
On March 5, 1944, Glenn participated in Operation Thursday which delivered 500 men and 15 tons of supplies to landing zone Broadway. Twenty-five gliders loaded with British soldiers took off.
The soldiers, who had regularly been short of food and supplies, overloaded the planes and three crashed on take off.
On return that night, Glenn’s plane was number eight to land. With no lights, no communication, no radar and only a general clearing in which to land, the teak-wood logs buried beneath the vegetation proved fatal for many young men who died in the remote jungle in India.
“It was a bloody mess, I’ll tell you,” Glenn said.
Both pilot and copilot were having a difficult time seeing. At the pilot’s request, Glenn unharnessed to get a closer look at the panel and ascertain the speed. The landing was hard. Glenn was thrown against the canopy and his shoulder was dislocated.
“War kills a lot of real fine people, I was just one of the lucky ones,” Glenn said. “I lost a lot of my friends who were no more than 21. Yes, the best young people were killed off.”
Glenn and the air commandos supported British troops in an impressive manner and pushed airpower to a new dimension.
During World War II, the United States’ air superiority, largely through pilot skill, became unquestioned. But wars are not won by equipment or weaponry alone.
American spirit, born at Valley Forge, continues to manifest itself in small communities like Refugio County’s, where young boys who ran barefoot and played war games along the banks of the Mission River, answered the call.