By Lynn Stanley
The troop ship Sterling Castle was about 300–400 miles out from the Statue of Liberty, on its way across the Atlantic toward a Europe locked in war. It was 1944 and Floyd Hargus was on that ship, he remembers, “on deck with the whole company, taking exercises,” when “a U-boat tried to get us.” The Sterling Castle’s crew started rolling the depth charges overboard, barrel after barrel exploding far below, “and I think we got him.”
That was Mr. Hargus’s first experience of a war that would take him through England to France and on into Germany itself, a war in which he earned the Bronze Star and of which his memories and stories are still fresh and powerful. He also has an amazing album of photos and other memorabilia that bring his experiences to life.
Mr. Hargus’s company docked in Liverpool, then went on to Manchester, where they lived in Quonset huts for a week until they went into France. Their company moved east, past Paris and toward Germany’s western border. It was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, the Allied effort to break the last German offensive campaign in its western theater. The Germans had launched a surprise attack and the Allies were racing to meet and repulse them.
The Battle of the Bulge was a huge battle. “If you stopped to think about it, it was pretty worrisome, ” he said … but they were too busy moving forward to stop and reflect.
The American company drove east, through the dark along roads lined with trees, to the French town of Marche.1 They brought three of the 105 Howitzers they called “The Cannons” and the heavy wire-to-wire field telephone switchboards that were used at the time. Mr. Hargus remembers that the Germans had much lighter switchboard equipment — nine pounds to the Americans’ 75-pound units — a significant difference when you have to carry them from place to place during a battle. And it was a huge battle. “If you stopped to think about it, it was pretty worrisome, ” he said … but they were too busy moving forward to stop and reflect.
The battle won and his Bronze Star earned, Mr. Hargus and his fellow soldiers crossed the Siegfried Line2 and entered Germany. His album’s striking photographs of that period illustrate both well-known and less noted aspects of that war. There is a photograph of him standing in front of a concentration camp, one of three camps in the area where, he said, “they were dying a thousand a day;” the American troops had to stop their forward march and take care of the surviving prisoners, capturing the German personnel and calling medical personnel in from all over. Another photo, taken in Waldorf, Germany, which his company was patrolling after the fall of the Third Reich, shows children scavenging for food. A postcard in the album is a reminder that in Holland on leave he encountered Dutch children who would exchange the postcards “or a box of matches or something small like that” for food to take to their families.
There is a photograph of him standing in front of a concentration camp, one of three camps in the area where, he said, “they were dying a thousand a day.”
Another unique memory has a tragicomic feel. After the war was officially over, the town where his company was stationed was “an open town… you could fraternize with anyone you wanted.” So when a German townsman stopped him and asked for a little gas for his motorbike, Mr. Hargus gave him some. The man then “went off on his motorbike and got a pig somewhere.” Not wanting have to share his find, he then asked Mr. Hargus to kill the pig for him… quietly, so the neighbors wouldn’t find out. “Well, that made me mad…” because there was just no good way to kill that pig quietly. But the family was hungry, and so, over the man’s strenuous objection to the noise, Mr. Hargus shot the pig and moved on.
Floyd Hargus is a modest man, as true heroes tend to be. His stories center on others’ lives and on his observations of history, not on his own personal achievements. There are other medals saved alongside his Bronze Star — three stars for the three major campaigns in which he served and a combat infantry badge, among others — but he didn’t dwell on those. He did say, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was quite proud of that Combat Infantry Badge — “I got five dollars more a month for that one!”
His brother Alan Hargus “is a real hero,” Floyd Hargus says. Born in 1943 and 19 years younger than Floyd, Alan Hargus fought in Vietnam — “He was in Recon, the most dangerous job there is” — and has numerous medals to show for his courage as well.
One thing he did very much want us to include here is the story of his brother Alan Hargus. “He’s a real hero,” Floyd Hargus says. Born in 1943 and 19 years younger than Floyd, Alan Hargus fought in Vietnam — “He was in Recon, the most dangerous job there is” — and has numerous medals to show for his courage as well. Again, true heroes tend to praise others instead of themselves, and we suspect that Alan Hargus would say much the same about his older brother Floyd. Floyd Hargus was born in Old Fort in 1924; his father worked for the CC&O Railroad. Military service runs in his ancestry — his great-great-grandfather Calvin Duncan fought for the South in the Civil War while Duncan’s brother fought for the North. Mr. Hargus married Betty McCone Hargus when she was 16 and they were together for 63 years until her death in 2012. He has three children: Philip, the oldest, lives in West Virginia, Rick is in Fairview, and Joyce lives in Hendersonville. “All my children went to school here at Reynolds,” Mr. Hargus said, “and Rick played basketball for the Reynolds team.” He has a deep affection for Fairview and the surrounding community and services. “The VA Hospital,” he said, “is the finest hospital I’ve ever been in. They saved my life about three times.”
It was an honor and a privilege to talk with Floyd Hargus and be able to tell some of his remarkable story. Though he would brush off talk of heroism — except when it applies to his brother — he did say “It’s good to be remembered.”
We will absolutely remember you, Mr. Hargus, and we thank you for allowing us to share your story with our Crier readers.
Lynn Stanley is the Fairview Town Crier’s copy editor.