Haldeman, Robert L. (608th, 6th Grp)

Robert Haldeman 3Robert L. Haldeman

Biography:  My father was born May 30, 1915, Memorial Day, a day to honor those who have served. It is interesting to now be honoring him for that same service to his country. He was born to Samuel R. and Katie L. Haldeman in East Cocalico Twp. Lancaster County, PA. He was the second youngest of six brothers with an additional half-brother that was even older. He grew up on the family’s 175 acre farm raising crops and livestock and working in their saw mill.

He attended Pleasant Breeze and Reamstown schools and would later enroll in Diesel Mechanic School and travel to California to attend when he was 22 years old. I actually have his signed application from Nov. 1st, 1937. He would also hold down jobs building silos, and stone masonry. He had purchased a new Ford Coupe just prior to entering the service and had some romantic interest in a neighbor, the sister of George Steffy. George will show up later during dad’s military time.

Service Time:

The following information is from documentation specific to my dad.
17 – Mar. 1942.     Inducted into Army, New Cumberland, PA       (Discharge)                  
5 – May 1942.       Basic Training.  (Photo w/Pioneer Co. 608th TD Bn Fort Jackson, SC.) Rank – Pvt.  
I have some photos of him from basic training. A few with his light colored uniform and at least one with his dark uniform. One of the photos includes his older brother Chester who visited him sometime while he was at Fort Jackson.  My father’s discharge indicates that he received am Expert Rating for the 30 Cal. Carbine but he also brought home a Sharpshooter badge for Machine Gun.
1 – Sept 1942.    Promoted Pvt. 1st Class to Tech 5th Class, Ft. Jackson, SC. (Promotion Cert.)

6 – Sept 1942.     Small Pox Vaccination                                                             (Discharge)
Jan 1943.            Desert Training Camp Young, CA                                          (Payroll Record)
July 1943.           Desert Training Camp Young, CA                                           (Unit Roster)
July 1943.           Desert Training Camp Ibis, CA                                               (Payroll Roster)                     
6 – Sept 1943.    Small Pox Vaccination                                                              (Discharge)
18 – Nov. 1943.  Tetanus Vaccination                                                                 (Discharge)
29 – Nov. 1943.  Maneuvers, Shreveport, LA                                             (Card from G. Steffy)
29 – Jan. 1944.   Departure for Europe, New York, NY                                         (Discharge)
5 – Feb 1944.      Arrival in Europe                                                                      (Discharge)
Basically, I have limited information specifically about my father from the point he landed somewhere in the United Kingdom until his name shows up in the Muster on the Elbe program. As you can imagine this has raised many questions, which may never be answered. I cannot be sure if he was with the unit the entire time or not. I do believe he travelled with the unit across the Atlantic because his departure dates and landing dates match the unit’s dates. I have the personal testimony of Bill Qualter as well as the photos he brought back with him, identical to others brought back by other members. In addition, the souvenir items he brought and/or sent from Europe, which I run through later in the text.
6 Jun 44 – 25 Jul 44       Normandy Invasion Campaign                 (Discharge)
25 Jul 44 – 14 Sep 44     Northern France Campaign                      (Discharge)
25 – Nov. 1944.             Typhus Vaccination                                  (Discharge)
15 Sep 44 – 21 Mar 45    Rhineland Campaign                                 (Discharge)
17 – Feb. 1945.              Typhoid Vaccination                                 (Discharge)
22 Mar 45 – 11 May 45    Central Europe Campaign                        (Discharge)
April 1945.                     Honored at Muster on the Elbe Celebration     (Muster Program)
9 – July 1945                 Awarded Bronze Star                         (Photo and Certificate)
6 – Oct. 1945.                Departure to United States                      (Discharge)        
13 – Oct 1945.               Arrival in the United States                       (Discharge)
25 – Oct. 1945.              Honorable Discharge from Army, Indiantown Gap, PA, Rank – T/4 Sgt (Discharge)
Research:  Very little of what I know about my father’s life or his military career was learned while he was alive. Not only was I not interested in these subjects but he wasn’t really interested in discussing them. My brother, on occasion would discuss the war with him but never with any real detail. The few stories we did hear, helped us to build an image of what I would later either confirm or identify as our misunderstandings. Unlike many of the families I have spoken to, we did have most of my father’s WWII paperwork. His discharge, letter of separation, letters of promotion and his Bronze Star citation. It had all been sent home to his parents. Each of these items would help me to build a reasonably good timeline of his days in the military. Most important was his Honorable Discharge, which had many dates in and out of the country as well as his unit, Headquarters Company, 6th Tank Destroyer Group. All the rest of the information came from any source I could find. Together, they provide a reasonably good idea of his travels. Let me be very clear that at any time, he or any of the men of the unit could have been elsewhere but probably within some limits.
I believe the first thing I did was to request his personnel file from the Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. As with so many other families, I quickly learned of the fire and the loss of such a vast amount of records. Along with that information, came the assurance that there were other facilities and ways to gather the records I sought. I was soon to discover that these “other” records would be very difficult to find. I guess I can’t complain too much seeing the path I have had to take has brought me into contact with some wonderful people. I can’t say it hasn’t been frustrating. If it had all been handed to me on a silver platter, I probably wouldn’t have gone much farther. For that matter, his personnel records may not have contained very much.   In any event, I was going to have to work for every piece of the puzzle I would find, and find I did.
Robert Haldeman 1
Robert Haldeman 2 
As you can see from the timeline, after his induction at New Cumberland, PA, it was off to Fort Jackson, SC for basic training. I have a few photos of him while there. One photo of him in his dark uniform, I purchased purely by accident at the sale of his cousin’s home, Arwilda Lied. She and her husband lived right next door to my home and they were moving to a retirement facility. I bought a wooden framed photo album, which was sold in a box of Haldeman memorabilia. After purchasing the items, I paged through the album filled with photos of other men in uniform, to find his photo labeled 1942. This was while he was at Fort Jackson, SC.  It was at Fort Jackson that he became part of the 608th Tank destroyer Battalion, Pioneer Company. Four hundred of the men were draftees from Pennsylvania. I have a copy of his unit photo, which was taken May 5, 1942. I have it featured on the website home page slide show. There’s a larger version of the photo in the Units/Battalions 600s/608th TD Bn. He’s standing in the third row from the front, 8th from the left.
In September all the men shipped off to Camp Hood in Texas, the heart of the Tank Destroyer program. Due to some procedural changes in the way tank destroyers were to be utilized in the service, the men of the 608th ended up being split up. From the information I received from Bernie Haas who was also in the 608th, all the men wound up in one of the following units; 607th, 610th, 643rd or the 807th.   Bernie was one of 160 draftees from the South Bend, Indiana to Cleveland, Ohio areas. It seems that me father was pulled from the unit prior to this division of the 608th because he doesn’t show up on the list Bernie obtained identifying where each of the men had gone. Dad ended up with the HQ Company of the 6th Tank Destroyer Group. I can only surmise that his diesel mechanic training, his Pennsylvania Dutch (a German dialec) language skills and probably his age (27) made him a good candidate for this newly formed leadership group. This unit would not only play an active role in a number of major conflicts but also provide support, leadership and training to other Tank Destroyer units. Our best guess is that his transfer came between September of 1942 and January of 1943 (more info from Bernie Haas).
Next it was on to Camp Young in the California desert. The area was a tank training area that General Patton had pushed for. One story I do remember from dad was that they would sleep on top of the trucks so the desert creatures wouldn’t bother them at night. Many of the families I have spoken to, have heard these same stories of the desert training. 
The unit Payroll Record indicates that they went on to Camp Maxey, TX, after the desert training. From there I’m not sure if he went back to Camp Hood or onto maneuvers in the Shreveport area of Louisiana. I have a card written to my dad on Nov, 19, 1943, from George H. Steffy, who was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. As I had mentioned in the “Early Years” section of the bio, dad had been friendly with George Steffy’s sister. George even refers to my dad as his future “brother-in-law”. The card reads as follows:
“I hope you are soon off of maneuvers or maybe back at camp. When you get back to camp, write to me as soon as possible I want to get a pass to come and see you. I had 15 days furlough this month and I enjoyed it. I talked with your family at home. I had the blues coming back to camp. I got my Christmas present and it was a watch. You can guess who got it for me. So long and remember to write soon.  –Your future brother in-law, Cpl. G.H.S”
Dad didn’t marry George’s sister and sadly, George never retuned from WWII. Additional research led me to identify that technician 4th Grade George H. Steffy was one of the 120 POW’s that were killed on December 17th, 1944, in what is now known as the Malmedy massacre.  I won’t go into that here but a you can easily find out more about that in a quick Internet search.
A contact through Ebay sent me a magazine featuring an article on the Louisiana maneuvers. Steve Zaloga’s Osprey book on Tanks and Tank Destroyer units identifies that lessons learned in earlier maneuvers there clearly identified flaws in the Tank Destroyer doctrine. Additionally, the reported poor performance of self-propelled tank destroyers (M3, GMCs) in North Africa would also play a part in the reorganization many of the TD units. For one or more of these reasons the 608th was split up and the men sent to Towed TD Battalions as mentioned earlier in the text. 
We know dad spent some time in England, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany from some of the items he sent back and the Campaigns he received credit for. While I was at home, he always had certain items locked in his wooden foot-locker type chest. It was painted that dark green army color with his father’s name and address clearly painted on top along with his information in the corner. Inside the lid of the chest was an attractive pin-up girl painted along with my dad’s name. I suppose it had been sent home at some point for safe keeping. Some of the items he brought or sent home were: Small wooden shoes from Holland; paisley scarf; metal bracelet; Bosnian Muslim Volunteer SS Fez; wooden Swagger Stick with a .50 Cal shell and bullet on the end; German Map Case; canvas map case; shaving mirror; antique English carriage clock from the late Victorian period; antique English Mahogany Decanter travel case with 4 class decanters; trinket box about the size of a cigar box with an inlaid sunburst design and monogram of his initials from Dachau and a leather satchel with the Tank Destroyer emblem, also from Dachau. A few other items from Dachau were photographs and a copy of the Official Report done by the OSS section of the 7th Army. The most valuable item to me is the knife he made during some of his down-time in England. Knife blade was a file; handle guard was a door-knocker. Handle features components from a German Stuka fighter. Scabbard was once the cavalry boot of one of the unit’s officers.
One very special item he kept in a smaller metal box was an 8-point compass. The compass is smaller than a dime, so it could be easily hidden or swallowed if necessary. It is our belief that he used this compass during his time behind enemy lines. You can see a photo of the compass in the Memorabilia section of the website.
One of the most interesting stories involves the listing of his name in the Muster on the Elbe program. Before I came across the Program in the leather satchel, we had never heard anything about the Muster. On page 6 of the Muster Program, it lists two names, one is Lt. Gen “Texas” Bill Simpson, and just below his name is my father’s name, Sgt. Robert Halderman. It is spelled Halderman on the program but this is a common mistake. Many people pronounce the Haldeman name as if it had an “R” in it. At first we assumed this had to do with his Bronze Star Certificate but the reading of that inscription sounds more related to a long term, high level of service compared to what could have been a single event. Our only idea about this honor relates to a story my father told of being sent behind enemy lines, in a German uniform, in some type of reconnaissance role. He was later captured by U.S. soldiers and help in some type of enclosure for POW’s. He was released when he saw his commanding officer and he recognized him. 
My first real research had me contacting Texas A&M University. They gave me the contact information for John Adams, who had written a book on the Musters. He told me that he had found that same program, being used as a book mark in the University’s archives. He had included the map from the program in his book. He would also give me the contact information for Frank Poole, who was one of the organizers of the Muster. I called Mr. Poole but his memory of the event was limited. He said a number of people attended and it was held very near Wittenberg, Germany.
My next attempt to find information was close by. Some portion of both Lt. Gen. Simpson and Maj. Gen Alvin Gillem’s military papers and photographs are stored at the Carlisle Military History Museum. Both men were listed as attending the Muster. Gen Simpson is listed with my dad so it was my hope that a photo of them both could be found. I only live about an hour and a half from the museum so I thought I would take a look. My brother went with me and but unfortunately we didn’t find any photos of the Muster. We did find a letter addressed dated January 26th, 1945, to Maj. Truman Alford about the Control Rest Center and a dinner Gen. Gillem enjoyed there.
It would be some time later that a saved search on Ebay which would let me know if the words “Aggie” “Elbe” and “Muster” appeared in the same listing for a sale item. I must have had that search on for more than a year before getting any hits. Then about two and a half years ago, there was a message that a Muster on the Elbe program was for sale. I immediately contacted the seller with my name and information about my dad. The seller, Tom Varner informed me that it was his father that had organized the Muster and ultimately was the M.C. for the event. I ended up purchasing the item and began corresponding with Tom. Tom remembered seeing some photos of the Elbe Muster event. You can imagine my excitement of the possibility of seeing my father in one of these photos. It would have been too good to be true. Regretfully, it did end up be too good to be true. Tom did make 8 X 10 copies of the photos and sent them to me. After careful examination, I realized that my father wasn’t in any of them. They did show Gen. Simpson and Gen. Gillem as well as Tom’s father Maj. Durward B. Varner and Gen. Frank Keating also listed in the program.
In addition, the program that I purchased from Tom didn’t list my father’s name. I was confused but I think Tom and I came up with a plausible answer to both questions. First, the photos were taken inside and there are no signs of the international guests that were listed in the program. Second, this was a large celebration, not only was this the normal time to celebrate the Aggie tradition but it was also the end of the war. Allied troops were at the very edge of completing their mission in Europe. John Adams’ book Softly Call the Muster, states that there were more than 250 Aggies in attendance, so it’s not out of the question to believe there was more than what is shown in the photos. It was my thought that an outside portion of the celebration may have been held earlier in the day or earlier in the week which was open to other troops and would have included some of the other “guests” that were listed. The fact that my father’s name was not in the program was easily answered in that Major Varner had organized the event so he could have had preliminary copies of the program before any final edits were made. I sent Tom a scan of the page listing my father and General Simpson, and it is clear that this was done in the same handwritten style and at the same time.  His name was certainly not just added as a keepsake.
As I looked closer and closer at the photos, I came to notice that Maj. Varner not only had the 13th Corps patch on his left shoulder but that he had tank destroyer emblems on his collars. This made me look even closer at the after action reports and the payroll records I had from the 6th TD Group. I hadn’t made the connection before but his name was listed in the payroll records as the unit’s Adjutant in 1943 and as the unit’s S-3 officer as of June of 1945. His listing in the After Action Reports puts him on SD (special service) with the XIII Corps also. This connection makes it easy for me to connect him with my father with knowledge of whatever he did to earn such an honor.
One of the consistent themes I have heard from the families involves their soldier’s stay at Dachau. It is our understanding that dad had some supervisory duties in a woodshop. There were many workshops on the grounds of the SS garrison next to the concentration camp. Dad brought home some photos of the atrocities that were committed there. It was only recently that we realized that these photos were probably some of the propaganda given out to the troops to spread the “news” of what had been done there. Eisenhower had shipped U.S. troops into the facility to make sure the things that were done there would not be forgotten. There are a number of websites with additional information on Dachau. I have listed a few in the links section of the site.
Robert Haldeman Bronze Star 
After returning from the war, it wasn’t long until he met my mother, 13 years his junior, at the local farmer’s market, Green Dragon. She would see him again when he applied for a job at the Redcay Hat factory in Adamstown. He would get a job there and would marry Sallie E. Zerbe, daughter of Joseph P. and Edna K. Zerbe, two years later on January 30, 1948.  From the hat factory, he would go into the building trade. First for Ray Lied, who built the house I live in today. I have actually found my father’s handwritten notes on some of the wood framing in my home. Next he worked for John Bomberger of Shillington, Berks County, PA and then onto my mother’s cousin, builder Edgar Zerbe of Monrose Manor in Berks Co. also.
Robert Haldeman 4
In the years after their marriage, my parents built two homes, one on a piece of property from the old Haldeman family farm and another in a farm field next to the current home of Renninger’s Antiques. In 1952, they would have their first child, a boy they would name Kevin. It would be another 12 years until they would have another (me)…a child of my father’s old age. My memories of my father revolved around him leaving early, working hard all day and coming home tired. We would normally eat supper, he would read the paper, I would take his shoes off for some coin and he would fall asleep on his La-Z-Boy.  
Although he had grown up on the farm and hunting was a normal activity, we were never to have them. My brother bought a gun for hunting but kept it at a friend’s home so my dad wouldn’t know about it. I never had toy guns around the house but by the time I was old enough to hunt, the rules had been relaxed enough to be able to buy one. I always believed it was because of his experiences in the service. It was hard for me to see him in the photo receiving his Bronze Star. He is wearing a handgun in a shoulder holster. Never could I have imagined him with a weapon of any type. My brother tells me that we were never taught Pennsylvania Dutch because of it’s similarity to German. The man that returned home was obviously not the man that had left to serve his country and he was doing what he could to forget his time of service.  He had obviously seen and heard things no one should have ever seen. 
He rarely would speak of his experiences and that has made all this research quite difficult. The little information he did provide would only give a glimpse of the where and when. The saved documents and photos would really be the key to any of this. It was them and the many knowledgeable people I have corresponded with that have brought me to this place. Hopefully this site will continue the trend and even more information will come to light.
Dad was a member of the Muddy Creek Lutheran Church and the Orioles Club in Denver, PA. I can’t say that he really had any hobbies but he was good at working with wood. Someday, I would like to see some of the homes that he worked on as part of his job. At the time, they were the million dollar homes you see today on TV, with many custom amenities. Everyone that worked with him spoke highly of his skill as a carpenter.
In 1976 he injured his leg, which would lead to problems with his back and ultimately back surgery.  He never recovered properly from that surgery and had a difficult time with pain thereafter. He was near retirement age and did retire from construction for good. His retirement was spent visiting his local friends and family and helping my mother with her garden. Many years later on July, 29th 1996, after having two previous heart bi-pass operations, his heart finally gave out. He was 81 years of age. He did live to see my brother’s 2 daughters into their teenage years and see my wife and I get married in 1992. He did not live to meet my 3 girls. It is my sincerest hope that this work would help them to know and understand who their grandfather was and what he had done to preserve the freedom they now enjoy. 
I must thank my mother for their assistance with this biography. She passed away in June of 2016 but was always a support to me and our family. She had a strong faith in Jesus and is in a much better place now.
“My Favorite Veteran” Essay – by Summer Joy Haldeman (Age 9) Nov. 11, 2010.  The Lancaster Newspaper held the contest and Summer won for the elementary level.  Her photo along with the other winners is shown on page 2 of the document which was printed in the paper on Veteran’s day 2010.