ASHTABULA — Cliff Harpst had a front row seat to the German surrender at the end of World War II and even predicted the conclusion of the war to his unit.
“The war was going to be ending. I had my radio on and ‘I said hey guys I can’t tell you nothing now, but this war will probably be over tomorrow ... and it was,’” Harpst said.
Harpst was too young to join the Army when he graduated from high school, but had the good sense to study radio operation and it became his ticket to work directly with the commander of his unit.
He said he was stationed about a mile and a half from where the German surrender was signed in May of 1945. He was able to tell from radio traffic that the Nazis were going to surrender soon because the Russians were coming from the Eastern front and the Germans didn’t have many troops left.
“I could see where the two officers were going to come together,” he said.
Earlier in the war, Harpst and his unit traveled from New York City to France on the Queen Mary where they arrived at the D-Day invasion site in France. He said it was several months after the invasion, but he was shocked anyone had survived with all the carnage still visible.
He said they marched across France and met unfriendly fire along a river in Germany. Harpst said the combat situations were tough and in one situation he helped connect with wounded soldiers.
Harpst said he provided a drink of water for a mortally wounded soldier.
“I knew he wasn’t going to make it home,” he said of the severity of the injuries.
“He had that drink of water and he was gone,” Harpst said.
Harpst grew up in Albion, Pennsylvania, before heading to South Carolina for basic training. He said the state was not developed but he ended up living there years later and said the growth in the state was phenomenal.
He said he also spent a long time in the supply line after the war ended and American troops were assisting the transition to civilian rule.