My wife’s grandfather Vardry Hardin passed away last week after a prolonged bout with numerous illnesses. I’ll admit that I didn’t know him well, but I respected him tremendously. He was a prime example of that greatest generation that we’re quickly losing members of.
I remember fondly one time I sat for several hours and interviewed him about his military experience in the Army during World War II. It took some time, but he eventually opened up to me. Maybe it was our shared military experience and the fact that he didn’t have to worry about offending me by saying something about his time in the war. He knew I’d understand all of it from the sheer boredom of forced marches to the madness of following orders that meant people might die.
The part I remember best was when he spoke of his time in France and actually began speaking in French. He just started spouting out words and phrases that sound expertly fluent, although with a twinge of his good old Southern accent. I had no idea what he was saying, but I just sat there and reveled in the fact that he was so comfortable with me that he probably didn’t even realize he was speaking French.
As his health worsened, he grew more distant and quieter. He was always in constant pain. Now he feels no pain. He’s in a better place, and I know I’ll see him again someday.
Because of our shared military experiences I wanted to honor that part of his life by writing a synopsis of his time in the service. Most of what I’m writing here has been pieced together from stories told to me by Mr. Hardin and others in his family. Please forgive me if I’m mistaken on any of the facts. If there are any errors or omissions, the mistake is mine.
Technical Sergeant Vardry Hardin
Time of Service- 1942-1945 during World War II
Position- Motor Transport
Unit- 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne, US Army
With this unit he spent time in Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany.
He participated in the D-Day landing at Normandy, where his glider was shot down by enemy fire during the landing.
He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. During this campaign, a Private First Class Martin, from Sgt. Hardin’s regiment, famously told a sergeant in a retreating tank destroyer to “…pull your vehicle behind me—I’m the 82nd Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are going!”
His unit also liberated the Wobbelin concentration camp near Ludwigslust, Germany on May 2, 1945. Almost 1000 inmates were found dead in the camp, with just over 600 surviving to freedom.
“Living conditions in the camp when the U.S. 8th Infantry and the 82nd Airborne arrived were deplorable. There was little food or water and some prisoners had resorted to cannibalism. When the units arrived, they found about 1,000 inmates dead in the camp. In the aftermath, the U.S. Army ordered the townspeople in Ludwigslust to visit the camp and bury the dead.
On May 7, 1945, the 82nd Airborne Division conducted funeral services for 200 inmates in the town of Ludwigslust. Attending the ceremony were citizens of Ludwigslust, captured German officers, and several hundred members of the airborne division. The U.S. Army chaplain at the service delivered a eulogy stating that:
“The crimes here committed in the name of the German people and by their acquiescence were minor compared to those to be found in concentration camps elsewhere in Germany. Here there were no gas chambers, no crematoria; these men of Holland, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France were simply allowed to starve to death. Within four miles of your comfortable homes 4,000 men were forced to live like animals, deprived even of the food you would give to your dogs. In three weeks 1,000 of these men were starved to death; 800 of them were buried in pits in the nearby woods. These 200 who lie before us in these graves were found piled four and five feet high in one building and lying with the sick and dying in other buildings.”
Military Occupational Specialty Insignia- Army Enlisted Transportation Corps with “US”
Honorable Service Lapel Pin (known as the ‘ruptured duck’)
Glider Badge- a qualification badge awarded to personnel assigned or attached to a glider unit, satisfactorily completed a course of instruction, or participated in at least one combat glider mission into enemy-held territory.
Basic Parachutist Badge with one combat jump device
Army Expert Shooting Badge with Qualification Bars for Rifle, Pistol, Machine Gun, Grenade, Carbine, and Bayonet
Army Driver and Mechanic Badge with Qualification Bars for Driver-W (wheeled) and Driver-M (mechanic)
Awards (in order of precedence)-
Army Good Conduct Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 bronze stars for campaigns in Sicily, Naples-Foggia, and Normandy and one arrowhead for a combat glider landing at Normandy.
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal- Germany
National Defense Service Medal
Presidential Unit Citation with 2 stars
French Croix de Guerre with Palm and Fourragere
Military William Order, the highest and a very rare honor of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, for bravery and valiant service in battle at Nijmegen 1944 during Market Garden.
I also know that he sustained at least one injury that qualified for the Purple Heart, but the clinic was destroyed and all records with it.
Vehicle- Waco CG-4A Hadrian
The CG-4A was the most widely used U.S. troop/cargo glider of World War II. Constructed of fabric-covered wood and metal, the CG-4A was crewed by a pilot and copilot. It could carry 13 troops and their equipment or a jeep, a quarter-ton truck or a 75mm howitzer loaded through the upward-hinged nose section. Usually, C-46’s and C-47’s were used as tow aircraft.
Flight testing began in 1942, and the CG-4A first went into operation in July 1943 during the Allied invasion of Sicily. It also participated in the D-Day assault on France on June 6, 1944, and in other important airborne operations in Europe and in the China-Burma-India Theater. Until late in the war, gliders were generally considered expendable in combat and were abandoned or destroyed after landing.
Fifteen companies manufactured over 12,000 CG-4As, with 1,074 built by the Waco Aircraft Co. of Troy, Ohio. The glider on display was built by the Gibson Refrigerator Co. in Greenville, Mich., and accepted by the U.S. Army Air Forces in July 1945.
Maximum towed speed: 150 mph
Span: 83 ft. 8 in.
Length: 48 ft. 4 in.
Height: 12 ft. 7 in.
Weight: 7,500 lbs. loaded