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Our War: ESL man supplied troops in Europe

World War II Army veteran Timothy Hatter tells his story about serving as a quartermaster in Europe during the war.
World War II Army veteran Timothy Hatter tells his story about serving as a quartermaster in Europe during the war.

Without quartermasters the war couldn't have been won.

"Whatever the infantry needed, we handled," said former Army Pvt. Timothy Hatter, 84, of East St. Louis. "Weapons, ammo, food. We were responsible for making sure the front lines got the supplies they needed. If it had not been for the quartermasters we would have lost the war. As long as there were supplies being sent over, we handled it."

Hatter served with Company B in the Army's 565th Quartermaster Co. based at Camp Gordon in Augusta, Ga., during World War II.

"At that time there was no integration," Hatter said. "We had white officers, but the company itself was all black. We stayed segregated in Europe until the latter part of the war, then, we were integrated."

Hatter was drafted into the service three months after his 18th birthday and served for three years, most of that time served in Europe.

Men in the company competed against each other, trying to see who could load the supply truck the fastest and get it to the men fighting on the front lines, Hatter said. There were about 140 men assigned to the company.

They were required to drive the supply-laden trucks to the front lines to make sure the supplies were distributed among the troops. He followed the Army from fight to fight through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.

"We lost some fellas," Hatter said. "We had to fight and we were as close to the front lines as the infantry. If someone got killed we'd pause for 10 minutes, have a little prayer for them and then go on our way."

Although he was at war, Hatter frequently questioned why he was fighting.

"I didn't feel like I was fighting an enemy because they had done nothing to me," he said. "But, because they were fighting our country, I fought. I didn't want to be in the service but because I am an American and because they wanted to fight this country, I fought. I don't think the Germans wanted to fight, either, but Hitler, he wanted to fight the world, and he wanted to fight the U.S. and we had to stop him. We had to stop him."

Being a black soldier in an all-black company with white officers had several drawbacks for Hatter, he said.

"They did not always treat us kindly," he said of the officers. "There were times when they treated us like underservants, but in our minds, we were all Americans and we were all fighting for one thing and one thing only -- to win the war and get home safely."

He saw concentration camps and found it hard to comprehend how awful people could be to one another, but also had a personal understanding of the discrimination the concentration camp prisoners experienced. He experienced segregation and discrimination in the United States before shipping out to Europe.

In Georgia and Tennessee, black soldiers were prohibited from visiting certain parts of the towns they were stationed near, he said.

"A lot of my friends from the company ended up staying in Europe after the war because they didn't like being segregated here," he said. "Over there, they were treated like human beings."

Marching through Holland was the worst physical experience during his time in Europe, he said.

"To me Holland was the coldest place on the planet," he said. "We had on Uncle Sam's best and still my feet got frostbitten. We had pup tents and you had to pitch your pallet under the pup tent -- it was cold. The coldest I've ever been. We never got warm."

He has kept in touch with a few men from his company and has many memories of the friendships he made during his stint in Europe. The friendships he formed were the best thing that came out of his war service, he said.

"It wasn't pretty, but it's an experience I'm very proud to have," Hatter said. "We were determined to keep Hitler from crossing the Atlantic, and we did that. I'm proud to have been part of that."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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