World War II

Harry A. Maxson

World War II Oral History Interview
US Army, Chemical Warfare Service
Date: May 14, 2003
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Macartan McCabe
Veterans History Project


Harry Maxson was born and raised in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. Prior to being drafted for World War II, he worked for the Post Engineers at Fort Hancock, which was only three miles away from his home. Maxson also worked for Eisner’s in Red Bank, which made clothes for the soldiers. He had a brother who was a part of a bomber crew in Europe. Maxson was drafted when his brother came home, so he missed the chance to see him until after the war was over. He could never forget that Sunday morning when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; he remembered being shocked about the attack.  Maxson was drafted soon after Pearl Harbor. He was first sent to Fort Dix, where he and sixteen other draftees were selected to be in the 67th Chemical Smoke Generator Company, which was stationed at Fort Hancock.

Fort Hancock

Maxson was stationed at Fort Hancock for several months when he did his basic training, and he enjoyed it. He remembered when Brigadier General Philip S. Gage, who oversaw Fort Hancock, ordered his company to deploy a smokescreen. This caused all of New York City to be shut down! Maxson remembered General Gage being yelled at over the phone for his decision. The company then was moved to Alabama, where they conducted smokescreen exercises all over the East Coast. His most memorable experience was when they deployed a smokescreen over a replica Maginot Line in Florida, which was to be bombed by the Air Force. Out of 75 bombs dropped, only one hit its target; and, it was accidental, which proved the effectiveness of the smokescreen. He also tested clothing to see if it could resist chemical weaponry; those who were subject to the tests often emerged with terrible blisters and could barely walk. Maxson received an award for above and beyond the call of duty for volunteering for this, even though he did not have an option to not do this.

General Gage’s troops on a manuever at Fort Hancock in 1941.

Maxson and his company were then transported from Alabama to California. He knew he was going to go to the Pacific at this point, since going to Europe from California was not realistic. Once they arrived at San Francisco, they had to train for an abandon ship situation in the Bay. The ship they used to go from California to their destination was a Dutch ship that was given to the United States. Their destination was New Guinea, a Pacific Island off the coast of Australia. Maxson recalled seeing the gruesome aftermath from a battle between the US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy while in the South China Sea. He also made friends with several people while enroute to New Guinea who were also from Atlantic Highlands.

Maxson and his company were not supposed to be in New Guinea; they were supposed to be in the Philippines, but the government forgot about them. He and his company were stuck on New Guinea for three months before receiving orders to go to the Philippines. Since they had no actual mission in New Guinea, they had to unload food and supplies every day, since a Chemical and Smoke Company was not needed on an island that had already driven out the Japanese.

Once they finally left New Guinea, Maxson encountered a terrible typhoon which lasted for four days. Typhoons have the capacity to destroy ships, which happened to the Mongols twice and later the Russians. The convoy that he was on survived; yet, he was still terrified during that entire time. Maxson was instructed to keep his head down when they landed in Manila, since the Japanese had gotten into sunken ships and were ambushing soldiers. He also worked with Filipino guerrillas, who he believed could “smell” the Japanese. One Filipino guerrilla captured a Japanese soldier who had grenades stuffed in his pants.

His company was tasked with designing clothing that would be immune to chemicals in the event of an invasion of Japan; the clothes were also to be disposed after use due to the chemical burns. Maxson met General Jonathan Wainwright, who he described as one of the greatest men he ever met. However, he did not think too highly of General MacArthur, and thought of him as “All show, no go.” Maxson also interacted with the Japanese daily, since he had to go to the POW compound every day.  The Japanese General always saluted him before he reviewed the Japanese soldiers.

Harry Maxson received an honorable discharge from the Army on April 6, 1946. He remembered stopping at Truman’s home in Missouri to show his respect for the President. Maxson and his company had a snowball fight in their yard. He earned the Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal for his service.