A Foot Soldier’s StoryOct 04, 2016 01:58PM ● By Alisha Soeken
Phil Andersen foot soldier in WWII. Barbara Andersen/resident
By Alisha Soeken | [email protected]
This is the story of Phil Larsen Andersen a resident of Murray, father, farm boy and foot soldier.
Andersen’s great-great-grandfather was Isaac Behunin. Behunin was one of the first white men to explore Zion Canyon, was credited with naming it and was a bodyguard for one of the most loved and hated men in America, Joseph Smith.
Andersen grew up on a farm in Spring City, Utah.
“My work assignments in the family were to take the cows to and from the pasture, chop wood, and bring coal into the house to burn for heat and cooking. I fed the chickens, horses and cows and learned to make bee frames and extract honey from them,” Andersen said.
Andersen learned hard work not only on the farm but holding his first job at age six delivering newspapers on the back of Old Black Sal, his beloved horse.
Later Andersen’s family moved to Salt Lake and he began attending Murray High School where he was an officer in the boys Tiger Club.
“The years from 1941 to 1944 were all war years, but to me as a teenager, they were wonderfully fun years. I had many friends and we had a ball together,” Andersen said.
Despite his distance from the war Andersen still felt its effects.
“The change I remember most was rationing. The needs of the men in the armed forces came first. Rationing was implemented on foods such as meat, cheese, butter, milk, sugar, flour, coffee and eggs. As well as leather for shoes. Most children and adults were allotted two pairs of shoes a year. We got used to putting a piece of cardboard in shoes that had holes in the bottom,” Andersen said.
Those rations would all too soon benefit him when on his 18th birthday he was inducted into the army. Andersen was willing.
“We had a job to do to fight for our country and for freedom and I would do it,” Andersen said.
Andersen arrived at Fort Douglas where his civilian clothing was taken away and replaced with a uniform and a serial number.
“As we lined up naked we were given choices. I was asked, ‘What branch of the service would you like to serve in?’ I said The Air Corps. ‘That quota is all filled. What is your next choice?’ The Navy I answered. ‘That is all filled too. You are in the Army, soldier, next…’”
Destined to be a foot soldier Andersen was shipped to Camp Wolters in Texas for basic training. Four months later in January of 1945 Andersen was shipped to Liverpool, England on the U.S.S Wakefield.
“Even relating that experience after so many years, I get very emotional. I watched the Statue of Liberty getting smaller and smaller as we sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean. I was an 18-year-old farm kid who had never been more than a few miles away from home. I was scared and lonely even with 9,000 soldiers around me,” Andersen said.
Andersen entered the battlefield in March and fought with his division in three major campaigns; the Battle of the Bulge, the Remagen Bridge and the Ruhr Pocket.
“I was involved in fierce fighting. Wherever we went, we discovered horrifying evidence of Hitler’s brutality. We fought hard. What I saw of war gave me nightmares for the rest of my life,” Andersen said.
Andersen remembers a night slept on cadavers, the stench of fluids spilling from a pile of corpses and the unspeakable atrocities of the concentration camps.
“What a waste of human life war is,” Andersen said.
But Andersen’s memories are also of the happy cries of liberated slaves, the beauty of Germany and the brotherly love of soldiers who became his family. And, after a year on the battlefield, Andersen was given an honorable discharge and the hope for a good future.
That future included graduation from the University of Utah, marriage, four children and many grandchildren.
More than 30 years after his discharge Andersen and his wife traveled back to Germany visiting places he walked as a soldier. Tears fell as he remembered his life as a foot soldier. Andersen said of his experience in a way only a humble farm boy could,
“We had a job to do and we did it.”