Private Harold Latta
- Unit: 29th Infantry Division, 121th Engineer Combat Battalion
- Service Number: 39288980
- Date of Birth: July 15, 1924
- Entered the Military: March 15, 1943
- Date of Death: June 8, 1944
- Hometown: Valentine, Nebraska and Seal Beach
- Place of Death: near Omaha Beach, France
- Award(s): Purple Heart
- Cemetery: Plot G, Row 21, Grave 13. Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Mentored by Mr. Erik Peterson
Foothill High School, Santiago Elementary
Harold Latta was one of five children born to Ralph and Ester Latta in the rural farming town York, Nebraska. Not long after, the Latta family moved to Cherry, Nebraska. Ralph worked on the farm while Ester was a stay at home mother, caring for all five children.
Prior to the World War II, Private Latta attended Valentine High School alongside his popular older sister, Jean. He was determined to make his own niche within the high school community. He accomplished this with his sense of humor, exemplified by his friend, Art Jeffers. Upon graduation, Art jokingly left Harold his long wavy hair.
Hardship and sacrifice became common for the Latta family, as the Great Depression and severe dust storms, known as the Dust Bowl, made their life of farming even more difficult. These hardships may have been the reason that Harold quit high school two years early in order to provide further financial help. After, like hundreds of other Nebraskan farmers during the early 1940’s, the family decided to move west to Orange County, California. But just as they settled into the Golden State, they found the country in war and the family faced a new worry: their son at war.
The Latta family lived in rural Cherry, Nebraska, where they owned their own farm. The town focused on providing food necessary for the soldiers fighting abroad. Many were forced to ration items, such as gasoline and sugar, to ensure enough supplies for the war effort. Farmers were also asked by the government to increase their food productivity. Even those in urban communities joined in, alleviating the demand of the public food supply and creating victory gardens. These gardens fed families stateside, while mass farm produced food was sent to feed American soldiers overseas. The entire nation took the call to action and did their own part to provide as much food, clothing, and supplies as possible.
During these first years in the war, it was common for farmers in Nebraska to move westward for higher paying jobs and financial stability.
California, having efficient industries, contributed in great quantity to the war effort. Central California and its great soil for farming, much like today, provided much of the food for the nation during the war. The shipyards, in both northern and southern California, helped quickly build the ships needed to fight in both the Pacific and Atlantic. Factories were built that constructed the bombs, planes, and other weapons used abroad.
Despite these advances, racism towards Japanese-Americans was evident. After Pearl Harbor, many Californians feared a Japanese invasion on their home soil. Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps throughout the West Coast, including California, as they were feared to be spies. At the same time, the government sent Mexicans to the state to work on the farms through the Bracero Program, in order to replace the men who left to fight the war.
Shortly after moving to California with his family, Private Latta enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 3, 1943, from Los Angeles, California. He was sent to England in November 1943 and trained in Padstow, Cornwall, England.
121st Engineer Combat Battalion
He trained with fellow soldiers in Company B of the 29th Infantry Division’s 121st Engineer Combat Battalion. Engineers of the 121st Engineer Combat Battalion were a unique group of soldiers. They landed in the invasion to repair damage to grant accessible routes to attack the German army. Engineers trained extensively. They practiced loading and unloading Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs), set up adequate communication within the battalion, and destroyed anti-tank walls and other obstacles.
Engineers cleared debris, repaired and built roads and bridges, and used flamethrowers and other engineering equipment. The soldiers tested their flamethrowers in empty fields and explosives on barbed wire fences and old tanks. Engineers practiced communicating through radios to ensure unity and cooperation throughout the battalion. After months of training, Private Latta disembarked from England on June 5, 1944, at approximately 5:00 p.m.
As one of the first to land on Omaha Beach, Private Latta and the rest of the engineers cleared the various obstacles the enemy planted, repaired roads, and built bridges for easier navigation routes for the soldiers who were trailing inland. Despite resistance from German soldiers on June 7, the engineers advanced and cleared the roads from the artillery strikes the night before. These roads enabled troops to maneuver equipment, such as tanks and other military vehicles, and quickly provide reinforcements.
Soon after, snipers halted Company B as they were working to repair and clean a street from Vierville to Grand Camp. On June 8, 1944, Private Harold Latta was killed by a wound to the head, believed to have come from a sniper. He was buried the same day in a temporary location, found with only the remainder of his money and a pipe.
Over 200,000 Allied troops died fighting in Operation Overlord. Not just merely a number or statistic to be thrown around, this number is a representation of all the men who sacrificed everything they held dear in order to maintain liberty in the world. Private Harold Latta was one of these men.
Private Latta fought courageously on Omaha Beach, as he attacked the entrenched German army while also mending the roads and bridges which were damaged. On June 8, 1944, at just 19 years of age Private Harold Latta gave the greatest sacrifice a man could give. He left behind his four sisters, his mother, and father.
Many would say that this was the end of his life, here in France fighting amongst his comrades, but this could not be further from the truth. He gave his life so we in turn could live ours, freely and in peace. It was his selflessness, his bravery, and his sacrifice that ensured the freedom we have today and for this, his legacy will never be forgotten. Others believe the heroes of our society to be those we watch on TV or read about in books, but here in front of you, is a true American hero. Let us never forget the sacrifice he made for our freedom and liberty, and may his story never perish from our hearts.
Private Harold Latta, thank you for your service. May you and the rest of your brothers who are amongst us rest in peace.
This opportunity, given by the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Student and Teacher Institute, has provided me the experience to learn history whilst living it. It’s one thing to be in a classroom while learning the history of our ancestors, but to be granted the chance to walk in the footsteps of the great soldiers we have studied is astonishing.
I expected I would come out of this Institute with a little more knowledge on the Second World War and the opportunity to research a fallen soldier. What I did not know was that I would be able to learn the value of life and what it truly means to sacrifice. It is two words that are so simple yet so powerful: “Earn this.” After learning of the sacrifice given by my Silent Hero, Private Harold Latta, and the fellow soldiers researched by my peers, I have realized that it is my duty as a citizen and human being to ensure that the liberty they fought and died for never parishes. I have become determined to “earn this” sacrifice. If not for those brave men who liberated Europe, I cannot say the state of the world and America would be as safe and secure as it is now. I am constantly thinking of Private Latta’s sacrifice, as he will always have a space in my heart. Additionally, I was able to come out with a family, full of people who genuinely love history just as much as I do and who I am honored to have worked with. It is a combination of the lessons I have learned and the people who I have been able to share them with that has made this experience even more incredible.
To demonstrate how much I have been influenced, imagine as I did, everything that had occurred on Omaha Beach only 74 years before. It was difficult to look outward at the big sea, imagining the hundreds of Higgins boats shot as they disembarked onto the beach. My heart sank even further to know that Private Latta, at just 19 years old, died fighting for my liberty on the very sands I walked on. It was as if time had stopped as I looked toward the ocean. It was a moment I will always have engraved in my mind.
29th Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, World War II Operations Records 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 7485); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
29th Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, World War II Operations Records 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 7513); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
29th Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, World War II Operations Records 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 7514); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
29th Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, World War II Operations Records 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 7594); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Food for Freedom: Get your Farm in the Fight! National Archives and Records Administration. Digital Images. livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/crops-3/
From 121st Eng. Bn. 29th Div. at Tidworth, England. Photograph. April 9, 1943. National Archives and Records Administration (186806). Image.
Harold Latta, Individual Deceased Personnel File, Department of the Army.
Harold Latta. Headstone Inscription and Interment Record. Digital Images. ancestry.com.
Members of Co. “A”, 121st Engineers., 29th Div., at a specially built assault training area near Tidworth, England. Radio is portable transmitter and receiver. Photograph. April 6, 1943. National Archives and Records Administration (184815). Image.
Members of Co. “A”, 121st Engrs., 29th Div., are connecting portions of the explosive charge used to destroy double-apron barbed wire entanglement in specially constructed assault training area near Tidworth, England. Photograph. April 6, 1943. National Archives and Records Administration (184811). Image.
Nebraska. Cherry County. 1940 Census Record. Digital Images. ancestry.com.
Records for Harold Latta; World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [Electronic File], Record Group 64; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD [retrieved from the Access to Archival Databases at aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=2&cat=WR26&tf=F&q=harold+latta&bc=,sl,sd&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=7777876&rlst=7182603, February, 2018].
Wyoming. Campbell County. 1930 Census Record. Digital Images. ancestry.com.
“Harold Latta.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed February 22, 2018. www.abmc.gov/node/410800#.W1qct9JKjIU.