From Panama to Germantown: A Local Soldier’s Encounter with General Harding

William Steinmetz, a Dayton native, joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and served until 1945. He graduated from Co B, Signal Training Battalion at Ft. Monmouth, N.J. and in 1943 was deployed to the Mobile Force Signal Corps in the Panama Canal Zone. 

Coincidentally, General Edwin Harding was assigned to the command of the Mobile Force in the Canal Zone in 1943. His experience in the jungles of New Guinea was an asset in a command that played a role in the training of infantry units for jungle warfare.

Harding only served one year in the Canal Zone which was the year twenty-year-old Steinmetz became the youngest member of the Panama Canal Mobile Force to receive the Soldier’s Award. Steinmetz saved a boy and a girl from drowning and administered CPR to the girl. A photo the Steinmetz family possesses shows Harding pinning the Soldier’s Award onto William’s chest in an outdoor ceremony.

William Steinmetz went on to serve as an MP and became a qualified parachutist. He fought in the Rhineland and the Central European Campaigns.

General Harding went on to command the Antilles Department of the Caribbean and became the Director of the Historical Division for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the War Department. He retired in 1946 and moved back to his childhood home in Franklin.

William Steinmetz settled in Germantown after his service was over, worked as a mechanic and raised six children in the small town down the road from the Harding residence. Oddly, though the two lived close to each other, they never had contact as civilians. Harding passed away in 1970 and Steinmetz in 1993.

Jerry Steinmetz, son of “Bill,” recently stopped by the Harding Museum to learn more about the man who had awarded his father the Soldier’s Award in the ceremony in 1943. He pulled up the photo of his father and General Harding on his phone and related their story. 

We are happy to have the information and a copy of the photo to archive at the Museum.

Photo: William "Bill" Steinmetz (right) receiving the Soldier's Award from General Harding.