Black cats are usually associated with bad luck.
For the men of the 774th Tank Battalion, called the Black Cat Battalion, the bad luck went to anyone who crossed their path.
Harvey A. Dickey of Beech Creek was one of those 'Black Cats.'
Harvey Dickey and his wife Doris during the early days of their marriage.
Dickey was born in Mill Hall to Glenn and Florence Dickey on Feb. 15, 1917. He was the oldest of 12 children: three brothers and eight sisters. He worked on the farm growing up and went to school at Masden Hollow until eighth grade.
Dickey eventually moved on to work at the American Aniline Products plant, called the "dye works," in addition to his work on the farm.
When the United States entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Dickey was one of the first wave of volunteers to enlist. He was later followed by all three of his brothers. Robert joined the Army. Vaughn enlisted in the Navy and Jack became a Marine.
Dickey was officially inducted into the Army on Feb. 21, 1942, just six days after his 25th birthday. He was assigned to the 774th Tank Battalion of the 7th Armored Division in the 3rd Army, under the command of Gen. George Patton.
After completing basic training and technical instruction in armored vehicles, Dickey and the other members of the battalion were sent to California for desert warfare training. On the way, he passed through the Midwest and wrote to his brother, Vaughn, about what he saw.
"When the sun came up, nothing but wheat fields," Dickey wrote. "When the sun went down, nothing but wheat fields."
It was during training in California that Dickey was injured when his tank slipped into a ditch. Though hospitalized, the injuries were superficial and Dickey returned to duty not long after. Just after this, he was given leave and returned home to Beech Creek to visit his family for 15 days.
Training in California lasted until mid-1943, when the unit was sent first to Fort Benning, Ga., for organization, then Camp Rucker, Ala., and the Tennessee Maneuver Area for further training. Dickey was made first a tank commander, and then a platoon commander, leading an element of five tanks in the field.
The battalion spent a month at Fort Campbell, Ky., training in indirect fire missions before reporting to Camp Shanks, N.Y., to board a troopship, the Dominion Monarch, for the voyage to England.
Dickey was only in England a little over a month before the unit shipped out again, this time for France. The "Black Cats" rolled onto Utah beach on Aug. 25, about two months after the D-day invasion.
Dickey took part in operations to support General Patton's drive on Germany, providing artillery fire across the Moselle river and guarding the flank of the 3rd Army. Following this, as German resistance increased, the 774th was sent to aid in the assault on the Hurtgen Forest.
The fighting in the woodlands was fierce and both sides suffered heavy losses before the forest was secured by the Allies in mid December of 1944. Dickey and the 774th had little time to rest however. Mere days after leaving the battle at Hurtgen, the German army launched a major counterattack, starting the famous "Battle of the Bulge."
Though the 774th was operating at only half strength after the fighting in Hurtgen, the unit took part in defending key roads and providing fire support for the attacks to drive German forces back. It was during one of these assaults at Petite-Langlir, Belgium, that Dickey's tank was hit and knocked out. As he and another crewman attempted to get back to their lines, they found another soldier who had been wounded.
Dickey and the other tanker dragged the wounded man out of harms way, across open ground and through the snow, all the while being fired upon. For this action, Dickey was awarded the Bronze Star.
Dickey was promoted to staff sergeant not long after being awarded the medal. He continued to lead his platoon in the fighting in the Ruhr pocket and was temporarily assigned to assist the famed 101st Airborne Division as the Allies closed in on the last German strongholds.
On May 9, 1945, military operations in Germany were declared to be at an end. Dickey stayed on in Germany through the summer, returning to the U.S. in mid-October. He was given an honorable discharge from the Army on Oct. 23, 1945.
Dickey returned home to Beech Creek and took a job with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, working his way up to labor foreman for the Food and Cover Corps. He spent some of his free time hunting and fishing, even taking trips to Canada for fishing.
Dickey was introduced to Doris Genteel by his sister.
Doris, who went by the nickname 'Betty', worked for Sylvania on special products for the war effort.
Dickey and Betty were married on Nov. 16, 1950 in Rebersburg.
"I think the job with the Game Commission suited him," said daughter, Karen Swanson, 59. "He liked being outdoors."
Swanson remembers her father as a quiet and private man who enjoyed hunting, farming and gardening. He managed a plot of land for hunting, which was later passed on to her.
"I think he liked just being home." Swanson said. "Just working around the house and relaxing. He had nieces and nephews in the area and they spent a lot of time at his house."
In addition to land management, Dickey was a contributor to the Blanchard Church of Christ building and expansion program.
"He never talked about the war," Swanson said. "I think it's good to have this program to honor the veterans. It makes you see how many people from this area actually served."
Harvey Dickey passed away in 2008, five years after his wife, Doris 'Betty' Dickey.