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Harold Warren
Harold Warren

"Being a GI with an Independent Spirit," WWII Reminiscence

Harold Warren

November 14, 1994
Interviewer: Rheba Massey

When Harold Warren was drafted he twice failed his military physical because of high blood pressure. He wanted to be accepted for service, and at his third physical, a sympathetic doctor told him to "lie down on a cot and keep your mouth shut for a change." He was accepted and served in the Normandy invasion, despite having high blood pressure. "I'm still living at age 81, and many of the doctors . . . are no longer here."

This comment was the first of several which showed the feisty Warren's spirit. "I didn't take any guff off anybody. Everybody expected me to be a very poor soldier, and maybe I was. But when there was something to be done, I figured that it should be done the right way."

When he was in basic training and a Corporal McDonald told him to clean McDonald's room for inspection, Warren refused and was sent to the commanding officer. "I told him I did not enter the military to clean Corporal McDonald's room." Surprisingly the officer agreed, and Warren had a positive outcome from his first experience in expressing his independence in the military.

It was while training as a medic that Warren again showed his independence. An explosion killed several men when Warren was on a training maneuver in the Salisbury Plains in the southwestern part of England. Warren and another medic treated the survivors and rushed them to an American field hospital, where a doctor was so impressed with their efforts that he asked if they needed additional supplies. Warren asked for sulfa powder, which was proving effective in treating wounds, but had not yet been issued to the line units. Warren and the other medics gladly used the powder and so indicated on the "Emergency Medical Treatment" or EMT tags put on each wounded and treated soldier.

Later, during the Normandy invasion, the commander reported their EMT tags were being questioned because sulfa powder was "against regulations." Warren replied "That's right, but it's doing the job." The medics continued to use this effective treatment.

Warren believed that the GIs won the war partially because they "had initiative enough to do what was right." Another dramatic example of this occurred at a field hospital at Valkenburg, Holland. The hospital was overrun with patients so Warren volunteered for extra duty. He noticed an infantryman with both hands wrapped up, sitting very straight. "He said he was in such pain and was sitting so straight, because there was a hand grenade in his back pocket. He didn't know whether it might go off and clean out the waiting area." Warren gingerly extracted the grenade, finding the pin was half out. He concealed the grenade and quickly took it away from the hospital before throwing it. He recalled that the explosion drew the attention and "the wrath of everybody."

"I attribute a lot of our victory to the American GI who did things that probably weren't supposed to be done."

Sometimes being independent allowed others to take the initiative, as when he and another soldier happened upon a slave labor factory during the liberation of Germany. There were hundreds of prisoners and only two German guards who quickly surrendered. Warren and his buddy allowed the slave laborers to take charge of their former masters. It should have taken them almost a day to transport them to where the German prisoners were being held, but no one questioned the former slaves when they returned in less than an hour. At this factory Warren also "liberated" a large garrison flag with a Swastika and "the cross of the Kaiser from World War I" in the corner.

Warren again used initiative when near the end of the war he requisitioned gas -impregnated paper, meant to be used in gas masks but going to waste. He'd discovered it made effective ground cover under the men's sleeping bags during the cold nights of their occupation of Germany.

During the Battle of the Bulge, his "collecting company" which was designed to care for and transport no more than a dozen patients at a time was overrun with over 100 patients. "You'd think we didn't have enough equipment - there's always a way of getting equipment." Warren and his men "liberated" German equipment, blankets and cots. He recalls how they took care of wounded in all types of conditions . . . lack of legs, parts of faces, parts of their bodies gone." He went on to talk of men with damaged minds who had gone "completely crazy. And that's war."

Although he was not involved with concentration camp victims, their medical units were sometimes called upon to help former slave laborers. Once he was taken to see a mother and daughter sleeping in a chicken coop, the daughter so ill she was delirious and needed hospitalization. Acting without waiting for authorization, he got an ambulance driver and took the pair to a German hospital where several signs warned "No GIs Permitted." Warren tossed the signs and took the girl inside where a German officer refused to treat the child because she was not German. Warren was carrying a sidearm (unauthorized for medics) and did not take "No" for an answer. The little girl received treatment.

Even the story of Warren's Bronze Star, reflects his independent spirit: On February 14, 1945, his unit was taking care of patients billeted in a pool hall and bar in a small German town. It was bitterly cold, and when he asked his officer if there was somewhere he could get coal, he was told to send somebody to a nearby mine. "Well, my philosophy through life has been never send somebody - take somebody." When he and his men returned, they were black with coal dust and found the company was in formation. He told his men to forget the formation and was helping them unload the coal when the first sergeant ordered them to join the formation. Warren replied "We've got a job to be done," but was ordered "front and center."

"So I went to the front, in military form for a change, and saluted them; and Captain Allen pinned this Bronze Star on me on that dirty, filthy jacket, and said, 'I told you to send the men up there." I said, 'Sir, I always take my men.'"

"The Bronze Star says, 'For meritorious service in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany.' . . Yes, I'm proud of it; but it's not to my personal glory, because my men were a part of me all the time."

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