Monday, November 29, 2010
Regardless of the fact that it’s been almost 70 years since he enlisted to serve during World War II, George Warden can still clearly recall dates, places and circumstances during his three and half years in the army.
Warden, who has lived in Callaway County since 1937, turns 93 on Monday. To his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Warden’s war stories are like a living history.
“You’re not just hearing history, you have an eye-witness,” said Dorothy Kleindienst, Warden’s daughter.
Dorothy and her husband, David Kleindienst, spent Veterans Day with Warden, as he reminisced about his experiences during the war. On Friday, they were getting Warden’s house ready for his 93rd birthday party.
“I don’t know if I can get 93 candles on the cake or not,” Kleindienst joked.
Even though Warden is getting on in years, he still remembers when he first decided to enlist. It was February 1942, only a couple of months after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he was 24. He said he decided to enlist because it was difficult to get work at the time and he “was gonna be drafted anyway.” He served as an army engineer corporal. At times, he said, his unit was sent to set demolition charges to blow up bridges, and other times they were sent to repair bridges.
Warden said one of his most memorable moments of the war was when he caught sight of a paratrooper who was about to shoot a young, German Jew.
“This paratrooper thought he was an infiltrator,” Warden said.
Since the man spoke with a German accent, Warden said, the paratrooper thought he was a spy. He explained that the young man’s parents were German Jews who had come over to America, and that’s why he spoke with an accent. Warden said he and another soldier eventually convinced the paratrooper he was an American and to let him go.
One of the worst times Warden said he had during the war was when he rode in the back of a truck with fellow soldiers across part of France in below freezing weather. He said there was no canvas on the truck and it was raining.
“We’d like to have froze.”
Warden received various medals and awards for his service in WWII. Among those were five bronze stars. Warden said he received a bronze star for every major battle he was involved in. The Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of Cherbourg were three of the more well-known battles he took part in.
Kleindienst said that when her father recently told her about how so many of his fellow soldiers were “slaughtered” on the beaches of Normandy, he got choked up at the thought.
Warden said that even though he had some close calls, there was never a time that he thought he might not return home.
“I always believed I’d make it. I don’t know why,” he said.
One of those close calls happened as he and some other men in his unit were crossing a bridge. He said the Germans were firing on the bridge with “88” guns. Once crossed, he said, they were only about 50 yards away from it when a shell hit the bridge right were they had just been.
Overall, Warden said he didn’t look back fondly at his experiences during the war.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
Warden married his wife, Dorothy, just a couple years after returning from his service in Europe. Dorothy said she met Warden before he enlisted, but they decided to wait until he returned from war before getting married.
“We just thought it would be best,” she said.
The two wrote letters to each other during the war. When she heard the war was over and Warden would be coming home, Dorothy said she was “tickled pink.”
After his service in the army, Warden farmed and ran his own timber business. Now he enjoys spending time with his family and putting together jigsaw puzzles. He recently became a great-great grandfather and plans to have his family over for his birthday celebration on Monday.