XENIA — As soon as Harold Warren’s talk ends, members of the crowd that’s squeezed into the Greene County Historical Society building press up to the front of the room. Some want a picture, which he obliges with a smile. Others want to chat for a moment, to ask about his experiences or clarify a point, while others simply want to shake his hand.
It’s all a sign of respect for the 91-year-old member of the Greatest Generation.
When Harold Warren, a 51-year resident of Wilberforce, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, he was just a 19-year-old kid.
A little more than a year later, Warren found himself in the middle of World War II, living history as part of the 370th Regimental Combat Team, 92nd Infantry Division, called the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Warren fought against Nazi forces in Italy, where he spent the majority of his time overseas.
When asked what he brought back with him from his time overseas, his answer is simple: not much but “basic memories.”
He has plenty of those.
In listening to Warren speak, it quickly becomes apparent that those memories of his service are vivid.
For instance, in talking about his first combat situation: “It was a matter of really not knowing what to expect and really being afraid, really being scared,” he said. “It’s surprising that once one gets into a combat situation, is being shot at and has mortars and … is shooting himself against the enemy, I shouldn’t say you get inured to it, but you do get somewhat battle-hardened to it and better-prepared to face the next battle.”
Those experiences still stick with him today. According to Warren, he still occasionally suffers from PTSD dreams from his time in the service about 70 years ago.
Warren could also clearly recall a brief moment of levity during a brief pause in combat: “I decided I would put the safety on [his rifle] to keep it from discharging,” he said. “I reached down there and I missed the safety. That thing exploded, oh, it was terrible. I couldn’t hear. That bullet could not have missed my chin any more than that.”
Warren recalled the bullet crashing into the floor above him, where several other friendly soldiers and a captain were waiting.
“I could hear this captain up there, and he was using some choice profanity,” he recalled with a smile. “He said, ‘Warren, get control of that weapon down there!’”
Warren brought back life lessons, including learning how to get along with all types of people, from different races and economic classes, and said he learned very quickly that he did not know everything.
“I realize[d] that anyone with whom one comes in contact, knows more than you do in certain circumstances,” he said. “Nobody’s dumb. Everybody is smart to some degree. Most of all I learned to respect the dignity and the value of my fellow human being.”
All those experiences made Harold Warren the man he is today, the man who wants the world to know about those experiences.
“You’ve heard it said that combat veterans don’t want to talk about their combat experience,” he said. “I really think they should, because people need to know how horrible actual battlefield combat is. They will never know unless someone who has been in it advises them.
“History is very, very important and once the general public is removed from the actual learning experience … the public doesn’t know what went on in the past. So much in the past, of course, always influences the future.”
Harold Warren spent about a year during WWII overseas in Italy as well as additional time in Algeria, North Africa. He was never shot or wounded by shrapnel in combat. Warren retired from a civil service position at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base after 34 years of service.
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.