Warren Mayberry of Pender has been a member of the local VFW and American Legion posts for 62 years.

Warren Mayberry of Pender has been a member of the local VFW and American Legion posts for 62 years.

Warren Mayberry never really cared for school. So, in August 1944 — at just 17-years-old — he decided to enlist in the United States Army.

“I figured I’d have to go sooner or later anyway, so Carol Powley and I both went to Walthill and signed up,” the 90-year-old Penderite said. “They called us in just before school started. Well Carol, I don’t know what happened, but he didn’t go and I went.”

World War II had already been going on for over half a decade by the time Mayberry reached the European battlefield. After receiving basic training at Camp Roberts, Calif., the Thurston County farm boy and thousands of fellow soldiers were shipped off to Europe on the Queen Elizabeth. But before they even got off the ship, they found themselves immersed in one of the largest and bloodiest battles fought by the U.S. in WWII – the Battle of the Bulge – which was eventually won by the Allied forces.

Mayberry’s vessel had been attacked before reaching the Netherlands in January 1945, so the troops were forced to take a convoy to the front lines in the Black Mountains, a region in southwest Germany, bordering France, known for its dense forests. When the trucks came within five miles of where the bombings were occurring, they were told to get out and walk — and once they reached the forest, they were told to get their shovels out and start digging some foxholes.

“They said, ‘In five minutes, they’ll be bombing here,’” Mayberry said. “Well, it wasn’t even five minutes. We just barely got the top of the soil dug up and the bombs started coming in.” 

To make matters worse, the troops were supposed to be given winter clothes to change into before they got off the ship, but they never received them. Now their fight for survival was against not only the Axis powers, but the elements as well. They were sitting ducks in summer clothes, and even if they managed to survive the cold temperatures, they didn’t have enough ammunition to thwart a major attack.

“There were 10,000 of us that left Camp Roberts, Calif., and over half of them froze to death,” Mayberry said. “We had no way of getting warm because, if you lit a fire, you got shot.”

There were two soldiers to each foxhole who kept an eye out for one another. Mayberry sat next to a young man from O’Neill in his, and considering the circumstances, they quickly realized that they were responsible for keeping each other alive.

“If you dozed off, the other one could maybe see. But if you weren’t constantly on guard, they (enemies) would come in and shoot you right there in the foxhole,” he said. “It was very nerve-racking.”

Mayberry avoided becoming a casualty of the war until April 12, 1945 – the same day President Franklin D. Roosevelt died – when he was wounded after being shot in the head and shoulder by an enemy rifle. When he woke up in a Naples, Italy, hospital, he heard a doctor say they were going to have to amputate his legs because of the gangrene spreading from his feet.

“I said, ‘No, you’re not cutting my legs off! I’m not going to live without my legs,’” Mayberry recalled. “They said, ‘Well, all your skin’s boiled off. It’s bare flesh!’ I said, ‘Then you better find a way to solve that!’”

The doctors wrapped a special type of cloth around Mayberry’s legs, and he soaked them in water for two hours every day for about two months while also receiving shots to prevent infection. 

At one point, he had three doctors working on him at the same time – one to treat the wounds on his head and shoulder, another to cut his shoes (which had bonded to his skin) off and a third to pull the bits of shrapnel out of his back. Over 70 years later, he and his wife, Mildred, are still picking it out.

Even after all that he had endured, Mayberry knew he wouldn’t be going home anytime soon. 

“We knew we were there for the duration,” he said. “You had to be tougher back then or you wouldn’t make it.”

While he was still laid up in a hospital bed, Mayberry was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his courage and sacrifice. He later received a Good Conduct medal, and he was also temporarily awarded the Medal of Honor before it was replaced with the Silver Star after it was decided that he was going to pull through his ordeal and live.

When he was well enough to leave, Mayberry was sent to Geneva, Switzerland, for a month of rest and recuperation, which he really enjoyed because of the country’s beauty and cleanliness. He had always hoped to go back there someday, but that never happened.

After he had recovered enough to head back to the front, Mayberry learned on the way there that fighting had ceased in Europe. He was then placed on a ship to Japan, but again it was announced, before reaching his destination, that the war had ended there as well.

Mayberry went back to Germany where he served as a mailman for some time, delivering the post’s paper and other news and letters from home to the troops that guarded the country. It was during that time that one of the few fond memories of his service time occurred.

While on his way to take a bath one day at the camp, Mayberry ran into some familiar faces, which included Clarence Dye, Clifford Claussen and Glenn Delp, who he knew from back home in Pender. He hadn’t seen them throughout his time there, so the captain in charge was nice enough to let them all take the day off and spend it with each other. They took a jeep and drove around, visiting with each other and forgetting their troubles for at least one day – a “very nice day,” according to Mayberry.

In the spring of 1946, Mayberry was finally able to return to the United States. Coincidentally, just as he was on his way back, his younger brother, Dale, was on another ship heading over to take charge of the occupation in Europe. Though he didn’t even learn that his brother was leaving until he got home, Mayberry believes that it’s very likely that their two ships crossed paths in the Atlantic Ocean.

Mayberry sometimes had a hard time adjusting to civilian life upon his return. Even after marrying Mildred Schroeder in 1948 and getting back to farming, something he loved, he would still have trouble moving past the normalcy he had come to know during the war.

“That was a rude awakening,” Mildred said. “He’d hear a loud noise, or he’d hear a plane, and under the bed he’d go! He had to get to his ‘foxhole,’ and I wasn’t used to that.”

This went on until about 1952 when the couple had their first of three daughters – Mary, Sharon and Kathy. And other than a few unfortunate incidents here and there, Warren Mayberry enjoyed a peaceful life as a Thurston County farmer until 2002 when he was forced to retire and face his next big challenge – cancer.

Mayberry was diagnosed with sinus cancer in February of that year and was given two weeks to live. But ever the fighter, he wouldn’t let the disease take him. And after several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments – even suffering a stroke at one point during chemo – Mayberry beat the cancer, and he’s been free of it ever since.

Warren Mayberry’s story is a testament to the perseverance and toughness of “The Greatest Generation.” Because of him and others who paid the ultimate sacrifice during World War II and subsequent military conflicts, U.S. citizens are able to enjoy the freedoms that many often take for granted. 

Even though Memorial Day has passed, it remains important that we continue to honor these brave men and women every day – those who have served in the past, and the millions of Americans still serving this country today. Their efforts should never be in vain, nor should they be forgotten.