Warren Schmitt was born on 18 March 1921 in Hutchinson, Kansas. He had a younger brother named Gene who also served in the army in the infantry. Schmitt lived in Hutchinson until being drafted into the army in 1942 or 1943. Schmitt was attending college at KU [Annotators Note: University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas] when he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor [Annotators Note: 7 December 1941]. When they learned of the attack they knew that they would be called up for service and it changed the way they thought about their lives. This influenced some guys to not finish their college studies. It did for Schmitt. Schmitt was drafted into the army and when he got out he was older and it was too hard for him to go back so he did not. Schmitt knew that he would be drafted so he dropped out of college. After getting his draft notice he went to Fort Leavenworth [Annotators Note: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas] for induction then to Pasadena, California where he was assigned to an ordnance unit. In Pasadena he applied for the ASTP [Annotators Note: Army Specialized Training Program]. He was sent to the University of Utah for indoctrination then on to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he received the equivalent of about a year of college. When the war began to heat up Schmitt was transferred from the ASTP to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training in the artillery. After basic training they went to New York where they boarded ships and steamed to England. After a brief training period in England they crossed the Channel over to France. Schmitt was in an artillery observation battalion which does not fire the artillery but is on the front line directing it. They would be at the front watching for the flashes from enemy artillery so they could direct the fire toward it. They were also on the lookout for other targets of opportunity. Schmitt was a member of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. He had joined the 285th when he left the ASTP. They did not have guns but instead would direct fire. They would occupy fire towers, high hills, church steeples or any other high ground. They had spotting telescopes which were oriented to a plotting board back at the command post. If they spotted a target they would relay the information to the command post which would plot the target. Once plotted, the command post would send the coordinates to the artillery which would then fire. When the artillery fired, the observers would watch where it landed and would call in directions to put it on target. One incident Schmitt recalls well was when they were in Cologne, Germany directing fire across the Rhine River. Schmitt was in a church steeple when he noticed a guy on a bicycle. The man was accompanied by a truck full of German soldiers. Schmitt did not want to call in fire on the man on the bicycle but he did call fire down on the truck. The truck dodged the artillery. When the truck turned into a garage Schmitt directed the artillery fire onto it and finally got it. When the guy on the bicycle came back they called in fire on him and chased him off. Schmitt’s job was forward observer and he spent his time in observation posts. It was an important job. They would conceal their positions with tree limbs so they could not be seen. The Germans did the same thing. They did not call any fire in on the German observation posts and the Germans never called fire in on them.
[Annotators Note: Warren Schmitt was a forward observer in Battery B, 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion.] They embarked from New York going over [Annotators Note: to England] aboard a Victory ship named the SS John Jay. The ship was very slow and the trip took 15 or 20 days. After arriving in England they moved to Brighton from where they crossed the Channel and landed on Utah Beach one month after D Day. On D Day [Annotators Note: 6 June 1944] he was at home in Hutchinson, Kansas washing his mother’s car. He was on furlough before they went overseas. They landed on Utah Beach and unloaded all of their equipment and moved inland a little ways. Then they moved a little further inland and lost a man who was hit by an 88 [Annotators Note: German 88 millimeter antiaircraft, antitank and antipersonnel gun] while standing on a hill. That really shook the guys in the battalion up since they had been there for such a short time. By this time the Germans were in retreat across France. Schmitt’s unit did not suffer any more casualties at that time. They did set up their positions and probably caused some casualties on the other side. In combat they were attached at the army level. The army they were assigned to would attach them to various divisions. When Schmitt landed in France he was a T5 corporal and was not privy to the grand strategy of the war but knew they were going across France following the advance troops. They were at the front but not on the front lines. Time did not mean anything to them at that time. They went through Holland and Belgium and into Germany. They lost all but about 14 of their men in the Malmedy Massacre. The biggest combat event Schmitt experienced was when he was captured. They had been in the Hurtgen Forest for quite a while. They moved out of the Hurtgen Forest in convoy and when they came into Malmedy they ran into German tanks and trucks which stopped the convoy. Schmitt was in the fifth truck in the convoy. He bailed out of the truck into a ditch. Everybody had bailed out of their jeeps but were being rounded up. Schmitt did not wait to be rounded up. He took off across a field and ducked into a little stream he came to about 100 yards from the ditch. All the guys in his outfit were rounded up and were in a field. They had been captured by Colonel Peiper’s outfit. Peiper ordered his men to fire on all of the men in the field. Schmitt was up on a hill and watched the whole thing. It was horrible. At one point a German soldier walked up on the hill where Schmitt was laying. Schmitt pretended to be dead. He expected the enemy soldier to shoot him but he did not. Schmitt was riding in a jeep. When all of the guys from his outfit bailed out and ran into the field he took off. When the shooting started there were two guys close by him. One of them was Gene Garrett and the other was George Graeff. Graeff and Schmitt had been in the same vehicle. When the guys were captured they thought that they would be cared for like any other prisoners of war but they had been captured by Colonel Peiper and he was in a position where he could not take any prisoners. Peiper’s mission was secret. This was the first day of the Battle of the Bulge and Peiper could not stop to take prisoners. When Schmitt saw the guys being shot out in the field he did a whole lot of praying. Schmitt did not know at the time that they had killed all of his friends. He was lying on the ground as low as he could get and did not look up. His thoughts turned to getting out of the area. He knew that the 190th Engineers were in Malmedy and he wanted to get to them. When he got out of the ditch he bumped into some friendly soldiers and had to explain a lot to them before they believed that he was an American. There were Germans in American uniforms so they were not taking chances. It was the first day of the Battle of the Bulge [16 December 1944].
It was not quite dark when Warren Schmitt linked up with the engineers who had stopped him [Annotators Note: Warren Schmitt had just survived the shooting of American prisoners during what is now known as the Malmedy Massacre and was running from the scene when he was stopped by a group of American engineers.]. After convincing them that he was an American he was taken to Saint Vith or someplace where he stayed for a day or two. He and the other survivors with him were very traumatized. Schmitt was alone when he encountered the engineers. He had been hiding in the bottom of a water filled ditch and was unable to move his frozen legs so he told his friends to leave without him. When Schmitt took off he did a lot of praying. It was a condition he never wanted to be in again. Schmitt believes that the Germans saw him running when he took off through the woods. He believes the shooting happened around 2:00 in the afternoon but it was dark by the time he ran into the engineers. Schmitt was not with the engineers very long. He was taken to Pepinster, Belgium to recuperate. He was in bad shape and needed to be hospitalized. From Pepinster he was sent to the 8th Observation Battalion. By the time Schmitt left Pepinster the war was winding down. He was attached to the 8th Observation Battalion for a while. His battery commander, Captain Scarborough, had not been in the massacre. He had been in a forward party with three or four other guys. They reorganized the battery in Pepinster on the grounds of a mansion. They got recruits from the United States and brought the battery back up to strength. The next thing Schmitt knew they were on the Rhine River. He was in a church steeple looking down the Rhine River at Cologne which was a mile from them. Schmitt could see the big cathedral. This was just before the big crossing of the Rhine. The engineers crossed the Rhine over the Remagen Bridge and Schmitt’s unit followed them several days later. By now the Germans were on the run. They followed the Germans and went clear across Germany all the way to the Pilsen River. That is where they were when the war ended. They were in the basement of a building containing 1200 bottles of champagne. They knew the war was just about over so they had a party. The war had been over for five days before they found out. It was a time for celebration. They thought they would be going home but that did not happen for another year. They never crossed over into Czechoslovakia but they could see the Russians who looked like a rag tag bunch to Schmitt. After the surrender, Schmitt’s unit was pulled back across Germany and remained there until they returned to the United States.
Warren Schmitt was one of 14 survivors from his battery [Annotators Note: survivors of the Malmedy Massacre]. All 14 of them returned to the 285th [Annotators Note: 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion] and reorganized Battery B. Schmitt does not recall his feelings after returning to the 285th. They were just doing what they could to end the war which happened soon after. After the war there were a million GIs to get home on a limited number of Victory ships. It took forever. They finally arrived in Newport News, Virginia on New Year’s Day 1946. Schmitt called his mother to tell her that he would hitchhike to Oklahoma City and asked her to pick him up there. She did. Hitchhiking was the way soldiers travelled in those days. Everyone would stop to pick up a soldier. His mother picked him up in Oklahoma City and they drove back to Hutchison. Schmitt had a brother in the Air Corps [Annotators Note: US Army Air Forces]. When the war began to heat up his brother was taken out of the Air Corps and put into the infantry. He trained for the infantry in Cincinnati, Ohio before going overseas. Schmitt saw him about a week before he was killed. Schmitt does not recall what they talked about but it was a happy meeting. Schmitt thinks he was informed about his brother’s death through his mother. It was terrible learning that. At the time there were so many terrible things happening. Schmitt and his brother were very close. His brother was four years younger than him. After the war Schmitt did not go back to college. He had gone to college for about two and a half years before the war but did not want to go back. Instead, he went to work for his uncle who owned a factory and stayed there for about nine years. After nine years with his uncle he quit and went into business for himself building houses even though he had no experience doing that kind of work. He hired a crew and went to work and never turned back. He built about 200 houses in Hutchison over his forty year career.
Warren Schmitt was always interested in cameras. He liberated two pretty nice cameras in Germany and took up photography as a hobby. He set up a dark room in his basement and developed his own photographs. Schmitt did not have any problems after the war. He had only had that one bad day during the war but other than that things were not bad for him. The only thing Schmitt killed during the war was a pheasant which he shot with his .30 caliber carbine. He and some friends were standing on a hill and saw the pheasant walking on a hill a little ways away. Schmitt told his friends that he was going to shoot the thing. He took the shot and hit it. It was the only time he fired his weapon during the war. When he was in the Hurtgen Forest they had fire towers that they used for observation. Schmitt was in a tower with a guy named Gene Garrett [Annotators Note: Eugene Garrett] when a Focke Wulf 190 flew over. When it passed them Garrett fired at the plane. The plane went down and Garrett thought he had shot it down. The next day Garrett painted a plane on their jeep not knowing that the road had been lined with infantry troops who were also firing at the enemy plane. The plane had passed so close to them that they could clearly see the pilot.
Warren Schmitt and Ted Paulch were in the same hospital [Annotators Note: after they both survived the Malmedy Massacre] but Schmitt did not know Paluch very well as they were in different batteries. Schmitt’s best friend was a guy named Walter Franz. They were inseparable until the massacre when Franz was killed. It was a great loss for Schmitt. Schmitt lost all of his friends in the massacre. It was a different outfit after that. The house they were put up in when they reconstituted the division was a mansion that they just took over. Schmitt was approached about testifying in Nuremberg. His testimony was given in writing and he did not get into the courtroom. They were told not to talk about what had happened to them. In August of 1945 Schmitt went to the monument in Malmedy with several other survivors. Schmitt does not know how it affected him. He recently went back again. He recognized everything. They were treated very well by the people of Malmedy when they went back. People wanted to shake Schmitt’s hand. When it was discovered that Schmitt had been involved in the Malmedy Massacre people wanted to talk to him about it. When Schmitt came home after the war it was not easy for him to talk about the massacre. Everyone knew about it already so he just did his best to let it go. It was a part of his life that was over with. When Schmitt came home he was ready to settle down and get married which he did. He has a wonderful family. What he experienced was something he could have done without but he did. Schmitt feels that the horrors of war should be taught in schools to let people know what it is really like. He also feels that institutions like The National WWII Museum are necessary. Talking about the war does not bother Schmitt anymore.
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