Every morning Warren Lodholz, 98, begins his day with a salute to the American flag on his front lawn and a prayer in remembrance of those who didn’t return home from World War II like he did.
Born in Bonne Terre but a Farmington resident for many years, Lodholz is a man who holds many memories in his mind and heart. He is a veteran proud of his service and the service of others to the United States of America.
After attending Flat River College (now Mineral Area Community College), he studied shorthand “in a class filled with girls,” and then went to work as secretary for the superintendent of an outdoor reformatory.
It was while there that Lodholz received notice that he’d been drafted into the United States Army Air Corps.
“Nine months after receiving my ‘Greetings: You have been selected by your friends and neighbors’ letter, I was aboard the U.S. Santa Paula in a convoy of ships to North Africa,” he said. “Just outside the Straits of Gibraltar, our Navy ships sank one of the German U-Boats that had been hounding us.
“After 11 days at sea, we landed at Oran, Algeria, in darkness, June 21, 1943. We slept in pup tents in a dust bowl near slit trenches and dugouts for 40 days. We lived on ‘C’ rations — six cans per day that were each about half the size of a soup can — one meat and beans, one stew and one hash. The other three cans had crackers, powdered coffee, tea or lemonade and a few pieces of hard candy.”
Lodholz and his fellow soldiers spent their days and nights swatting away flies and mosquitoes while taking bitter Atabrine tablets along with a swallow of water from their lister bags to keep from contracting Malaria.
“Our outfit took over operation of LaSenia Airbase — mostly made up of French, English, Canadian and South African fighter squadrons and bombers,” Lodholz said. “It was a beautiful sight to see the French in our P-39s do a ‘victory roll’ over a field after a kill — and our men in the towers who couldn’t speak French going crazy because the French flew in against traffic.
“I survived the usual air raids, especially before the Sicilian Invasion. Sometimes, despite the fear, it was comical. Usually about 3 a.m. when the ‘snitcher’ went off, you would see 16 GIs in a room at an old French barracks all bailing out from under mosquito nettings into the darkness, grabbing their helmets, rifles and gas masks while bumping into each other, dropping helmets and lots of cussing — especially at the Germans who interrupted our sleep.
“Then they’d run like hell to the slit trenches and dugouts which invariably had 6-inches of mud. I had the extra duty of racing to the orderly room and yanking a field telephone off the wall to take to the dugout. I was spurred on by noise from the ack-ack guns, fighter planes scrambling, explosions, 20-30 fingers of search lights raking the sky and the ‘sausage’ barrage balloons — all made for sights and sounds to remember.”
According to Lodholz, it was a beautiful sight to see the three waves of 90 to 100 B-24 and B-25 bombers from the United States that refueled at the airbase while in route to the Romanian oil fields.
“President Roosevelt was put on a plane at our field after arriving in Oran on Battleship George,” he said. “He was in route to a conference with [English Prime Minister Winston Churchill] and [Russian dictator Joseph Stalin]. That was the first time we realized our president was now in a wheelchair.”
Other memories Lodholz has of his time in North Africa include the incessant rainy seasons; the torrid Sirrocco season when the winds changed and blew from the Sahara Desert to the Mediterranean; the locust plagues that darkened the sky and grounded their planes; the Bubonic Plague epidemics when everything became ‘off limits’; the homesickness of GIs away from their families for a second or third Christmas; friendly drinking sessions with the French Foreign Legion who filled the Americans’ canteen cups with sour wine; and most significantly — the loss of a C-47 load of his squadron buddies who went down in the Mediterranean; as well as turning in a ‘Missing in Action’ report for one of his friends who was a radio operator.
Lodholz also recalled another exciting experience he had.
“I flew to Rome and the Island of Capri for a week of rest and recreation,” he said. “While there, I saw Pope Pius XII and the Vatican.”
The young soldier left North Africa in February 1945 aboard the Liberty Ship, U.S.S. Asa Gray, along with a contingent of Senegalese troops who played their flutes and smoke hashish. Lodholz climbed down the ship’s nets to land at the bombed-out harbor at Marseilles, France.
“After 20 months in warmer North Africa, we nearly froze when camped in pup tents on a mountain above the harbor,” he said. “The first night we were greeted with a bombing raid on the harbor below. Two nights later, we left Marseilles at midnight on an old six-car French train with two machine gunners on top and much shooting in the rail-yard from German sympathizers.”
Two days later, Lodholz and his fellow soldiers arrived in the dark of night at the Nancy, France rail-yard where they observed a hospital train marked with red crosses and shot up by strafing.
“We went by truck convoy to Essey Airfield, 20 miles from the front,” he said. “It had just recently been taken over from the Germans. Most of the buildings had been shelled in U.S. bombing raids. Booby traps were everywhere. There were shiny German helmets left on walls, ready to blow your head off, landmines near latrines and mines that cleared only three feet from the sides of the road.
“We had to detonate unexploded bombs on the field before it was operational. Our outfit was now part of the 9th Tactical Air Force which supported General George Patton’s Rhine crossing and his drive into Central Europe. A ‘tank graveyard’ at the end of the airfield was evidence of heavy losses Patton took before making a breakthrough — especially around Metz.”
Weather permitting, American fighters flew around the clock dropping Napalm bombs, coming back only for more fuel and ammo. This was the schedule they maintained until the end of the war.
“I saw Paris, Luxembourg and Bastogne before leaving Antwerp, Belgium on the U.S.S. Indian Victory for our return to the United States in July, Lodholz said. “One of my greatest thrills was seeing the neon lights in New York City after living in blacked out areas for over two years. From there I was sent to Spokane, Washington to prepare an outfit going to the Pacific Theatre when two A-bombs were dropped on Japan and the war ended there.
“Three battle campaign Bronz Stars — the Sicilian, Rhineland Crossing and Central Europe — helped me get discharged in October 1945. I was one of the lucky ones to come home all in one piece. These memories are just the tip of the iceberg of those I have from over three years of service in World War II at the prime of my life.”
Lodholz and his wife, Mary Lou, raised five children together and since her passing seven-and-a-half years ago, he still enjoys spending time with them and his grandchildren. Still, he never forgets to salute the flag and remember those who weren’t blessed to return home like he was.