CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Warren R. Kahler was born in December, 1922 and was living in Philadelphia when he heard of the Pearl Harbor attack after leaving a movie theater on December 7, 1941. Kahler, who had two brothers already serving in the armed forces, knew he would be drafted in the future. On January 13, 1943, he received instructions from his local draft board to report to the armory at 3rd Street and Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, and from there was sent to Camp Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, where he was formally inducted into the army on January 20 and began basic training.
After completing basic training at Indiantown Gap, Kahler was sent to Tyson, Tennessee for an eight week course on handling barrage balloons. He subsequently qualified for an experimental “Army Specialized Training Program” in Basic Engineering at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana, where he and other soldiers attended classes with civilian students. On completion of the course, he would have been commissioned a second lieutenant in the Engineer Corps. The program was cancelled, however, after he had completed three three-month sessions. He was then ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, but had a twenty-one day leave before reporting. On June 30, 1944, while on leave, he married Louise Klein of Woodbury, New Jersey. After a stint at Fort Polk, Kahler was reassigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he became an acting supply sergeant in the Thirty-Sixth Tank Battalion of the Eighth Armored Division.
Beginning on October 19, 1944, elements of the Eighth Armored Division began to move from Kentucky to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, a major transition camp for overseas deployment. The division’s soldiers then moved from Kilmer via train and ferry to Staten Island, from where they left on November 7, 1944 on a two-week voyage to England aboard “a converted banana boat from South America.” The ship “bounced around like a cork” in rough seas, causing a great deal of seasickness. Kahler recalled that “we nicknamed the corridor leading to the mess hall “Puke Alley.” At one point the ship stalled in the water, and the convoy continued on, causing a great deal of apprehension as the soldiers realized they were sitting ducks for a submarine attack, until the mechanics got the engines started again.
After arriving in England on November 22, 1944, Kahler and his fellow soldiers were housed at Tidworth Barracks near Southampton for six weeks of training before sailing to France; where, after landing, they made a night march over icy roads in a blinding snowstorm to Reims, where the division was assigned to the Fifteenth Army. The Eighth Armored Division landed in France after the Battle of the Bulge, during which Kahler’s brother John was wounded and listed as “missing in action.” John was actually captured by the Germans, who sent him to a military hospital. He survived the war.
In late January the Eighth began to move forward against the Germans. As a supply sergeant, one of Kahler’s duties was bringing ammunition to frontline units. On one occasion, the four-truck convoy he was traveling in was still on the road as night fell, when the trucks, in compliance with blackout regulations, had to pull off into a field until morning. In the early morning hours, the trucks started their engines and tried to resume the mission, but only one was able to reach the road. The other three were mired in mud and had to be winched out. The warrant officer in charge, CWO Garzinski, told his men “I don’t care what your religious beliefs may be, but I want everyone to pray to their God that we get on the road and out of this area before daybreak, because the Germans know of this place, and they will probably send .50 caliber tracers in here, and if one ever hit a truckload of ammo, we would be history.” Kahler recalled that, although they did manage to get the trucks on the road and moving forward again, that after they left they saw tracer rounds headed in the direction of where they had been.
On March 5, 1945, Kahler’s Thirty-sixth Tank Battalion reached the south bank of the Fossa Canal, in Germany near Rhineberg. The commander of the battalion did not wait for infantry support and charged into Rhineberg, where “all hell broke loose” as Company B was ambushed by Germans and lost half of its men as casualties. Infantry support came up, but the Germans put up a desperate fight to enable more of their comrades to successfully retreat across the nearby Wesel Bridge. The town finally fell at 10:00 PM. In the aftermath of the Rhineberg fight, the battalion was ordered to Venlo, Holland, to regroup and replace lost equipment and men. While in Venlo, the Americans were billeted in private homes, with Dutch people who were very grateful for their liberation from the Germans. Kahler and his buddy John Hensinski were quartered in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Esser. When they arrived, Mrs. Esser went into the backyard with a shovel and returned with two bottles of wine she had buried during the German occupation. While in Holland, the battalion held a memorial service for the dead and wounded lost at Rhineberg, and Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands personally thanked the men for participating in the liberation of her country.
The Thirty-sixth rejoined the Eighth Armored Division in the final weeks of the war. The last battle for the division and the battalion was the capture of the town of Blankenberg, near the Harz Mountains. Kahler described that battle as “awful,” and recalled riding in an ammunition resupply convoy through streets where burning buildings singed soldiers’ clothing, and tanks and half tracks were firing .50 caliber machine gun rounds into houses to root out enemy snipers. Once the battle was over, Kahler and his friends managed to confiscate some champagne that had been stolen from the French by the Germans, but had to be careful in what they picked up, because many of the local houses had been booby-trapped.
In April, the Thirty-sixth rolled across Germany as enemy resistance collapsed. As the battalion closed in on Buchenwald concentration camp, located “in a wooded area on the northern slopes of Ettersberg, about five miles northwest of Weimar in east-central Germany,” Germans began to evacuate prisoners – but not all. The Americans “found hundreds of dead bodies piled alongside a huge trench.” The battalion’s commanding officer ordered German civilians from the nearby city of Weimar to walk through the camp – and the corpses – and then made the civilians bury the victims.
Following the end of the war in Europe in May, Kahler’s unit was initially moved to Czechoslovakia, where the men were told they would probably be sent to participate in the invasion of Japan. When the war in the Pacific ended, however, the battalion was moved to Grenoble, France, where he and his fellow soldiers were “treated royally.” Kahler and his company spent Christmas in Grenoble where local civilians prepared a buffet banquet for them, and they were invited to go skiing. Kahler made friends with a local Frenchman named Pierre L’Venque, who invited several soldiers to his home, where they were served a delicious lunch. In 1949 Kahler was invited to his French friend’s wedding. He could not attend, but sent his congratulations.
Warren R. Kahler returned to the United States in January, 1946 and was released from the army at Camp Kilmer on February 7. He returned home, got a job and eventually returned to school on the GI Bill. At the time of his interview he was living in Turnersville, New Jersey. He concluded his comments on his wartime experience by stating that the war had had a major impact on his life, but that war in and of itself can often be unnecessary.
Warren R. Kahler passed away on September 12, 2012.