Daniels Saw Front Lines As WWII Radio Operator
While it was hardly a surprise when his draft letter arrived in August of 1942, what would be a surprise for Mc- Connellsburg native Henry Warren Daniels was where his journey as a United States Army radio operator would take him.
Drafted at the age of 21, Daniels first real adventure outside of Fulton County took him to Fort Bragg, N.C., where his 16 weeks of basic training eventually turned into 19 weeks that included artillery training and clerical work.
“I was just a young kid when I got drafted ... . Our sergeant said he was going to be our mother and our father. We were to forget about who we left behind,” the 92-year-old told the “News.” “When the novelty wore off, I was one homesick puppy.”
Fortunately, Daniels would get a slight reprieve from being homesick when his parents, along with his high school sweetheart, Bernice Bivens, traveled to North Carolina for a surprise visit. The lovebirds had dated since a sophomore party and courted throughout most of high school, said Daniels, who still firmly believes his late wife is and always will be the most beautiful girl he ever laid eyes on.
The two would marry after Daniels received an assignment closer to home at Fort Meade in Maryland. A seven-day furlough over New Year’s provided ample opportunity for a trip home where a proper ceremony could be conducted and the newlyweds could spend some quality time together before Daniels would travel up and down the East Coast for the Army. Stops along the way included Fort Jackson, S.C., Camp Gordon in Georgia and Fort Campbell that straddles the Kentucky and Tennessee borders.
Having spent most of his teen years working in his father’s 24- hour gas station in the borough where one dollar for a night’s wages could buy you six gallons of gasoline, Daniels knowledge of vehicles proved a perfect fit for preparing vehicles for maneuvers at Fort Campbell. The Army installation would be Daniels’ last stop before heading overseas as one of 16,000 men assigned to the 26th Infantry Division.
“Initially when I found out what division I was in, I never thought I’d go overseas,” said Daniels. The announcement about deployment was given by Mjr. Gen. Willard S. “Gangplank” Paul, who directly addressed the men at Fort Campbell regarding their proposed combat status.
Boarding a confiscated Italian luxury liner in New York, which was still manned by its original crew, on August 24, 1944, Daniels was part of the largest convoy to ever cross the seas. The ship would later be turned into a medical ship transporting wounded men back to the United States.
Daniels said when the 26th Division docked overseas, they were reportedly the first division to be at Cherbourg Harbor in France following the Battle of Normandy. They would quickly assume the duties of operating the Red Ball Express, a 25-truck convoy responsible for shuttling supplies from the beach to the Allies located on the front lines.
It would be mid-October 1944 when Daniels and his fellow soldiers were sent into combat. Initially a member of a Forward Observer Unit, Daniels’ position as a radio operator allowed him to relay coordinates to the command post for artillery drops. “It was a three-man crew,” he said. “We were like a family.”
His duties as a radio operator took him to the front lines on numerous occasions, including at Vic-sur-Seille, the Battle of the Bulge and Ardennes in Luxembourg. Leading up to the Battle of the Bulge, Daniels said his division had been in combat for a consecutive 116 days without relief. Eventually they would be sent to Metz, France, to get re-equipped. On December 24, 1944, they would receive the call they were moving out for the battle. It would be the closest he would ever come to hand-to-hand combat.
Assigned to an infantry company, Daniels stated they joined the group after nightfall. It’s the only time he can remember hearing nighttime crossfire.
“They must have gotten riled up because there were lots of small arms fire,” said Daniels, who would then learn from a runner he had been set to the wrong company.
Only one month later in January 1945, Daniels operated the radio for a three-quarter ton Dodge command vehicle belonging to Maj. Burton, who hailed from Massachusetts. With the aid of a French driver, the trio were able to speak directly with the “natives.” Daniels said he never had the need to learn the French language or that spoke in Czechoslovakia where he was sent after the war.
Eventually the men would cross the Rhine River, which winds through the southeastern Swiss Alps and into Germany. Crossing under the cover of darkness, the men used a pontoon bridge as part of their crossing.
Daniels said he can still remember being close to the Danube River in Austria when the war came to a close. Toward the front lines with his colonel, Daniels stated it came over the radio that “all fighting is ceased.” A short time later, “big, long lines” of German soldiers could be seen making their way down the road in surrender. He added that the Germans were getting to the “bottom of the barrel” at that time and had been recruiting young children, no older than 14 or 15 years old, to do their bidding.
“When you got to talking to those guys, they didn’t want to be in the war anymore than you did. It was something they were required to do,” he noted.
Daniels pointed out that with the proper connections one could do just about anything while overseas. As a radio operator through May 1945, he was often privy to information and maps that others weren’t. Due to his connections to service stations back home, several mechanics were going to visit a location where German soldiers had been disarmed. Stories indicate the “stacks of guns and weapons were as high as a house.”
The mechanics along with Daniels encountered a “big scare” on their brief journey when they found a little girl laying unconscious along the roadway. She was immediately scooped up and taken to a doctor in the next town where she was diagnosed as simply being malnourished.
“We were so worried we’d get blamed for running her over,” Daniels said. His trip, however, netted him four revolvers. One of which, a P38, had never been fired until Daniels obtained it. It remains his “biggest souvenir” of his time in World War II. His remaining revolvers were traded for binoculars and an officer’s sword as a rumor was circulating that if a soldier possessed more than one firearm he would be prohibited from boarding the ship bound for home.
Daniels mustered out on October 20, 1945, and was discharged from Fort Indiantown Gap. His engagements in northern France, the Battle of the Bulge and Ardennes earned Daniels a handful of battle stars and his bravery in helping rescue a wounded soldier garnered him a Bronze Star.
Hitchhiking a portion of the way back to Fulton County, Daniels returned home to his bride, Bernice, and their son, Henry Warren “Skip” Daniels Jr. Due to their marital status, the couple had resided together while Daniels was stationed at forts Campbell and Jackson before coming back to Pennsylvania when he shipped out. She gave birth to Skip in a maternity home in Chambersburg and penned many a letter during Daniels’ absence.
While letters written home are typically censored, his letters to Bernice while a member of the Forward Observer Unit were never read by his commanding officer. “He just asked if there was anything that shouldn’t be in them,” Daniels recalled. “They did have a lot of lovey, gooey stuff in them.”
He took up working on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on his return, but a brief conversation with childhood friend Lyle Duffey about getting a nice “steady job” at The First National Bank of Mc- Connellsburg quickly netted him a bookkeeping position. With the bank growing, the “two-man team” worked their way up the ranks. Daniels would eventually serve as president of the board and after logging 35 years of service retired on July 31, 1981, at the age of 60.