Surviving the brutal Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge seems like another lifetime for the 90-year-old retired Hutchinson businessman.
Like all the other men of his generation, after winning the war and returning to U.S. soil, he kept a bond of silence for several decades.
Everybody shared the horrors of WWII, Lisa Barker said of her father and the other servicemen and women. They had all been through atrocities. What happened in the war stayed in the war.
They survived and were ready to move on and build the American dream.
Just months after returning to Hutchinson, Schmitt married Phyllis Rostine, began building his career and began raising four children, Lisa Barker, Linda Schmitt, Kyle Philbeck and Phil Schmitt.
“He was just Dad,” Lisa Barker said. The only evidence of his time in WWII was in the “Reno County World War II Record,” published by the Bob Campbell Post of Veterans of Foreign Wars. In it, Schmitt shared his experience as a sergeant with the 285th Field Artillery, but that was nothing his growing children could comprehend in the comfort of their Hutchinson world. Plus, they never knew Warren’s younger brother, their Uncle Gene Schmitt, because he was killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
That was until recently. As his grandchildren began asking questions, Schmitt began uncovering pieces of his past. High school history projects had them looking for war heroes. There was one in their family.
But, he never told them he was a hero.
“I was scared to death,” he said, describing how a regiment of the 1st SS Panzer Division of the Leibstandarte-SS intercepted the truck convoy of the Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The Panzer tanks opened fire.
In Schmitt’s sworn statement, which was given just three days later and used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials, the U.S. soldiers jumped into the ditch on the north side of the road.
“I personally crawled on my stomach about 50 feet from the road to a small stream,” he reported on Dec. 20, 1944. “I submerged myself in the stream and covered myself with grass and mud so that I wasn’t captured. All together about 125 prisoners were taken and searched for watches, gloves and cigarettes. Then they were moved into a field surrounded by barbwire. … A command car came down the road and an enemy officer fired the first shot at a medical officer, which he killed. A second shot apparently was a signal because it started a number of machine guns firing into the group of prisoners.”
Schmitt lay in the stream for about two hours, and was so numb he crawled and dragged himself into the woods.
He rubbed his legs to get the circulation back, and using a compass found his way back to the road, where he was met by U.S. soldiers and taken to an aid station. Schmitt was one of only 21 survivors.
“I was watching a nightmare,” Schmitt said, sitting in his comfortable Hutchinson home on a recent afternoon, talking about the experience.
Now he is planning a trip back to Belgium. He is going with family members, to show them where this atrocity of war took place 60 years ago.
“I was just a dumb kid back then,” he said.
He doesn’t consider himself a war hero, Barker said. He says those who died were the heroes.