WWII vet feels 'fortunate' on Pearl Harbor anniversary

0

Hope Weston relaxes in her apartment at Schooner Estates in Auburn on Wednesday night, Dec. 6. Behind her are photographs of her father when they lived in the Philippines during World War II. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Hope Weston relaxes in her apartment at Schooner Estates in Auburn Wednesday night, Dec. 6. Behind her are photographs of her father when they lived in the Philippines during World War II. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Advertisement

In 1941, Warren “Jake” Enos was 16, living in Livermore, attending high school in Turner, and working part time as a mechanic and part time at a general store, carrying grain to its henhouses.

On Dec. 7, Enos’ future was set into motion.

In an attack that killed over 2,300 people at the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japan declared war on the United States.

“People were coming in and out of the store just aghast,” Enos said. “Everyone was so shocked that something like that could happen. We didn’t know if Japan would invade the West Coast or not. That was something hard to comprehend, that the U.S. could be invaded.”

On Nov. 11, 1942, the draft age was lowered from 21 to 18. Enos was a junior in high school at the time. In March 1943, he and eight of his classmates got draft notices.

He completed his basic training at Camp Croft in South Carolina, and then went to Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia. He’d only been there a short time when he was told it was time to go.

“One night, we were told suddenly to pack and get on a train. The Gray Ladies served us coffee,” said Enos, remembering the women of the Red Cross who had volunteered to help the soldiers.

According to Enos, 5,000 enlisted soldiers and 500 officers boarded the SS Pasteur, a French ocean liner that was used to transport troops. Capable of traveling at about 22 knots, the ship often made its voyages alone, so as not to be held back by the slower ships of a convoy.

After it had left the harbor, the ship never kept the same direction for more than five minutes, Enos said, to avoid presenting the broadside of the ship to the German submarines.

“We didn’t really know where we were headed,” Enos said. “But when we approached land, we could see cloud bursts from shells being fired at the German aircraft that were trying to bomb the convoy going through the Strait of Gibraltar.”

He and his fellow soldiers would spend the next two years fighting throughout northern Africa and Sicily, in weather that went from 120 degrees in the beating sun to 60 degrees at night.

“It felt cold because it was so dry,” Enos said. “So when we were in the desert, we’d scoop a hole in the sand and lay our Army blanket in there. Then you get in, fold each side of the blanket over on yourself, and put the sand back.” 

He was wounded twice. The first incident happened Feb. 4, 1944, when he’d volunteered to help his lieutenant put land mines in front of their position. In the rain and fog, Enos and the lieutenant got all 90 mines in the ground without being seen.

“When we started pulling the safety pins to arm them, the air changed and the fog cleared,” Enos said.

The Germans could see what they were doing. So they sent artillery shells into the newly created mine field.

“The field went up, and Jake went up with it. I got 14 pieces of shrapnel in me. They got me out and brought me to this Italian farmhouse made out of field stones. That’s where I lay until dark, when the medics could come get me,” Enos said.

That evening, as Enos lay in the tent hospital, dug four feet beneath the ground, a man came around to assess the injuries of those lying beneath dark-green wool blankets.

“He lifted up the blanket of the man next to me and said, ‘No use taking him,’ and covered up his face. They looked at me and said I might make it,” Enos said.

After surgery that Enos said he can’t remember, thanks to four big breaths of ether, the surgeon came in carrying a tin can full of the shrapnel that had been in Enos’ body.

“Now I know why the Germans are losing the war,” the surgeon had said. “You guys come in here half dead and still fight with everything you’ve got.”

Enos was back in combat April 1. On May 23, he joined 200 other men under his company commander, with the objective of pushing through German lines and taking the knoll behind them.

“They started to shell the area we were in. I got an artillery shell in the hip. The medic came and bandaged me up, and told me I was losing a lot of blood. He told me to get to the drainage ditch where they could pick me up,” Enos said.

When he stood up, two bullets from a machine gun came flying at him. One went into his shoulder and the other whizzed across his brow.

“It took my eyebrow completely off, no blood. It was like I’d shaved it with a razor,” Enos said. “After I’d crawled back to the drainage ditch, I heard my company commander say, ‘We’ve met our objective. I have 21 men.’”

Needless to say, when November 1945 came around and Enos was finally on his way home, he was happy, but adjusting to civilian life would be difficult.

“It’s an odd thing in this life. I spent almost three years shooting at Germans. Then after I got home, my sister married the son of German immigrants. I was shooting at them, now I’ve got one as a brother-in-law,” he said with a laugh.

Enos, 92, is living at the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris, and feels lucky to be alive.

“There were many things we had to endure. I was fortunate to have made it through what I did,” he said.

emarquis@sunmediagroup.net

Warren “Jake” Enos, a World War II veteran living in the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris, talked Wednesday about his experiences as an infantryman in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. (Liz Marquis/Sun Journal)

Advertisement