He's proud to have served
Bremen's Warren Koontz saw worst days of world war
By IDA CHIPMAN
Warren Koontz proudly displays his World War II medals at his home in Bremen.
Tribune Photo IDA CHIPMAN
BREMEN -- Warren Koontz said he has not retired from anything. And he doesn't plan to.
"I am just enjoying life," the 82-year-old World War II veteran said.
Most days, you will find Warren down at the Koontz Hardware store, 112 E. Plymouth St., in Bremen.
On Wednesdays -- even though he is rapidly losing his sight from macular degeneration -- he helps stock shelves in his late brother's store.
A member of the Bremen American Legion Post 191, he has been post commander for the last 10 years.
Born in April 1923, Warren graduated from Bremen High School.
As a teenager, he attended high school classes from morning until noon. Then he would travel to the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant to drill holes in the bottom of 70-centimeter shells, which were then filled with gunpowder.
Shortly after graduation in 1942, Warren and Kathryn Kuntz, his childhood sweetheart, also of Bremen, were married.
They now have four children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Even though he was married and the father of a son, Warren was drafted and inducted into the Army on Jan. 21, 1943.
Sent to California to an anti-aircraft school, he learned how to operate a rapid-fire machine gun.
In August, he and the 199th Anti-aircraft Artillery unit sailed overseas.
"I didn't like being on the ocean," he said. "I volunteered to man a machine gun topside. I couldn't stand being below deck for the 16 days it took us to cross the Pacific."
He saw his first action on Guadalcanal.
They were only on the island for a week. "General MacArthur said that's all we had to stay," he said. "The island was secured."
For him, the war began when he landed on a small island off of Bougainville.
He calls it Hell's Island. And it was Hell on earth.
"That's where I found out what war is all about," he said.
"We protected the American airstrips and fighter bombers," he said, "scaring off the 'Bettys,'" a nickname for Japanese bombers.
Warren operated a 50-caliber machine gun, and he admits "I got pretty good at it." The gunners liked to watch the enemy planes fall into the ocean.
He would fire four guns at one time. The guns, mounted on a trailer, were connected so that a shooter, strapped into a harness could pull two triggers and fire four rounds simultaneously.
"I think," he said, "that if that type of armament had been used in Vietnam, along with a bunch of bulldozers, we would have won."
He was wounded once when a shell went off in his hand. He never put in for a Purple Heart.
"The medics dug shrapnel out of two fingers and the side of my face. It wasn't anything big," he said.
Warren went on to battles in New Guinea and Leyte.
"As the war ended, there were seven of us who had more points than anyone else in our unit," Warren said.
Their captain, sympathetic to their plight, transferred them to a paratrooper outfit.
Warren, for one, had never jumped from an airplane and had never even strapped on a parachute. He said he wouldn't have known how.
"All seven of us were called out on the parade ground the next day and decorated with a Presidential Citation for jumping out of planes over Corregidor," the old soldier laughed.
"The captain told us that we were getting the medal but that he'd better not catch us wearing it."
And Warren never has.
He guesses that it was his commanding officer's way of helping a few of his soldiers whose service had been overlooked get home in a timely manner.
A week later, they were on the way back to the States and on Jan. 3, 1946, Warren was honorably discharged.
He worked for various construction companies in and around Bremen and South Bend and he was, for three years, the sexton for the Bremen Cemetery.
During the Depression, Warren had helped his family with their bountiful garden. The experience came in handy when he opened the Koontz Greenhouse and Flower Shop, which became a family business in Bremen.
Warren is proud to have served his country during World War II.
"I was proud to be a part of it," he said. "And proud now to support our troops in whatever and wherever they are called to duty.
"God bless America."
This is how Warren Koontz looked during his days in the U.S. Army. Photo provided
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