LEGACIES OF WWII: Dr. Timothy Warner of Fort Wayne – 95th Infantry Division / chaplain’s assistant
From the 1960s to 1980s Timothy Warner of Fort Wayne provided spiritual guidance to the Fort Wayne community – first as a professor at Fort Wayne Bible College, then as its academic dean and finally as president 1970-1980.
As a teen, Warner had committed his life to Christian ministry, having been raised in a devout family in Davenport, Iowa. “I was born in 1924, the fourth of eight children,” he said. “We regularly attended the local Methodist Church.”
That spiritual dedication was put to the test when just weeks after graduating from Davenport High School into 1943, Warner was drafted in the Army. “I was 18 years old and fully expected to be drafted because World War II was happening,” he said.
After completing basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia, Warner was chosen to attend the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) for officers held at colleges around the nation. However, the program was closed after less than a year and Warner was sent to the 95th Infantry Division, 3rd Army led by Gen. George S. Patton.
As he had already made a promise to himself that he would uphold his spiritual commitment by reading his Bible as often as possible and praying, Warner felt called to apply for a chaplain’s assistant position with the Army. He had one advantage. “A chaplain’s assistant needed to have perfect typing skills,” he said. “The chaplain and his assistant were expected to write letters of condolence to all of the parents of soldiers who died from the unit.”
At that time typing was not a common skill as many young men were forced to drop out of high school to work on farms or other jobs.
Warner, who planned to attend college for ministry, had completed his typing class and was accepted as a chaplain’s assistant. “I was assigned to one of two Protestant chaplains,” he said. The chaplain’s name was Homer Thompson and he was from Texas. “Chaplain Thompson was a little older than the rest of us troops and had a church of his own back home.” The Army also provided one Catholic chaplain; each chaplain was assigned an assistant. According to Warner, some soldiers expressed skepticism at his assignment. “A chaplain’s assistant did not receive an increase in pay or rank and was expected to participate in every activity like the other soldiers,” he said. “But I was not allowed to carry a gun since my role as an assistant was not to protect the chaplain. Some soldiers thought that made me a sissy.” Warner proved the skeptics wrong during a training maneuver. “I was one of four to make it during a climb to the top of the mountain. It was like a rite of passage.”
Warner accompanied his unit when it left from Boston on a troop ship, which was actually a refurbished luxury liner holding several thousand American troops. They landed at Liverpool England, in September 1944, otherwise known as D-Day +100 (D-Day, the invasion at Normandy, took place on June 6, 1944). “Our troops bivouacked in tents in an apple orchard for two months,” he said.
Warner drove his chaplain on a Jeep to Army units throughout Belgium, Holland, Germany and France. Warner credited his chaplain for staying calm during tremulous situations. “One night, Chaplain Thompson and I were driving through a section where the Battle of the Bulge was in a blackout,” he said. “I could only see lights from the vehicle in front of us. That was difficult, but he taught me patience.”
Another time shrapnel from enemy fire went through the Jeep. “The Jeep had a red flag painted on it which meant a chaplain was on board,” he said. “That was supposed to afford us some protection from the enemy but it didn’t always happen.”
Sometimes the chaplains conducted as many as four church services in one day. That busy schedule suited Warner on Thanksgiving Day. “We had the opportunity to eat four meals!” he said.
Another duty for Warner as chaplain’s assistant was to provide musical accompaniment for church services. He did so via a portable pump organ. “We pulled a trailer loaded with a small pump organ that could fold up,” he said. “I had taken piano lessons as a kid and learned to play the pump organ for several military weddings in the U.S. I didn’t know too many songs other than Mendelssohn’s melody for ‘Here Comes the Bride’.”
Other duties were more difficult. “As we traveled between aid stations, we wrote letters to families of fatally wounded troops,” he said. “No funerals were held during combat.” Warner tried to personalize each letter with names of the deceased, but he could provide no details of their wounds. “I have no idea of the number of letters of condolence we wrote during the war.”
One highlight for Warner was when he befriended a family while staying in a village of Belgium. “There were three children and a father who had been a prisoner of war in Germany but escaped. He used the French word for ‘misery’ over and over.” The family earned money by making ice cream and selling it to people. Warner wrote letters to the family after the war and 50 years later returned to visit them. “It was a little awkward because they didn’t speak English, but we had a nice visit,” he said.
The war ended in Europe in May 1945 and Japan surrendered in September. After Warner returned home, he worked with his father for one year as a plastering contractor.
Still wanting to pursue his dream of being a minister, he attended Taylor University in Upland from 1946 to 1950 where he earned a degree in biblical literature. He later earned a master’s degree in education from New York University and a doctorate in education from Indiana University. After attending a seminary in New York City, he served with his family as a missionary in Sierra Leone for three years. Later in life, he received an honorary doctorate in higher education from Taylor University Upland.
“I’ve never had negative feelings about serving in the war,” he said. “I was glad to be able to serve with the chaplain and gained a lot of valuable experiences.”
Bluffton author Kayleen Reusser published the book “World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.