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Rabun County veteran shares stories from military career
One local veteran made Veterans Day more personal for a group of Tallulah Falls School juniors and seniors.
On Nov. 10, students from Tom Tilley’s History 3 class and Dallas Barron’s Life Skills class heard a first-hand account of the harsh realities of the Korean War from U.S. Army veteran and Rabun County resident George Warren.
Warren, friend of Tilley, joined the U.S. Army at 16. He captivated students with recollections of his nearly 22 year military career which included deployments to both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Warren began his career as a “buck private,” a soldier of the lowest rank, but reached the rank of Sgt. First Class “through the process of elimination,” he said.
“I was one of the youngest to reach E-6 (Sgt. First Class). I was 17 when I made it,” he said. “I went into a rifle company as a bazooka man. I turned 18 on Heartbreak Ridge and basically lived in a foxhole for 11 months. Never did get sick, though.”
Conditions were brutal for much of his Korean tour, he said.
“The year I got to Korea, we nearly froze to death. It was 40 below. The Army’s trucks and tanks were driving across frozen rivers and lakes,” he said. “There were thousands of refugees everywhere.”
Warren wouldn’t say much about the dangers he faced, though he did receive a Combat Infantry Badge and spoke of receiving a minor injury from a land mine explosion. He also received a concussion from being too close to a tank as it shelled a target.
“I guess I’m lucky to be alive,” he said. “The average age of a soldier killed at that time was 19.”
Warren and his wife returned to South Korea a number of years ago and he spoke highly of the transformation since being stationed there.
“Back during the war, the countryside was full of shacks and huts,” he said. “Not like the modern country you see today. Now Seoul looks like New York City.”
Warren also praised the South Korean government and citizens for honoring the sacrifice of the American soldiers.
“They always express their thanks for helping to save their country,” he said.
After Korea and a tour in Vietnam in the 1960s, Warren attended Air Traffic Control School.
“It was pretty tough,”he said. “In my class,10 started but only two finished.”
In nearly 22 years of service Warren was stationed in numerous locales including Georgia (Ft. Benning), Kansas (Ft. Leavenworth), Korea, Vietnam, Germany and Panama.
After the presentation students had an opportunity to ask questions.
One inquired about Warren’s favorite location.
“It would have to be Germany,” he said. “The food, the people...that’s a partying bunch of folks. I guess you could say I really liked Germany.”
Another student asked the veteran what he most enjoyed about being in the military for more than 20 years.
“One of the best perks is being able to fly all over the world for free,” he said “If there is a plane going there, and there’s room, you can go. So we did a lot of traveling.”
“What’s it like on a battlefield?” asked another student.
“Well, your faith is certainly important,” Warren said. “It’s like they say, there are no atheists in foxholes. Just keep your head down.”
Warren has been married for 61 years and has five children, and he grinned a bit as he told the students, “I had a girlfriend when I went into the Army. I had been in Korea for only two months when I got a ‘Dear John’ letter from home. I guess you could say it worked out pretty well, though.”
According to Warren, military life is tough, but well worth the sacrifices.
“It was always hard to leave the family, but you have no choice. One time I think I cried all the way from Atlanta to Dallas,” he said. “There is a big difference between being in the military now from when I went in. They recognize veterans now. Back then, not so much.”
Another student asked if he would do it all again.
“Absolutely, I would. It turns boys into men and makes you really appreciate your education,” he added.