Mr. James “Barnie” Warren resides in a cozy room at Waynesboro Health and Rehab in Waynesboro, surrounded by photos and memorabilia of his military service, alongside treasured photos of his family. At the age of 94, Mr. Warren is still “sharp as a tack,” and enjoys sharing stories of his service in the U.S. Army at the height of World War II. Mr. Warren is one of the few surviving World War II veterans in Wayne County, and few realize that he was actually a part of the infamous D-Day Invasion in Normandy, France on June 6th, 1944.
Mr. Barnie was born on November 27th, 1924, in the Beech Creek community of Wayne County, where he resided on the family farm until he was drafted into the United States Army at the tender age of 18. During boot camp training soon after he was drafted, Mr. Barnie severely fractured both of his elbows during training exercises, and was held back for a short time for treatment before being shipped overseas. He said that all the other “Wayne County boys” were sent overseas shortly before he was, and when he was finally sent a few months later, he was accompanied by some “Northern boys” who affectionately nicknamed him the “Tennessee Plowboy.” Mr. Barnie admits that the nickname was very accurate…he had spent his whole life up to that point working on the family farm on Beech Creek.
On June 6th, 1944, the Allied Forces of America, Britain, Canada, and France attacked German forces on the coast of Normandy, France. With a huge force of over 150,000 soldiers, the Allies attacked and gained a victory that became the turning point for World War II in Europe. Mr. Barnie was part of the second wave of Allied soldiers that arrived on the beaches of Normandy, and he describes how he and his fellow soldiers had to disembark from their ship and wade the bloody waters of the English Channel, trying their best to reach the shore before being shot down by the enemy. Mr. Barnie says in a somewhat joking manner (but probably very accurate) that the only thing that kept him from being shot was the fact that he weighed less than 125 pounds and was too skinny of a target for the enemy to take down. He describes in vivid detail how other soldiers were being shot down all around him, falling into the water to be retrieved by the next wave of soldiers. The many bodies of the first wave of soldiers were scattered and piled along the beach, and Mr. Barnie and his fellow soldiers literally had to climb over the dead to reach their positions.
Due to his injured elbows, Mr. Barnie says that he was unable to accurately fire a rifle, so he was given the task of firing a 30-caliber machine gun. The machine gun was so large and heavy that he carried part of it, another soldier carried another part of the gun and the tripod it sat on, and yet another four soldiers carried the ammunition. Mr. Barnie recalls that he made a point of not learning the names of the soldiers carrying the ammunition, because they were always the easiest targets for the enemy and seemed to be killed and replaced all too frequently. He recalls that General George Patton made the comment, “Save them guns, boys, we’ll have more who will need them later!”
Mr. Barnie (PFC Warren at that time) remembers his close friend and foxhole companion PFC Poole, who was responsible for carrying the gun tripod and took turns with Mr. Barnie at night to take watch while the other grabbed a few minutes of sleep. PFC Poole was one of the few young men in Mr. Barnie’s unit that came back home alive after the war and was able to return to his home in Linden, Texas.
Mr. Barnie vividly remembers the years he spent in France after the invasion, going for days without food or sleep. He recalls entering the cellar of an unoccupied French cottage with other members of his unit and finding a stash of small potatoes. He says that they were barely able to heat the potatoes with their small camp stove, but devoured the raw potatoes anyway, skin and all. He said that they all agreed they were the best potatoes they ever had!
Mr. Barnie was discharged from the U.S. Army on April 30th, 1946, after the long war finally came to an end. He came back home to Wayne County, where he and his wife raised seven children. Due to his injured elbows, which still bother him today, Mr. Barnie says that he felt fortunate to get a job as a motor coach bus driver, a job he held for 32 years before retiring. He has always enjoyed gardening, and proudly displays a picture of himself on his tractor, working one of his prized gardens. Mr. Barnie, always the “Tennessee Plowboy” at heart, carries with him a legacy of service to his country and its citizens that few of us remember enough, or respect enough. PFC Barnie Warren, we salute you, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service.