- Your News
By John Coffelt
“You have to take care of yourself and your buddies,” says American Legion Gold post 78 Commander Eugene Warren.
He said those words 45 years ago on a windswept mountainside in South Korea, and for Warren, they still hold true.
Warren, over the last few years has remained true to his brothers-in-arms and became a common fixture for the patriotic ceremonies on the courthouse square, giving speeches and helping organize the Memorial Day, Patriot Day and Veterans Day remembrances.
But after the ticker tape settles, few see the work that Warren and his fellow Legion members do to help others in the community.
“A lot of people in Manchester and Coffee County don’t even know there’s a post here. We’ve been here since 1919,” he said.
The first project that comes to Warren’s mind is the Legion Boy’s State.
“They learn a lot [there]; it helps them when they get to college,” he said.
The local post also sponsors a Little League team, hosts an oratorical contest and is available to offer aid and information to veterans in need.
“[The chapter’s leadership] oversee all the American Legion, the Auxiliary, the Legion Riders and the Sons of the American Legion,” he said.
During the post’s meetings, held the third Monday night of each month at the Veterans Building, the commander oversees the activities and discussions, helping to guide the meeting to remain ordered and productive.
Like the meetings that organize the fundraisers the group holds at Christmastime for food boxes the group provides to the area needy.
“If someone brings up something that needs discussed, we get it going and see what needs to be done.”
As for his courthouse ceremony speeches, Warren said that at first he had trouble speaking before the crowd, but now he isn’t really nervous.
Following the ceremony on the square, Warren also attends other ones in Hillsboro as well as visits area nursing homes to speak with the veterans there.
Warren’s service to his country began in June of 1966, in the wake of one of the largest battles of Vietnam.
Warren, after basic, was sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas, to learn to repair HAWK missiles.
He was then sent to the frigid foxholes of Korea.
“You just couldn’t get warm,” Warren remembers.
In the warmth of a July afternoon he is quickly able to dig through a stack of aging photographs to produce a hand-developed color photograph of the area where he was stationed in ’67.
The photo, with colors half lost to time like so many memories, reveals clouds blanketing a frosty peak.
“I was up on top of a mountain, overlooking the clouds, nothing would block the wind. This was the tallest mountain overlooking the DMZ.”
Warren remembers temperature there being 20 below zero and the wind kicking up to about 40 miles per hour. In those conditions frostbite is a serious concern.
“You couldn’t get warm enough. I don’t care if you had all of your military and civilian clothes on or not.”
Like in many of the situations a soldier faces, a buddy can mean survival.
“Laying in a foxhole, your head ends up sticking out of a sleeping bag. Your partner would be there; he’d put his head inside. Then I’d get cold and we’d swap out.”
One night acting as sergeant of the guard, Warren received a call for aid from the dog handlers on patrol, and sprang to aid his fellow soldiers.
When asked about his actions he replied, “They were scared to death. When your buddies call for help, you go right then.”
In 2009, the legion helped honor another set of brothers-in-arms by helping bring the “The Moving Wall” Vietnam War Memorial to Manchester.
For Warren and others who lost friends and family in the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia, the names are more than just inscriptions on a wall that conger ideas of heroism and loss.
“There were five listed from Manchester, six from Tullahoma and two from Hillsboro,” Warren recited from memory.
Under the leadership of then-commander Jimmy Taylor, the Legion chaired the fundraising efforts to pay the transportation costs to move the memorial here.
The American Legion Riders escorted the convoy that brought the memorial to the Westwood Junior High School football field.
Since 1991, Warren has operated the Warren Salvage Yard at his residence in the Asbury area.
Due to health conditions, he was unable to participate in this year’s Memorial Day ceremony and the Boy Scouts of America’s annual Flag Day ceremony.
“I enjoyed it all,” Warren said. “I haven’t missed a meeting in 11 years until my last meeting.”