WWII veteran enlisted as teen

NEWTON FALLS – The number rolled off Warren Danford’s tongue like he was reading it from a sheet of paper – 798-03-45.

”That’s a number you never forget,” said the 85-year-old, who conjured up the seven digits from his dog tags with ease despite the 70 years it’s been since he was given the military identification.

Danford enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 when he was still really just a kid; so young, in fact, he needed his father George’s permission to go off and fight in World War II.

”I handed my paper to my dad, had him sign. They said, ‘You’re close enough to 16 so we’ll take you,”’ Danford said with the smallest touch of dry humor from his reclining chair. ”That’s how I ended up in the Navy.”

Danford said he enlisted at 15 to get away from an abusive mother who he said began treating him cruelly after the deaths of his two younger siblings.

Thus began a journey to the Philippines that started at the Sampson Navy Training Center in New York for basic training, which, Danford said, took longer than expected because he came down with pneumonia. Then he went to Treasure Island in California and finally took a 21-day sea voyage to the Philippines that included tangling with a hurricane that caused the ship’s septic holding tanks to flood the lower decks.

”We went over to the Philippines on one of Henry Kaiser’s famous Liberty ships,” Danford said.

Danford said Japanese forces already had been removed from the islands when he arrived on Samar Island in the central Philippines. There, he was in charge of six warehouses that held provisions and oversaw six to eight men, who despite his age, never gave Danford a lick of trouble, he said.

Danford said he wasn’t so much overwhelmed by being a young teen, a ”kid,” he called himself, participating in the war effort, but ”it very quickly dawns on you that you’re getting stuff ready so we can go kill more people. It didn’t bother me, it was just something you thought of every once and a while.”

He was in the Philippines until the war ended.

While there, he kept a pet, a monkey he named Jocko. The monkey Danford said weighed between 25 and 35 pounds lived in Danford’s Quonset hut and liked to sit on his shoulder. He had to give up the monkey when he left because it would have cost $90 to quarantine the animal for 90 days, plus his future wife wasn’t too keen on the idea of him bringing the primate back to the states.

He recalls coming home on an attack troop transport ship, a ship that ”other words, was loaded with guns,” and not being allowed to cross below the Golden Gate Bridge with the weapons. Instead, the harbor patrol made them dump the weapons about 12 miles offshore, he said.

”You couldn’t go under the Golden Gate Bridge with anything other than a sidearm,” he said.

Danford said he was discharged in 1945 and hitchhiked in uniform from Chicago to Newton Falls, the home of his girl. He had a bus ticket but saved the pass in case of emergency, Danford said. But a bit of luck fell his way – a husband and wife, traveling with their two children, picked him up in the Windy City. He fell asleep in the backseat and when he woke, Danford said he was in Youngstown.

The parents of his girlfriend – his soon-to-be wife, June – picked him up in Youngstown. June came, too, and hers was the first face he saw.

”What a feeling that was,” Danford said.

The two married two weeks later. ”She waited for me and I waited for her,” Danford said.

He and June were married 52 years, until her death from cancer in 1998. They raised four children and lost a daughter, Linda, who died of spinal meningitis when she was 18 months old.

Danford worked 47 years at Delphi, retiring as a supervisor.