Remembering a Forgotten Soldier
Wayne Johnson, District 5 County Commissioner for Bernalillo County, New Mexico, wrote this piece Friday, May 25, 2012. You can read more on his blog
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have given lives to protect our country and the freedoms that make possible our way of life. Families remember their fallen loved ones, veterans remember the friends they lost, and we all give thanks to the men and women of the armed forces who have volunteered to follow their fallen brothers and sisters at arms should their country call and fate so demand.
As a nation we remember both the known and the unknown. Our nation is grateful and our families remember the sacrifices made by their loved ones. But what happens when time passes, memories fade, and families fail? It’s unfortunate, but all too often these heroes become just another name on a list or on a wall.
We have one such soldier in our family. To say he’s in our family is a bit of a stretch actually. Paul Ventrice Warth was the brother of my father’s mother’s sister’s husband or… my dad’s uncle’s brother on his mother’s side. In short, Paul – who from his letters went by Ventrice – wasn’t a blood relative and didn’t have children. His brother Earcel Warth had one son James Allen Warth who died without any children. Paul V. Warth died at a base hospital on Luzon April 9, 1945. When James Allen died many years later, that branch of the Warth family tree died with him.
Private First Class Paul V. Warth was a member of the Medical Detachment 161st Infantry, 25th Division, I Corps, U.S. Sixth Army. According to newspaper clippings from the time he served at Guadalcanal, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji Islands, and New Caledonia. He died at the Battle of Balete Pass which was renamed Dalton Pass after Colonel James L. Dalton II the 161st’s regimental commander who also died during the battle. Paul was one of the 2,200 casualties and 544 killed taking the pass. (Read about the Battle of Balete Pass here.)
“The Luzon campaign has been difficult and the Balete Pass phase was very bitter. Paul was with his unit when an enemy shell wounded him. His wound was serious but not painful and everything possible was done for him. In fact, another medical soldier was killed while he was treating Paul’s wound. I visited Paul in the hospital the day after he was wounded, he had been operated upon and was comfortable. I talked to him for a few minutes and he seemed content. I think both of us knew he wouldn’t get well but neither of us mentioned that. I couldn’t of course and he didn’t. He was not afraid, he was a brave man.” – Major John A. Northridge 16 April 1945
I didn’t know Paul. He died more than 22 years before I was born. In fact, my father didn’t really know him as he was 6 when Paul went to war in 1942. I do know that he sent money to his dad, enjoyed playing blackjack, and had a Hawaiian Pilot’s License that certified he could navigate the “troubled seas of Beverages, [had] a complete knowledge of Bars, [knew] all Harbors where the biggest schooners [could] be unloaded, and [was] willing to do his share of emptying such Schooners.” I also know he died a 29 year old hero in a foreign land after serving for 3 years in places a long way away from his hometown of Portageville, Missouri.
In my office at Bernalillo County, I have a small memorial to Paul. There I keep a few of his letters and postcards, the memorial book from his memorial service, a couple of photos, and the flag that covered his coffin. I think it’s fitting that these few items have a place in an office that is part of the government and country he died defending.
These few mementos are all that I have and know of Paul Warth. But I wonder… How many other Pauls are there out there – heroes who have become just another name on a wall? It’s our duty – our obligation – to remember the Pauls of our country. This Memorial Day, I urge you to find the name of a fallen and possibly forgotten soldier. Find out something about them – however small – in order to make them real to you. Only then can we understand the nature of their sacrifice and the depths of their dedication to this country and our freedom.