Sad farewell to two special friends
Robert W. (Bob) Warner died March 30, 2002, in a fatal car collision in Salisbury MD, at age 76. (Bob's wife, Dorothy, was seriously injured but is now recovering). William M. (Shep or Bill) Sheppard died of a stroke March 7, 2002, in Marietta OH, at age 77.
We three soldiers first met at Camp Maxey in March 1944, ASTP guys literally dumped off a truck into the K/395 company area. Bob Warner, Bill Sheppard, and I then began a friendship and journey that 99'ers know so very well — training at Camp Maxey, then on to Boston, Dorchester, Southampton, France, Belgium, and finally Germany.
After numerous field bivouacs along the way from France to Germany, we eventually arrived at an assembly area at Kalterherberg, Germany. After a miserable night of snow and rain, we began our march into Hofen on Nov. 10, through snow, rain, and mud. The event was magnified by the movement of tanks, trucks, and personnel of the 5th Armored Division moving out and the 99th going on line.
I am vague about the next few days. Bob, Bill, and I began the job of digging a hole at the base of a hedgerow. (Where we got the tools, I don't remember!) Together with other guys, we went back into Hofen and brought back shed doors, rugs, and whatever we could find to cover our hole and provide a bit of comfort. The routine, of course, was always two hours on and four hours off for each of us, as we kept a nervous eye on whatever might be happening in front of us.
Within a week, after days of wet shoes and feet, we all were experiencing some degree of trench foot, but Bill Sheppard was suffering the most. He recounted this event in a letter to me in 1989:
"After seven or eight days on the line, they finally brought us some dry socks. After coming off watch outside our dugout sometime around midnight, I climbed into my bedroll and decided to put on the dry socks before going to sleep.
"Shortly after taking off my leggings and putting on the socks, my feet started to hurt like crazy — apparently as circulation tried to resume where blood vessels were no longer operable. I've always described it as feeling as though someone was hitting my feet with a hammer.
"I remember trying to keep as quiet about it as possible, thinking I could hang on until daylight. But when I started hitting my head against the side of the hole to keep from crying out, you (Joe Thimm) had apparently had enough.
"I remember you saying something like, 'I can't stand this anymore. I'm going to get Shep out of here.' And shortly before dawn, you put me on your back and in the dark carried me on the path to the platoon CP."
Bill Sheppard then went on to a succession of hospitals in Belgium, France, England, and finally Camp Carson CO. He was discharged in July 1945.
After the war, Sheppard graduated from Swarthmore College, later became a full-time faculty member of Marietta College, Marietta OH, and retired as a full professor of mass media.
He was the recipient of numerous awards along the way. He was a member of the National Collegiate Leadership Honorary, Omicron Delta Kappa, and in 1982 he was presented an Honorary Alumnus Award. In 1984, he received an Outstanding Faculty Award.
Sheppard retired from Marietta College in 1988, and in 1999 was inducted in the Mass Media Hall of Fame, as the second inductee. In 2000, he was given a special honor when he was inducted into the Faculty Emeritus Chamber of Andrews Hall.
Sheppard is survived by his wife, Jenny; son, Mark; daughter, Ann; and three grandchildren.
He discovered the 99th Infantry Division in 1989 when he spotted a 99th decal on a car in a Marietta parking lot. That lucky occasion led to his making contact with me. Since 1989, we have exchanged many letters, phone calls, and a number of personal contacts. Bob, Shep, and I finally had the opportunity to relive our foxhole experience at the 99th convention in Pittsburgh a few years ago.
Bob Warner was a guy who did anything and everything with boundless energy. He was that way as a soldier and in his professional life in sales and sales management in New York City and on Long Island. His passions in life were his wife and family, his church, and his many friends.
He was with the 99th from Camp Maxey to the end of the war in May 1945, and was discharged as a staff sergeant. He later served as a captain in the Army Reserves.
Warner was a soldier's soldier. Only those of us who served with him know his heroics in combat. Bob is just one of the many men whose leadership and example made all of us better soldiers. And like so many guys, there were no medals awarded since no one gave the order or had the time to write up critical combat events.
On a personal level, I have cherished my 58-year relationship with this wonderful man with whom I shared the fright, the sorrow, and even the occasional humor of a wartime experience.
Besides his wife Dorothy, two sons, four daughters, a brother, two sisters, and 20 grandchildren survive.
For my two foxhole buddies, I call on my altar boy Latin to say: Requiest in pace! (May they rest in peace!) I know they will be welcomed into the choir of angels by their fellow 99'ers!
Joe Thimm K/395