Shrapnel scar is reminder of how close Amherst veteran came to losing a leg - The Buffalo News

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Shrapnel scar is reminder of how close Amherst veteran came to losing a leg

Warren J. Eberhardt, 88

Hometown: West Seneca

Residence: Amherst

Branch: Army

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1944-45

Rank: Private first class

Most prominent honors: Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, European-African-Middle East Service Medal

Specialty: Lead scout, infantry

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

Even now, some seven decades later, the first thing Warren J. Eberhardt will tell you is that he is grateful he made it back home from World War II with his left leg still intact.

The 88-year-old veteran from Amherst suffered a severe shrapnel wound to the leg when he was taking cover in a foxhole on the front lines in Germany.

“I still have my left leg. I also have a scar starting on my left thigh and running down to my left knee, about a foot long,” he says of the lifelong reminder of how close he came to losing the leg.

The college-bound teenager had been drafted in August 1944, weeks after being among 25 who graduated from Ebenezer High School in West Seneca.

When he should have been buckling down and taking notes from professors, he was instead getting high marks in Army infantry. In fact, his physical dexterity took him to the head of the class as a scout among scouts.

“At Ebenezer High School, I was able to do handstands and go down the steps on my hands. I also walked around the gym on my hands,” he says of his physical gifts. “I could also do handsprings and flip over.”

More than able to get around, Eberhardt often found himself way ahead of his platoon as the lead scout in search of Germans.

Once while out on night patrol, he recalls, he noticed a barn with light visible from under a closed door. But this time, he happened to be with another scout. Lucky for him.

“We opened the door, and there were half a dozen Germans, and we took them prisoner,” Eberhardt says.

Having the German last name of “Eberhardt” printed above the breast pocket of his uniform had proved to be a secret weapon, according to his wife, Gale, who helped her husband of 43 years remember some of his war stories.

“When they saw his name, they thought he was German,” she says.

“But I was German from Buffalo, N.Y.,” her husband adds with a chuckle, recalling how the enemy soldiers surrendered to him, thinking he might be a comrade once removed.

His luck, however, dried up April 3, 1945, when he was out scouting and took cover in a foxhole that Germans targeted with an artillery round.

Medics transported the wounded Eberhardt from the front lines to a field hospital. He knew he had suffered facial injuries, he says, but was unaware of the wound to his left leg.

“When it was Warren’s turn to be treated,” his wife says, “he tried to stand up and could not. That’s when he realized he was wounded in the leg. In the foxhole, he had put his hands up to his face to protect his eyes.”

That defensive reflex saved his eyes but resulted in a shrapnel wound to his right hand, and the shrapnel succeeded in knocking out one of his upper front teeth.

“When I returned home, I went to the dentist, who happened to be my grandfather, and he took care of my teeth,” Eberhardt says. “I wound up losing two other teeth from the injury, (but) I can’t complain.”

After the war, he not only took care of improving his physical appearance by way of his grandfather’s dentistry, but also wasted no time improving himself intellectually. He attended the University of Buffalo in 1946 and graduating in record time with an accounting degree in 1948.

For more than half a century, he worked as an accountant, and he and his wife raised two daughters, Ellen and Linda. And as a man of numbers, perhaps the most important figure in his life has been two – as in, two working legs.

“The left leg was almost off, and it came around and healed up,” says Eberhardt, expressing gratitude.

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