November 9, 2006

From High School Graduation, to the Battle of the Bulge – The Tale of WWII Veteran Ted Gundy

Most 18-year-olds dream of a new car or some other extravagant gift for graduation. Ted Gundy got an all-expenses paid trip to Europe. Unfortunately it wasn’t a graduation gift. Gundy was drafted into the United States Army and in the summer of 1944 he was shipped out to fight in World War II.

After wrapping up his senior year in May, Gundy went into the service in June and spent 18 weeks in basic training at Camp Croft, the U.S. Army Infantry Replacement Training Center in Spartinsburg, SC.

The young man got a brief furlough to return home before he traveled back east to ship out overseas. Gundy was a bit wide-eyed when he and his fellow solders were loaded onto a triple-decker luxury liner in Boston Harbor. The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took a week as the ship was forced to take a zigzag route to avoid German submarines.

The troops landed in England and traveled across country by train. Gundy got to see London briefly as the train stopped in the capital city. But Gundy doesn’t recall much about one of the world’s greatest cities. Instead his memories linger on a meal he had at the train station.

“I don’t remember much about London,” he said. “But I will never forget the Red Cross folks that were distributing donuts and coffee. I filled my helmet with donuts. That didn’t sit well with me on the boat as we crossed the English Channel. I was so sick. Sick enough that I still don’t care for donuts today.”

Gundy joked that it was things like this that he and his fellow soldiers remember today. Of course there are the images they can never forget, but donuts make for better conversation, Gundy stated.

The Memphis man will never forget his first night in Belgium. After landing in France the troops traveled by truck to join up with their units, where they were filling the ranks of fallen soldiers.

Ted was assigned to Company B of the 393rd Regiment of the 99th Infantry. His unit was making its way across Belgium en route to take part in one of the more infamous fights of the war, The Battle of the Bulge.

Before joining his unit, Gundy and his fellow replacements were quartered in an old castle where they were told they were sleeping on the same stone that had housed Napolean’s army. While the history was interesting to Gundy, he would have traded it for a blanket that first night.

“We weren’t outfitted for this type of climate,” Gundy said. “I spent the night in the attic of an old brick factory. I still believe that was the coldest I have ever been.”

As the troops advanced on the infamous Sigfried Line, Gundy found little relief from the weather. The men marched through snow above their knees at times. The only thing worse than the cold was the regular intermingling of body parts that were exposed from the snow mounds. The fighting had been fierce and neither side had the opportunity to collect the dead.

Gundy and his comrades continued to push forward, moving through a series of small villages across the countryside.

“Most of the time we were in the forests, moving from town to town,” Gundy said. “I was never in the major cities in the region. We were mostly in small places the size of Downing, or no bigger.”

The veteran doesn’t dwell on the tales of snipers, or injured friends, although one can tell there are plenty of those disturbing recollections. Instead his retrospection focuses on the villagers, his comrades or the weaponry he witnessed.

Ted doesn’t brag about the fierce fighting that was going on in the pillboxes and foxholes but instead recalls the most magnificent scope he had ever seen.

“We found it mounted to a German machine gun in a pillbox that we had just taken,” he said. I kid you not, you could count the blades of grass when looking through that thing. I have never seen anything like it.”

By early March the troops had advanced to the Rhine River. Gundy’s division was the first full force to successfully cross the Remagen Bridge, one of the last standing crossings on the waterway, that Gundy said reminded him of the Mississippi River in size.

The whole time they were crossing Gundy said he was sure they would be bombed, or the bridge would be blown or it simply would fall in since it had already seen plenty of damage.

But that was not the case, as he crossed the bridge with good friend Charles W. Jones of Bloomfield, MO. The two men had befriended one another and Gundy said they were never far apart.

As a matter of fact, it was this closeness to which Gundy attributed his safe passage through the war up to this point.

Gundy recalled sitting in a foxhole with Jones and watching the man’s head quickly jerk to one side seconds before the dirt erupted behind his head.

“He told me he had seen the piece of shrapnel coming and had just dodged it,” Gundy said. Both men laughed at what they knew was impossible. But Gundy told himself that as long as he stayed close to Jones that he would be okay.

Unfortunately nearly a week later, the two men were separated during an artillery barrage. Jones had been summoned to the neighboring foxhole by an officer as the soldiers were being pinned down by machine gun fire and were developing a plan of attack. That left Gundy alone with two German prisoners of war.

The day was March 15th, and it was the last day Ted Gundy would fight in World War II. An artillery round impacted his foxhole, killing the two prisoners instantly. Gundy was severely injured, taking shrapnel to his leg.

“I wrapped my belt around my leg to stop the bleeding and I noticed that I was the only one moving,” Gundy said. “My buddy scurried back to the foxhole and put my leg in a tourniquet.”

Ted woke up in a nearby field hospital with transfusions of blood going into his body in several different places. He was there for nearly two weeks before he was shipped out to a hospital in England.

The day before his 20th birthday, a surgeon amputated Ted’s leg due to the injury.

“That was the same day that Roosevelt passed away, so there were a lot of tears being spilled that day in the hospital ward,” Gundy said.

Ted returned to the United States in June of 1945 but not before a second surgery removed more of his damaged leg.

Gundy stayed in the Army’s Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, MI. He stayed there until April of 1946 when he was discharged.

“I served from June 1944 until I was discharged April 6, 1946,” Gundy said. “I was only with my outfit a little more than two and a half months. I spent a little more than a year in the hospital.”

Upon returning to Memphis, Ted Gundy became one of the youngest elected officials in the state of Missouri when Scotland County voters made him county tax collector.

Years later Ted began seeking out his fellow veterans. He located Jones, who had become a Baptist minister after the war, in California. The two began corresponding. Ted found other comrades through his outfit’s regular reunions.

In 1998 Ted and his daughter Rita Jarvis traveled to Belgium. He revisited many of the battle sites and was befriended by a Belgium couple that continues to correspond with the former soldier today.

“The Belgium people really were gracious to us,” Gundy said. “They think a lot of the American soldiers, as you can see in their many museums and historical markers for the war.”

They’re not alone in their utmost respect for all of our nation’s veterans.

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