Punctuality Shows Respect

When I finally woke up that morning, it was a quarter after nine and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. I don’t think I took a shower and I’m pretty sure I gargled with milk while speeding toward the National Guard armory.

This traumatizing event took place in June of 2006. It was my first day in the Alabama National Guard. I was two hours late.

“Get here when you can,” said a smiling Lieutenant Colonel Gore when I walked through those doors.

If you don’t know, “Get here when you can” is not a term of endearment.

What a way to make a first impression!

In all my years in the Regular Army, I was never late, although I cut it close a few times, but close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and according to my Uncle Wayne, dancing.

Little Fulla and Uncle Wayne...a year or two ago.

Little Fulla and Uncle Wayne…a year or two ago.

To the best of my fleeting knowledge, that’s my only transgression regarding tardiness at my unit. There have been times I showed up and did nothing but at least I showed up and did nothing in a timely and punctual manner.

I tell every Soldier that the secret to success in the military is simple: be at the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform, with the right attitude. Everything else takes care of itself.

I failed to follow my own advice that first day and have been ribbed about it ever since, in a joking manner, of course.

Punctuality is the character trait for the month of September in the city of Opelika. Punctuality, of course, means being on time or prompt with respect to meetings, appointments, or projects such as submissions of newspaper articles to the Opelika Observer.

charactercouncil logo


I recently created a project with a specified deadline where I requested birthday cards from around the country for a local World War II hero. Knowing that people in general have problems with punctuality, I fidgeted with the date to ensure the cards were received prior to his birthday. Although I appreciate each and every person who took the time to show their respect for this hero, the manipulation of the date turned out to be a good call on my part.

photo (42)

Speaking of World War II heroes, I recently spent the day with one who was in town visiting his daughter, my 11th grade English teacher. I was told to be there at 3:00 and rest assured I was there well before the proposed time. The respect for my former teacher was enough to be punctual but the respect for her father was the proverbial icing on the cake.

The man makes some mean homemade peach ice cream!

The man makes some mean homemade peach ice cream!

Being late to this get-together was not an option and my punctuality was rewarded by incredibly inspiring and intriguing stories of his time in Europe during the war, not to mention the homemade peach ice cream that night.

As the newest member of the Opelika Character Council, I attended my first meeting last week and made sure I was there on time. In fact, I was the first person there.

My friend and fellow character council member, Jan Gunter, says it best: Punctuality shows your respect for others. People who make it a habit of showing up to meetings on time or handing in reports or projects on time are saying with their actions, “I respect you and understand that your time is just as valuable as mine.”

“If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late” is a rule of thumb and statement often heard in the military and is sound advice for us all in our daily lives.

There is, however, an exception to the rule when related to doctor’s appointments. In cases as such, just get there when you can, because you know the doctor will.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer, and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.


Hard Times & Character

“The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world brother.” Charles Dickens

In the mid-nineties, I was stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for a couple of years.

It was by far the worst assignment of my military career, which includes multiple tours in Iraq, and had no positive impact on my life whatsoever. It was a worthless stop along my military career.

Or was it?

Two weeks ago, while teaching a resilience class in Mobile to my fellow guardsmen, I was contacted by a member of the Opelika Character Council about serving on their committee.

Naturally, I thought they’d contacted the wrong Jody Fuller, but upon further review, they had the right guy.

The City of Opelika became an official “City of Character” on April 3, 2007, when the Opelika City Council unanimously adopted the resolution, because city leaders in both the private and public sector decided that character building was an important piece of our community’s development.

Opelika: A City of Character

There is a different character trait each month and the intent is for each of us to promote the monthly trait amongst our family, friends, and workplace.

Character traits for 2013 have included civility, integrity, and courage, while punctuality, discernment, gratefulness, and joyfulness will close out the year.

Endurance, the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity, is the character trait for the month of August, which brings me back to Ft. Sill.

Although it seemed like a couple of years, I was actually only stationed there for 15 months.

Prior to this assignment, I was a medic stationed at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center, the largest U.S. hospital in Europe. We provided care for soldiers, their dependents, and retirees. We also had real world missions where we took care of patients ranging from the Army Rangers from Somalia to civilians injured in a mortar explosion in Sarajevo.

My promotion to Private First Class while stationed at Landstuhl, Germany.

It was high-speed stuff. I was making a difference. Life was good.

Upon arrival at Ft. Sill, I was assigned to a field artillery unit and immediately knew that life was no longer good, although I did get really good at picking up trash, cutting grass, and handing out ear plugs and foot powder.

We spent a lot of time in the field where the extremes of hot and cold resulted in misery. The relentless wind only made it worse.

I once pulled KP for 39 straight hours while in the field.

In April 1995, we, the medics, were on call to provide assistance at the Murrah Federal Building, site of the Oklahoma City bombing, but were never called upon.

Later that summer, my battalion was on tap to deploy to Guantanamo Bay as part of a humanitarian mission to support more than 20,000 Cuban refugees; however, that mission was aborted for the battalion, as only one battery was needed.

Two medics deployed with the battery, but neither of them was named Fuller; he was assigned to baggage detail.

I always did my job and remained hopeful, but it just seemed like a complete waste of time.

I could go on and on about the hard times at Ft. Sill but will cut it short just as my time there was. Fortunately, my commander authorized a 90-day early out for me after I was accepted into college.

Finally, there was good fortune.

On Sunday, I drove onto post for the first time since May 24, 1996, and have been here all week.

As I stroll down memory lane, I realize that this place wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the time.

I served with some great guys who I’m still friends with today.

With some of my fellow medics at Ft. Sill, circa 1995. (L-R, Corey, Banks, me, JP (RIP), Bobby, and Devo.

I really liked my First Sergeant, too. He would give me a hard time about my stuttering but it wasn’t mean spirited. I’ve always had trouble with words beginning with the letters “F” and “S”, so if he knew I was alone at the aid station, he’d call me on the phone just to hear me answer, “First and Seventeenth Field Artillery, this is Specialist Fuller. How may I help you, sir or ma’am?” As if I didn’t have enough trouble with, “Hello.”

“I’m just messing with you, brother,” he’d say in the midst of laughter.

In hindsight, I can tell you that my time here was not a waste of time, because endurance builds character. In fact, it is one of the 23 traits of character in Army leadership.

Romans 5: 3-4 says it best: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

And with hope, all things are possible.

That’s what I’m talking about, brother.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer, and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Get your grind on…Back to school.

“LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD” the orange sign with black letters read.

Upon reaching the one-lane construction zone, my car was seemingly moving at a snail’s pace.

It was about that time I started experiencing the flashbacks. No, they weren’t flashbacks to Iraq or the last two Iron Bowls; they were flashbacks to my college days.

The construction was taking place on I-85 between Auburn and Montgomery. I’d probably made this trip a thousand times in my life but the bulk of those took place from 2000 to 2001 while in school at Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM).

Before transferring to AUM, I was a career student at Southern Union State Community College. In fact, one of the wings is named after me. Well, not really, but it should be.

I crept through Southern Union like a car going through a one-lane construction zone.

I actually attended Southern Union after high school but that only last one pathetic, measly, miserable quarter.

As many of you may know, I am a fan of professional wrestling. Don’t blame me; blame my grandparents. They loved it. At least I don’t dip snuff, but I digress.

I took three classes that first quarter, and when the quarter had come to a close, I’d withdrawn from the first two and failed the other, resulting in the grades of WWF.

Hulkamania might have been running wild but my education was not.

My photo ID from the WWF days.

(My photo ID from the WWF days.)

This was my lone attempt at college prior to joining the Army.

Within a year of the WWF, I raised my right hand, stated an oath, and my life changed forever.

After four years in the Army, I returned home and reenrolled at Southern Union. I was highly motivated and was dedicated to completing my degree.

I’d earned the Montgomery GI Bill and was going to use it.

Fortunately, I had a boss that allowed me to work full time and then some. I had bills to pay but the extra work didn’t jive with my education.

The grind was wearing on me.

I was burnt out, so I put my application in at the local tire plant, but, by the grace of God, my services apparently weren’t needed. The plant has since closed its doors.

I could’ve stayed at Southern Union and taken a few more classes but a change of scenery was necessary.

Although the main campus at Auburn was my first choice, I settled on AUM because it was more conducive to the non-traditional student. Besides, my money still went to and my grades came from Samford Hall. I was still an Auburn man.

Early on, I was reinvigorated, but it didn’t take long for the grind to catch up with me.

There is nothing fun about driving 100 miles round trip to school in a Jeep with a busted window held up with duct tape, allowing in cold air, making it difficult to hear the radio, much less stay warm. Some quarters, later semesters, saw me doing this four days a week. I’d often leave at 7 AM and not get home until 10 at night.

I was still working full-time, too.

The grind had caught me, and I was ready to quit.

That is until the blistering hot day I saw an orange sign with black letters that read, “LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD.”

As I crept through the construction zone at a snail’s pace, I couldn’t help but feel for the road crew as they worked in the sweltering heat. I know they work hard and some make good money. I have great respect for what they do, but I knew that’s not where I wanted to be.

I had no idea where life would take me, but I certainly hoped it would include air conditioning.

That was it. That’s all it took. After that, I never looked back. I was a man on a mission.

My Jeep Wrangler died on me, but, thanks to my brother, it was quickly replaced by a Jeep Cherokee, making the drive and midday naps much more bearable.

I was so motivated to complete my degree, that I took seven classes, the equivalent of 35 hours, that final summer mini-semester.

I graduated on August 3, 2001.

The fellas supporting me at graduatuon...from L to R...Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea

(The fellas supporting me at graduatuon…from L to R…Adrian, Eloy, me, Dr. Curry, Brad, Shea.)

I hate to think where I’d be had I not completed my degree. Education can often be a grind, but in the end, there are very few things as valuable.

Whether you’re entering first grade, high school, trade school or college, don’t ever give up, because education is essential.

If you never quite completed that degree, the time get your grind on is now, because with an education, life’s possibilities are endless.

It took me to Iraq three times, and most of the time, I had air conditioning.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com .

Lemons to Lemonade

One day in first grade, I ran up to my teacher, Ms. Perry, and said, “M-M-M…M-M-M…M-M-M Ms. PPP.”

“Jody, stop, slow down, and start over,” she said.

So, I did. “M……M……Ms. P…P…P” I said, slowly.

My first grade photo

(My first grade photo)

I was an exceptional child, only I didn’t know it at the time.

As a matter of fact, I didn’t know it until I started writing this article. While looking at my first grade report card, I noticed the words PROGRAM FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN atop my final speech progress report.

With the exception of a month long course while stationed in Germany in my early twenties, the only speech therapy I received was at Jeter Primary School. Why it didn’t continue beyond third grade is beyond me, but that’s all water under the bridge at this point.

At Jeter, I had sessions with Ms. Watson, my speech therapist, biweekly. Although challenging, my time with her was special.

It’s not easy being a kid, but it’s especially difficult when you’re different. Just imagine the pain, shame, and embarrassment of not even being able to say your own name.

While in therapy, there was no pain, shame, or embarrassment.

I’m very thankful for educators and therapists who help make life better for exceptional children, particularly those with speech impediments, since that is what’s so near and dear to my heart.

Last week in Fort Worth, Texas, I spoke at a conference for therapists whose primary mission is to serve children from low-income families. The group consisted largely of speech therapists, although there were a few physical and occupational therapists sprinkled in, as well.

Ft Worth, Texas, July 19, 2013

(Ft Worth, Texas, July 19, 2013)

I received a lot of positive feedback from the attendees:

“You were the highlight of the A to Z Pediatric Therapy conference. Thanks for coming out and speaking!”

“I heard you speak today at my company’s annual meeting. You are phenomenal and an inspiration to those of us who provide speech therapy! Keep on motivating and inspiring!”

“Thank you for an amazing testimony today! It was heartfelt and inspiring! Thank you for your great service to our country and for being such an awesome role model to many! We are so grateful to have had you there with us today!”

If you had told me 30 years ago that I’d be speaking to a group of speech therapists and being paid to do so, I would’ve said, “You’re c-c-crazy!”

When I was a kid, I wanted to be anyone but me, but, today, there’s no one else I’d rather be.

No matter what challenges you have faced, are facing, or will face, I hope you feel the same way about yourself, because if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect others to?

Life is not about the hand you are dealt. It’s about how you play that hand.

My story, A Lifetime of Stuttering is featured in the new book Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade: 101 Positive, Practical, and Powerful Stories about Making the Best of a Bad Situation.

For info on how to obtain an autographed copy, contact me at jody@jodyfuller.com.

(For info on how to obtain an autographed copy, contact me at jody@jodyfuller.com.)

Finally, at the risk of sounding arrogant, there was a time in my life where people made fun of me for the way I spoke, yet, today, people pay to hear me speak.

If that’s not turning lemons to lemonade, then I don’t know what is.

God Bless America!

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

A Memphis Miracle

Several days ago, I was hanging out with the rich folks at the pool at Moore’s Mill Club in Auburn.

Lying in the lounge chair next to me was Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones.

We had an intriguing conversation that covered everything from World War II veterans to some of the ins and outs of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

There was one story, however, that stood out above all the rest and deserves to be shared.

Our story starts out on the mean streets of Memphis, Tennessee, in January of this year. Sure Memphis is the home of BBQ, the blues, and Elvis, but, as with any city its size, there are some seedy parts of The River City, too.

Two of Memphis’ finest, officers Chad Conley and Dwayne Johnson, spotted a stray a stray dog walking along the sidewalk.

It was evident to the officers that the dog hadn’t eaten in a while, so Officer Conley shared some of his sandwich with the rambling canine.

It didn’t take long for the officers to realize that this wasn’t just any dog. He was special.


They named him Graham Leroy which was derived from the name of the intersection of the two roads where he was found.

Not wanting to drop him off at the Memphis Animal Shelter, Conley reached out to a former colleague, dog lover, and current Lee County Deputy Sheriff Jennifer Bosler, who, unfortunately, was unable to take him in.

“At that time, I had a foster from the Lee County Humane Society who had two puppies, so along with my three dogs, I wasn’t in a position to take in another one,” Bosler regretfully said.

With heavy hearts, the officers had no choice but to leave Graham Leroy with the Memphis Animal Shelter.

Meanwhile, 350 miles away, Bosler was worried sick that this special dog would be euthanized.

While at the shelter, Graham Leroy received a lot of tender loving care and very quickly regained his healthy form. He was neutered and, at the request of Johnson, had a microchip implanted in his leg with the officer’s contact information.

Why would Officer Johnson do such a thing for a dog he would likely never see again?

For the answer, keep reading.

It turned out that Johnson found a home for him with one of his wife’s co-workers who stepped up to the plate and adopted this special pooch, who was now simply called Leroy.

The Johnsons would often inquire about Leroy and were under the impression that he was doing just fine. It appeared that everyone would live happily ever after, after all.

At the end of April, Johnson was contacted by a fellow officer who had picked up an injured stray on the other side of town. The microchip in the dog’s leg revealed Johnson’s contact information.

Leroy was found in excess of 20 miles from his adopter’s home, so there’s no telling how long he’d been out on his own, again.

Johnson linked up with the fellow officer to take custody of Leroy.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that the same stray dog would be rescued by the same people twice in a city the size of Memphis.

Like Officer Conley said, Leroy was special.

It appeared that Leroy had been hit by a car and had an injured leg. Officer Johnson took him to the veterinarian where he was informed that his leg would need to be amputated. The cost for the surgery alone would be $800, which didn’t include medicine, boarding, or follow up visits.

Notice the injured left leg. Atrophy had set in.

Notice the injured left leg. Atrophy had set in.

Once again, they reached out to one of Lee County’s resident dog lovers, Deputy Sheriff Jennifer Bosler.

“So I told Chad that I’d contact my vet, Dr. Jere Colley of Opelika Animal Hospital. I spoke with Dr. Colley and shared with him how special this dog was. Not only had he been lucky to run across Chad and Dwayne once…but twice. That’s quite amazing considering the size of Memphis. I really felt that God placed that dog in their path both times. With that being said, he said he would help us out,” said Bosler.

She met Johnson in Birmingham on May 18 and immediately had that “feeling” about this dog. The return trip was uneventful, as was the introduction to the other dogs at the Bosler house of dogs.

He enjoyed the ride “home."

He enjoyed the ride “home.”

He got along well with the other dogs.

He got along well with the other dogs.

A couple of days later, Leroy was taken to Opelika Animal Hospital where it was discovered that he had a severed lateral nerve in his left front leg.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Jennifer Elrod on May 21. He stayed in the hospital for approximately 10 days.

Dr. Colley said Leroy did amazingly well following the amputation, which led him to believe he’d been without the use of that leg for quite some time.

At the vet, he did very well post-op.

At the vet, he did very well post-op.

It’s important to note that the procedure was performed at a discount by Opelika Animal Hospital and was funded entirely by a collection taken up by the Memphis Police Department.

Oftentimes at work, Bosler would mention the trials and tribulations of Leroy to Sheriff Jay Jones who became interested in his story.

“The first time I saw him, I figured he was a unique animal. He was in pre-op condition and that left front leg was just dangling limp. If it bothered him, you wouldn’t know, because he was bouncing around like the happiest dog alive. I learned of his background and the thought of offering to claim him did cross my mind. I’ve always admired a resilient attitude when facing tough odds, be it man or beast,” said the sheriff.

He shared Leroy’s story with Judy, his wife, so an introduction was in order. Bosler and Leroy visited the sheriff’s home in Auburn soon thereafter. Bosler was able to leave; Leroy, however, has taken up permanent residence at the Jones home.

Memphis enjoying his new home in Auburn.

Memphis enjoying his new home in Auburn.

He’s also taken up a different name. Memphis is what he answers to these days. It almost sounds as if he’s in the Witness Protection Program.

“The first time Judy saw Memphis, she looked at me and said, “I like this dog.” I knew that was it. Shoot, he had me after he ran three miles with me the first morning he came to the house. Later in the day, he came over and laid that big square head in my lap and looked up at me with his big brown eyes like dogs do. I know anyone that has ever had a dog knows exactly what I’m talking about. Well, that did it for sure,” Sheriff Jones went on to say.

Here's a current photo of Memphis, He appears to be living the good life-Aug 2013

Here’s a current photo of Memphis. He appears to be living the good life-Aug 2013

“I can’t lie, I miss the ole boy. He truly is a special dog, but I do get visitation rights,” Bosler said with a smile.

Sheriff Jones summed it up nicely by saying, “After all he’s been through, I have to believe the Almighty put him here for a purpose. If it was to inspire, then that plan is working to perfection.”

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com

Beware of the “Silent Killer” #Diabetes

One Christmas morning in the late 1970’s, Santa Claus brought bicycles for my brother and me.  My brother, who is almost two and a half years older, already knew how to ride but I still needed to be taught. I’ll never forget my dad teaching me to ride that bike in the front yard of his Montgomery, Alabama, home that chilly Christmas morning.

My dad, Randall Fuller, was just like any other dad, albeit with one exception; he was blind.

Factor in his blindness with my stutter and it was an accident waiting to happen and boy did it ever. He simultaneously held the left handle bar and the back of the seat, took off running and told me to pedal. As a person who stutters, I have particular difficulty with words beginning with the letter S. I tried yelling “S-S-S-S-S” but by the time I got out “STOP!” it was too late. I was already lying face down in the sticker bushes.

Before losing his sight, he was a barber.

For a short period of time, he cut hair at Campus Barber Shop in Auburn.  He even cut former Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan’s hair a time or two. Although he was a devoted Alabama fan, he swept up and kept some of the Heisman Trophy winning hair in an envelope. I remember that envelope full of hair being around the house for a few years. I’m not sure what ever happened to it.

Later, he owned the Playboy Barber Shop in the breezeway of the Midway Plaza shopping center in Opelika. Perhaps some of our readers remember the pet mongoose he kept in a cage there.

My dad was also a champion coon hunter. People came from miles away just to go hunting with him. I can’t go anywhere without someone telling me about some of the late night coon hunting adventures in the freezing woods of Tallapoosa County.

Predictably, after losing his sight, he couldn’t get anyone to go with him. I can’t say that I blame them.

My dad was a diabetic. He had “the sugar.” In fact, he was diagnosed with what has been coined the “silent killer” when he was just four years old.

I’m not here to bash my old man, but the cold hard truth is that he didn’t take care of himself the way he should have. He didn’t go in for checkups, because, according to my mother, he said he felt fine. By the time he started experiencing problems with his vision, it was too late.

He did, however, immediately enroll at the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega, which helped him cope with his impending predicament.

In spite of his blindness, he continued to work every day, just not as a barber. He set a great example for his two boys. My dad was a flawed hero.

He would have turned 67 years old on November 16; however, this dreadful disease prematurely ended his life at 35. His boys were only 11 and 8.

This is one of only two pictures I have with him. The other is from a large family gathering. Glad to see my parents had the same haircut. Wylie was growing into his. I always was a little different.

This is one of only two pictures I have with him. The other is from a large family gathering. Glad to see my parents had the same haircut. Wylie was growing into his. I always was a little different.

The startling statistics below come from JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.)

Diabetes affects nearly 24 million Americans.

In the U.S., a new case of diabetes is diagnosed every 30 seconds; more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed each year.

Forty-one children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each and every day.

More than $174 billion is spent annually on healthcare costs related to diabetes in the United States.

Diabetes kills one American every three minutes.

November is “Diabetes Awareness Month” but we should always be conscious of the “silent killer.”

Don’t be a victim. Educate yourself. Get tested. Add exercise to your daily routine and watch your diet.

The author of this article needs to do the same.

Jody Fuller is comic, speaker, writer, and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com

Freedom isn’t free

Freedom isn’t free

Penland Wall edit

I took this photo at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2012.

I took this photo at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2012.

Memorial Day weekend is upon is. The kids are out of school. It’s time to fire up the grill. It’s time to head to the pool, lake, or beach. It’s time to party with family and friends. It’s the beginning of the summer. That’s what Memorial Day is all about, right?


Memorial Day is a federal holiday which occurs each year on the final Monday of May. It should not be confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, living or dead.

I took this pic at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.Not taking the time to reflect upon the fallen service member and his or her sacrifices on Memorial Day is akin to not taking the time to reflect upon Jesus Christ and his sacrifice at Easter.

Unlike other holidays, we don’t receive tangible gifts on Memorial Day; however, thanks to all of the brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we do receive the intangible gift of freedom.

One of those brave warriors was Sergeant First Class (SFC) Raymond D. Penland.

Penland 2

I first learned about SFC Penland by way of his son and my dear friend, Opelika native and resident, Steve Penland.
Raymond D. Penland was born July 5, 1921, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Although he started his senior year of high school, he never finished, but that wouldn’t prevent him from living a remarkable life.

He enlisted in the Army on Feb 23, 1940, at the age of 19.

Unfortunately, SFC Penland’s service record is largely unknown.

On July 12, 1973, there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center, located just outside of St. Louis, that destroyed 80% of the records for U.S. Army personnel discharged over a nearly 50 year span from 1912 to 1960. Additionally, 75% of the records for U.S. Air Force personnel discharged from 1947 to 1964 were also destroyed.

None of the records that were destroyed in the fire had duplicate copies made, nor had they been copied to microfilm.

Regrettably, up to 18 million service records were destroyed leaving veterans and families alike looking for answers.

The family has no record of where Penland attended basic training, but older son, Raymond (Ray) C. Penland, through due diligence alone, has been able to obtain some of his father’s records.

After completing basic training, Penland was assigned to 2nd Infantry Division (ID) as a rifleman from 1940-42, which is significant to me, because I, too, was assigned to 2ID, albeit 61 years later.

Over the next few years, Penland’s stellar performance would allow him to rise up the ranks of 10th Infantry Regiment holding such positions as squad leader, platoon guide, and platoon sergeant.

Penland was part of the greatest generation and saw action in the European theater during World War II. While serving with 10th Infantry, he was awarded his first of two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained along the Moselle River in Northern France.

In 1946, Penland was assigned to recruiting duty in, of all places, Opelika, Alabama. His time here would be very productive.

Raymond D. Penland married Opelika native Sara H. May in Troup County, Georgia, on March 1, 1947.

Over the next few years, Ray and Steve would come along, respectively.

Also, while in Opelika, Penland would go on to earn his GED.

In 1949, SFC Penland returned to 10th Infantry where he reassumed his role as Platoon Sergeant.

He departed Ft. Benning, Georgia, for Korea in July of 1950, just weeks after the outbreak of the Korean War.

Due to the fire of 1973, the family has little knowledge of his duties in Korea, although they do know he was assigned to Company L, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

According to a letter from CPT McCaffrey, his Commanding Officer, on December 16, 1950, Penland departed the Company Headquarters with the Executive Officer and a driver in order to go to the rear for ammunition. During their return, they were ambushed by a group of North Korean soldiers, and, sadly, Sergeant First Class Raymond D. Penland was killed in action by machine gun fire.

His XO and driver were wounded in the attack.

His unit was evacuated by sea just three days later.

He was just 29 years old. He would leave behind a young wife, the mother of his two sons.

For his leadership and valor, SFC Penland was awarded two Purple Hearts, the American Defense Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Good Conduct Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.

He was most likely awarded additional medals including the Bronze Star. Unfortunately, that can’t be verified at this time due to the fire at the records center.

Records show that SFC Penland is buried in what is registered as United Nations Military Cemetery #2 in Hungnam, North Korea; however, there is no evidence of him actually being there. They were intentionally hidden so the enemy wouldn’t dig up the remains for their clothing. There are 48 other soldiers buried there with him. Furthermore, there are thousands of other U.S. servicemen still buried in North Korea.

In the early nineties, Ray, retired U.S. Navy, was stationed in Japan and went to Korea on assignment. His unit visited the U.N. base in P’anmunjom on the demilitarized zone. This is the closest any member of the Penland family has ever been to SFC Penland’s grave.

His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This Honolulu memorial is also known as “The Punchbowl.”

Penland Cemetery

I took these photos in Jan 2014.

Penland Wall edit

Korea has often been referred to as “The Forgotten War” because of the lack of public attention it received both during and after the war, but I can assure you that neither the Penland family nor the families of the more than 33,000 casualties from the Korean War have ever forgotten.

“I was 9 months old and my brother was almost 3 when my mother received the telegram. There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and wish that one day he can be brought back home and given a final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Steve.

Ray sums it up well, “Each memorial day I remind my friends that there are missing servicemen and women all over the world. They are in unmarked graves in cities, jungles, deserts, and at sea. As we celebrate our nation’s greatness, let us not forget those who gave their all for their country and may never come home again.”

So enjoy the freedom that this holiday allows. Enjoy the outdoor recreation, the barbeques, and the start of summer, but I encourage you to take a moment and reflect upon those men and women whose sacrifice paved the way for you to do so, because a true reflection of this sacred day clearly shows that freedom is not free.

kid with flag

This is what Memorial Day is really about.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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