One Tough ‘Ombre

One Tough ‘Ombre

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge. This is an article I wrote last year for East Alabama Living (http://www.eastalabamaliving.com) Obviously Tom is now a year older and has been back to Europe a couple of more times. He’s treated like a rock star over there and deservedly so.

Tom Ingram, 88, recently had a hip replaced. He stopped taking pain medication after just two days. When his doctor asked why he’d quit taking the medication, Ingram replied, “Because I’m tough. I’m a Tough ‘Ombre. Besides, I’ve already been through hell.”

Ingram was born in 1925, on a farm along highway 80 in what is now Lee County.

Ingram had two brothers, both of whom volunteered to serve during WWII, whereas Tom, the middle brother, was drafted.

The oldest brother served with the 42nd Infantry Division, more commonly known as the Rainbow Division, while the youngest brother served with the All-American 82nd Airborne Division.

In 1944, the middle brother completed 12 weeks of training at Camp Blanding, FL before embarking on an 18 day transatlantic journey aboard a troop carrier.

Those 18 days on board the converted British freightliner were challenging. The troops were required to stay below the deck for the duration of the voyage to keep from being spotted by the Germans. It also prevented the troops from tossing cigarette butts overboard, which would have been another indication of allied troop activity. If detected, torpedoes from German U-boats likely would have followed.

Ingram was one of the few troops who didn’t smoke, so he stayed sick while the others smoked and gambled their way across the Atlantic.

After arriving in England, he shipped out to Normandy the very next day and was assigned to the 90th Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Tough ‘Ombres.” They were originally called the Texas-Oklahoma Division, which was represented by the T & O on their shoulder patch. Their reputation on and off the battlefield warranted the change.

In December 1944, Ingram experienced his first taste of war in the Battle of Dilligen. It was here where he first witnessed the death of a platoon mate. It would not be the last.

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The Battle of the Bulge, fought from December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945, was the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies in WWII. The battle was a final effort by Hitler to divide the Allies in their drive towards Germany and to destroy their ability to supply themselves.

The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard and became the costliest battle of the war in terms of casualties for the United States.

Ingram will never forget how cold it was there amongst the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  He estimates there to have been 18-19 inches of snow on the ground.

One night, his unit marched through the snow, directly through an ambush zone, but the Germans were too cold to mount an offense.

Ingram survived the Battle of the Bulge and soon found his way to the Czechoslovakian border as the war came to an end.

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Tom Ingram 2

For his service, Ingram received many medals including two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

He returned home to East Alabama where he enrolled at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API.) In 1950, he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Education and went on to teach for 18 years. API is now known as Auburn University.

In the early fifties, he married Myrtle, who gave birth to five children.

Since the end of WWII, he has returned to Europe 20 times and is actively involved in many WWII ventures, including the 90th Infantry Division Association. He frequently attends Battle of the Bulge reunions.

“There was a break in action around Christmas of ‘44,” Ingram recalls. “I remember having Christmas dinner with all the fixings. It sure was good. I got to eat it at the radio station but as soon as I finished, I had to go back outside and get in my foxhole.”

These days, Ingram enjoys the holidays in the comfort of his own home as he gathers with his family each year on Christmas Eve.

His lovely bride of 50 years passed away in 2003.

Tom Ingram is a proud member of the greatest generation and a tough ‘ombre to boot, but he wants to set the record straight about one thing. “They say our unit walked 1,946 miles across Europe but that’s not true, because half the time we ran like hell,” explained a chuckling Ingram.

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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.

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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?

Wrong.

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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