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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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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Happy 100th: Veteran from Opelika marks century of life

James Camp Mayfield, better known as J.C., was born in Concord, Ga., on Sept. 14, 1914. He was the oldest of 12 children born to Homer and Allie Mayfield. This week, he will turn 100 years old.

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As with most people, his memory isn’t what it used to be, but he recalls moving to Opelika when he was 19 years old. At 20 he was in the U.S. Army and stationed at Ft. Benning. He served in the Army from 1934-37 before transferring over to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), where he would remain until the US was pulled into World War II.

While at Ft. Benning, he was a member of a hitched artillery unit and learned to shoe horses. After being recalled to active duty, he was assigned to Ft. Bliss, Texas. There, he shoed just one horse before the Jeeps were brought in.

In September of 1942 he received orders to go to San Francisco. “I was there just long enough to be shipped out,” he recalls. From San Francisco, he sailed to Australia aboard the USS Washington. Although a member of the Army’s First Cavalry Division, Mayfield, along with a handful of other soldiers, was assigned to the Navy during the voyage. Because of the temporary transfer, he became a member of the Neptune Club when the ship crossed the equator, and he still has the citation to prove it.

Mayfield, now a communications specialist, spent approximately nine months in Australia before seeing combat in the Solomon Islands, where he contracted jungle rot and caught malaria. Upon evacuation from the South Pacific, he spent 11 months at a hospital in Oklahoma. His wounds had to be cleaned and his bandages had to be replaced several times throughout the day.

After leaving Oklahoma, he came home to Opelika for a brief stay with his family on East Street. He wasn’t in Opelika very long before being transferred to a field hospital in Miami Beach. When asked what he did there, he smiled and said, “I went to the beach.”

In 1940, before the war, he married Iris Mann, who served as a switchboard operator at Opelika’s Prisoner of War camp. He has a fond memory of standing in a long line with hundreds of other GI’s to talk on a phone when Iris cut into the line and asked to speak to J.C. Mayfield, who was somewhere in the middle of the pack. He made his way to the front of the line and was able to speak to his bride.

He would stay in Miami for about six months before being released from the Army and coming back to Opelika. Although released from active duty, Mayfield chose to continue to serve in the Alabama National Guard and would do so until retirement.

He spent the bulk of his career working at West Point Pepperell, where he served as the supervisor of the carpentry department. He retired from the mill in 1979.

He and Iris had four children; however, Iris passed away in 1969.

Although he loved his departed wife dearly, he did find a new love and married Noreen Freeman a short time later. Her husband had passed away as well, and, coincidentally, his name was J.C. They enjoyed traveling and spent many happy years together before her passing in 2000.

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Mayfield has touched a lot of lives throughout his life, but perhaps none more so than the life of his brother-in-law, friend, and longtime Opelikian George “Red” Marlett. “He’s been a wonderful friend to me and such an inspiration. He’s responsible for getting me into the Masons,” said an emotional Marlett.

Mayfield lived by himself until the age of 98 but moved to Athens to live with his daughter Judy about a year and half ago.

They have a big surprise birthday party planned for him at church. They had one last year, too. The preacher jokingly said then, ‘We’re making a big deal out of J.C.’s 99th birthday this year because some of you might not be here next year, but we’re sure J.C. will be.” Sure enough, some of those in attendance that day will not be there, but Mayfield will certainly be there, surrounded by his family and the friends that he’s been blessed with throughout his century on Earth.

Some of them may not be around for his 101st birthday, but everyone seems to think he will be.

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.

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Frank Waldrop: local war hero

I love interviewing members of our military. Here is a story from the Opelika Observer I did a few weeks ago on a gentleman from my hometown. Turns out, we are related by marriage. Enjoy.

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Frank Waldrop’s roots run deep in Opelika. He was born on South Eighth Street in 1921 to Thomas and Fannie May (Trotter) Waldrop. He also had a sister, Mable.

Thomas, a WWI veteran, was co-owner of Crossley and Waldrop Furniture. He was also a mortician.

He has pleasant memories of growing up in Opelika. Those memories include meeting his buddies for a game of baseball down by the Confederate monument behind First Baptist Church. “The road was paved there,” he says, “but was a dirt road just beyond there.”

Another of his favorite “gathering places” was the city pool behind Clift High School, adjacent to Moore Stadium.

Young Frank went to first grade at Palmer Hall, which was located where Opelika City Hall is now. The school became too crowded, so he attended second grade at Miss Nettie E. Webb’s house on South Railroad Avenue. Her classroom was filled with switches, and, according to Frank, she wasn’t afraid to use them.

He went to Southside School for the next four years. Southside would eventually become Miriam S. Brown Elementary School. Today, it’s known as the Cultural Center of Opelika.

From the 7th to 11th grade, he attended Clift High, where he played football under Coach Lindy Hatfield, a former running back at Auburn.

“FDR had Moore Stadium built by the Public Works Administration the year I got there. Before that, they played the games at the fairgrounds,” he recalls.

When not playing football, Frank worked with his father, who’d left the furniture and undertaking business in favor of the grocery business. Waldrop’s Grocery was located in downtown Opelika on Seventh Street.

When Frank was 15, his father went back to the furniture business but also started a mattress business. This was during the Depression, so people did whatever they could do to provide for their families. Wherever his father went, young Frank was right there along his side.

“In those days, we only went to school through the 11th grade. It wasn’t until the year after I graduated that they implemented the 12th grade,” said Waldrop, who graduated in 1937.

At 16, while still in high school, Waldrop joined the Alabama National Guard. He was a combat medic assigned to 167th Infantry Regiment of the 31st Division. His service included training soldiers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Alexandria, La.

In 1941 he left the Fort Dallas Smith Armory for Camp Blanding, Fla., for a yearlong assignment. He was there training soldiers when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The first units he helped train were sent to Europe and North Africa.

“We were not allowed to call them draftees,” he said. “We were instructed to refer to them as selectees.”

Over the next couple of years, his unit trained soldiers at different locations around the country to replicate the vast terrain differences that soldiers would experience in Europe, Northern Africa and the Pacific. They included Camp Bowie, Texas, and the mountains of West Virginia.

They were also assigned to Camp Pickett, Va., for amphibious training in Chesapeake Bay. This training would serve him invaluably.

Frank Waldrop’s unit was initially slated for Italy, but that changed. Instead, they were sent to General Douglas MacArthur. “They didn’t need us in Italy, so they sent us to MacArthur. We went to the South Pacific,” he said.

Their point of embarkation was the aforementioned Chesapeake Bay. Their mode of transportation was a Dutch freighter that was converted to a troop carrier. Because of the constant threat of attacks from German submarines, the carrier was escorted along the east coast all the way to the Panama Canal.

Once they cleared the Panama Canal, they were all alone in the South Pacific for four weeks before landing on the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. Frank and his unit had a month to get climatized before seeing any combat duty.

The natives in New Guinea’s coast weren’t civilized, and there was no infrastructure. A battalion of Navy Seabees attached to his unit built roads and airstrips once the area was secure. Within a matter of days, the airstrips were fully functional.

In spite of heavy combat, his unit eventually made it all the way up the New Guinea coast and built bases along the way. Although he was a medic, he was a target the entire way. The Japanese had no respect for the red cross on his shoulder. He mended and repaired broken bodies throughout the war, which was a foreshadowing of things to come.

After a stop in the Dutch East Indies, his battalion, First battalion, fought on the island of Morotai. Second Battalion remained in reserve for some much needed rest while First Battalion did all the fighting.

They were on Morotai preparing to invade the Philippines when the atomic bomb fell on Japan. “That was the best thing to ever happen to us. MacArthur was getting organized and ready to go back into the Philippines. Had that happened, there’s no telling how many more would have died.

“The Japanese soldiers we were fighting on Morotai had other ideas about surrendering. They took off into the jungle. For all I know, they may still be there,” he said with a chuckle.

First Battalion was given a break while Second Battalion was tasked to take a weather station three days away. Technician Third Grade Frank Waldrop was reassigned to Second Battalion. “I missed out on the rest,” he said. “It was the easiest assault job I ever got into. The amphibious assault vehicles drove all the way onto the beach. I didn’t even have to get my boots wet – ordinarily, we were all the way up to our neck in water. And there were just a handful of Japanese.”

By this time, he had enough points to be eligible for discharge as soon as the war ended.

“I left out of the Philippines on a real big, nice ship. It wasn’t a regular troop carrier. It was more like a hotel,” he fondly recalled. “It took us to San Francisco where we stayed for two weeks.”

After a week-long train ride, he arrived at Camp Shelby, Miss., where he spent a week in the hospital. Upon his release, he boarded a bus back to Opelika.

“I caught up on five years of fun in about two,” he said with a smile.

Upon his return, he had a couple of local jobs in the auto industry before landing a job in the body shop at Tatum Chevrolet, where he’d spend the next 40 years. “For the first 10 years, I was on the line repairing wrecked cars but spent the last 30 in management,” he said.

“He was the best body man in Lee County,” said one friend.

In 1948, he married the former Johnny Lou Knight and has been happily married for 65 years. They were blessed with two children, Thomas and Belva, and are proud of Chandler, their only grandchild, who is simply described as “the best.”

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Since retiring at the age of 71, Frank has kept busy with work in and around the house and, along with his bride, has been an active member at First United Methodist Church.

When asked what the secret to their longevity was, Johnny Lou said, “Well, we never did fuss much. We just always got along. He didn’t drink and didn’t cuss much. Sometimes he might say “doggone!” but that’s about it.”

At 93 years old, he’s not as active as he once was. He spends a lot of time resting, but if anyone deserves the rest, it’s Frank Waldrop. After all, he’s still owed that doggone rest from the war.

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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