Purple Heart
 

 

Private
Robert Lee Rutledge

December 20, 1916 - October 29, 1944

Lumpkin, Georgia - Meijel


(picture courtesy of Mrs. Ginger Rutledge Gregory)


Robert Lee Rutledge was born on December 20, 1916, in Lumpkin, Georgia. He was one of three children of Walter Cumbie and Fannie Mae Dunaway Rutledge.

Robert married Marguerite Cannington, on December 25, 1937, who was also from Lumpkin, Georgia. They owned a small farm in Stewart County and Robert also worked at the C.P. Trotman Company, a grocery and "dry goods" company in Lumpkin. Their daughter, Ginger, was born on September 18, 1939 and her brother, Robert Leron Rutledge was born on May 16, 1941.

They lived in Lumpkin, Stewart County, Georgia. Ginger Rutledge Gregory remembers:


 

48th Armored Infantry

7th Armored Division

"They were a very close, loving family. For some unknown reason at the time, my grandparents told me that Uncle Jay and Sissy idolized my daddy. Uncle Jay, being two years older than my dad, purchased a car for him, even before he had one of his own. Sissy was two years younger than my dad and absolutely idolized him. Sissy and my Dad were musically inclined and they "made music" together at all the young people's get-to-gathers in the community. The family always put him on a "pedestal" Gram-mama described him as a special child to all that knew him from the time of his birth until the time of his death because he was always so kind and considerate to everyone regardless of their color, financial or social status. As I grew older, everyone that I came in contact with that knew him told me the same thing. Gram-mama told me that later she realized the reason he was always so special to everyone because he had only a short time to live. I believe that also.

My memories of my dad are a little vague, although I have five very vivid memories of him. My brother, whom I call Bubba, has many memories of him even though he was only 2 years old when my dad went away to the service.


Ginger, Bubba, Grammama Rutledge with
Ginger's Dad, Robert L. Rutledge (Picture
courtesy of Ginger Rutledge Gregory)



There are few things that Ginger remembers about her dad:

"I remember meeting him at the end of the drive way when he would come home from work... my bother and I would stand on the "running-board" of his car and he would stick his arm out the car window and hold on to us until he parked the car at our house.

I remember being in our yard riding on his shoulders one night when the moon was very big. He taught me to say "I see the moon, the moon sees me, God bless the moon and God bless me" that night. To this day, when I see a full moon, my memory goes back to that night and I say "I see the moon, the moon sees me, God bless the moon and God bless me" silently in my mind. I taught my own children this little poem, but I don't know if it has stuck in their minds as it did mine.

I remember sitting in his lap one day (on the floor) after he and mama had made homemade ice cream. He made a tunnel through the mound of ice cream for me and I thought that was really something.

I remember being at my maternal grandparents home for Sunday lunch. The preacher from their church was having lunch with them. At my paternal grandparents home, the children were always fed first and I could not understand why I couldn't sit at the big table with the adults, so I proceeded to crawl underneath the table and my daddy had to get down and pull me out from under the table. That was the first time I remember him spanking me.... he told me that behavior was not acceptable. The spanking hurt my feelings much more than my bottom, but I've never been under a table since. He was a gentle man.

I remember the trips to visit him at Fort McClellan, Alabama while he was stationed there. "

In April 1944 Robert Lee Rutledge enlisted with the United States Army. He was stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama for seventeen weeks. Ginger remembers her mother, brother, gram-mama, and myUncle Jay driving from Lumpkin to Fort McClellan to see him. Sometimes another uncle, C. D. Williams, and cousins, Betty, Johnny, Frances, Dan & Lucy Williams would take turns going with them. She remembers: 'My mother and gram-mama would always pack food to take with us. I was fascinated with the out-door stadium with many, many bleachers. Lumpkin did not have a stadium and my cousins and I would run up and down the stadium steps and play while my daddy, my mother, Uncle Jay and Grammama would sit on the grass and visit and watch us play.

My brother, most of the time, would sit in my dad's lap and listen to his conversation (I suppose that is why he can remember so much about him). We would sleep in the car because the few motels would have no vacancies (after I was grown, I asked my mother how in the world did we all sleep in the car.... she said we would do anything just to get to see my dad for a few short hours). I suppose we children slept, but I bet the adults didn't! It was so much fun to make these trips, especially if we took some of my cousins to play with. I learned later that gas was rationed and some other family members would give my family their gas "tickets" so we could make the trips to Fort McClellan if we had used all of ours. My brother & I wanted to be a soldier like our daddy so my mother bought us an army suit. I believe she ordered our "army suits" from Sears, Roebuck and Company."

Robert was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland where he remained for a short time before being shipped "over-seas" in September 1944 with the 7th Armored Division. He joined the Army's 48th Armored Infantry Battalion as a replacement for casualties lost during the assault on Normandy. In his letter to little Ginger, Rutledge explained why he had to go: "It's all for your benefit. You came into a free world and I want you to finish in one."

Ginger continues the story: "The last time he was at home he asked my mother and grandparents not to worry about him, that he would be back soon. I later learned that he talked with his brother, my Uncle Jay, and asked him to please take care of us if he didn't make it back. My Uncle Jay promised him that he would and believe me, he stuck to his word, because he devoted his life to us. Uncle Jay never married; he was always there for us. I remember very well the day a "man" came to our house to deliver a telegram. The man looked so sad when he handed the telegram to my mother. When she read the "letter" she began to cry. Then my gram-mama read it and she began to cry. When my granddaddy and Uncle Jay came in and read the "letter" they were so sad I really couldn't understand, they didn't tell my brother and me that our daddy was missing in action. I suppose we were too young to understand.

My maternal grandparents, Charlie and Mary Virginia Cannington lived about five miles from my Rutledge grandparents. My gram-mama Rutledge was heart broken when my daddy went away to the war, so to help console her, my mother, my brother and I made our home with my paternal grandparents. We would spend a lot of time with my Cannington grandparents also, so we were well taken care of. I remember my mother and both of my grandmothers writing a lot of letters and anxiously waiting for the mailman to come everyday. They seemed to live for the mailman to come. I didn't understand then, but I do now. If we were at my Cannington grandparents and my mother would get a letter from my daddy, my Uncle Jay would get in the car and drive to their home to give Mama the letter. Everyone would gather around to see what he had to tell us. Every day my mother and my gram- mama would write my dad a letter. They would give my brother and me paper and a pencil to write to him also. Although we could not really write, we would scribble and draw pictures for him. They wrote everyday! Little did I know then that 57 years later that I would have the opportunity to read those letters that I loved taking to the mail box and raising the flag and then running to the mail box to see if we got a letter to bring to my mother that would make her very happy. When there was no letter, I remember the disappointment on her face.

Then one day in March 1945 a man brought another telegram. I remember how my mother and grandmother cried and how my granddaddy and Uncle Jay would just sit by the fireplace with their heads propped in their hands and how Sissy and all my cousins came and my mother's large family and friends and neighbors. I knew something was wrong, but I did not realize the severity of it. I don't really know how long it took for my mother to try to explain to my brother and me that our daddy would not be coming home. He was killed in action in Holland on October 29, 1944. He was 27 years old...would have been 28 on December 20th He was killed 10 days after my mother turned 25 years old on October 19th . We were happy children and playing with our cousins was fun and we really didn't realize the great loss at that time. My grandparents, aunts and uncles really took good care of us and we enjoyed the attention. I remember one time I wanted a pineapple sandwich (1 was about 8 years old) for lunch. There was no pineapple in any store in Lumpkin, so my Uncle Jay drove to Eufula, Alabama to get a can of pineapple for me a sandwich. Another time I remember... my mother, my brother, Bubba, my grammama and Uncle Jay went to Columbus, GA shopping. My brother, who was 4 years old, spotted a bright red tricycle in a store... he just had to have that tricycle. I am sure money was tight because my mother was explaining that he couldn't have the tricycle this time, but my Uncle Jay came to my brother's rescue. Bubba happily peddled the tricycle from the store, down the street to our parked car. These are just two of many, many instances that my Uncle Jay and grandparents kept their word to my daddy. They didn't allow us to want for anything, but what they gave us was with so much love and care that we did not grow up to be spoiled brats. They instilled in us the values we have today.

During my childhood years while running and playing and hiding in closets at my gram-mama's house I would see this big brown duffle bag in one of her closets. I remember looking in it one day and thinking oh, that's just a big bag of letters, which didn't interest me at the time. I never bothered to open the bag further to see who the letters were from.

Five years after my daddy's death my mother married Russell Hamner who also served in World War II. He was 32 and had never been married...he was a wonderful stepfather to my brother and me and we called him Russell. He was very supportive and attended all of our activities while we were in school. He was always there when we needed him, but when I turned about 13 years old I began wondering what my "real" father would have been like. I would think about the five memories that I had stored in my head of him. I would get angry when I would think about him being killed by the Germans during the war. I didn't like Germans...there was a German girl in my class and I didn't want to look at her. I talked with my grammama about this and she told me that the little girl had nothing to do with my daddy's death and she had no control over what had happened during the war. She was a victim of circumstances just as I was. I had to give this a lot of thought and then I realized that the German girl was not bad and knew nothing about my father's death. We became friends on the playground.

One day when I was about 21 years old I was visiting with my gram-mama in Lumpkin, Ga. She handed me a small-yellowed envelope with "For our Dear Darlings to read when they grow up" written in her handwriting. When I opened it I read for the first time the newspaper articles about my daddy's death. She told me that she was putting these articles in my care now and ask that I take good care of them...

My mother and grandparents always talked about my daddy to my brother and me and the newspaper articles described him just as they had to us, but I still had a burning desire to know him...to know what he liked and disliked...to know what his favorite food was...what his favorite color was.

Would he have been proud of us when we accomplished a goal? There was just so much I would have liked to know about him. My gram-mama passed away in 1979 and I am still taking care of her newspaper clippings and I have shared them with my children and grandchildren. I have made a copy of these articles for each of my grandchildren so that they will know that their great-grandfather gave his life for all of our freedom.

Before my Uncle Jay's death about five years ago, my brother and I were visiting with him in his home in Lumpkin, Ga. He left the room and returned with that old brown duffle bag that I remembered seeing in my gram-mama's closet years ago. He told Bubba and me that he was putting the bag in our care and asked us to take good care of it just as gram-mama had asked him to take care of it. Uncle Jay was getting old...82 and he was sick.

He told us he wanted us to have this bag of letters. There must have been 200 letters. I was much more interested in the letters then than when I was a child. I pulled one out to read it and out fell a picture of my mother, my brother and myself in a letter that she had sent to him. It was returned unopened because my daddy was missing in action and never received the letter. I couldn't continue reading it without crying so I put it back in the bag with all the others and told my brother to take the bag with him so he could read the letters first.

In early September 2001 Bubba gave me the bag of letters and on John's and my way back home from Moultrie to Statesboro I began reading the letters I couldn't read them fast enough I read for 3 hours in the car. I would cry and I would laugh. When we arrived home and unloaded the bag I sat down and started reading again...sometimes I would read until midnight. Every night for a month when I would get home from work and finished with supper I would sit and read letters. The letters were to my mother from my daddy; to my dad from my mother; to my dad from my Gram-mama Rutledge and Grandmother Cannington; from my Uncle Harold, my mother's brother, who was serving in the South Pacific during WWII; from other friends and family. I just couldn't read them fast enough. I was 62 years old and I was finally getting to know my daddy; his thoughts, his character, his love for my mother, his love and his desires for my brother and me, his love for his family and friends and his love for his country. The letters that my mother and gram-mama, his sister, Sissy; his mother-in-law, his friends and other family members had written to him from November 1944 until March 1945 were returned to my mother unopened. They remained unopened until my brother and I opened them. In this bag of letters was the last letter he wrote to all of us. It was returned with his belongings (see attached copy). He never finished the letter because I am sure that he was called out to the battlefield before he finished it, and he never returned to finish it. It was written on my mother's 25th birthday, October 19, 1944.

From these letters to my dad from my gram-mama, I learned that she tried every thing she could to get him out of the service before being shipped overseas. She even wrote to the President! I also learned from his letters to my mother that he understood how my gram-mama felt, but he had a job to do for his country and that he could not try to get out. He missed his family terribly, but what he was doing was for his family also.

The letter I treasure most is the one he wrote to me on my 5th birthday. From reading a letter that he wrote to my mother, I learned that he had just finished writing to me and that he was on the ship going to Europe when he wrote my birthday letter on September 18, 1944. This letter was written on V-Mail stationery. The letter was addressed to "Little Ginger Rutledge, % W. C. Rutledge, Lumpkin, Ga. and this is what it said:

My Darling Baby,

What sweet memories I have today. It carries me back 5 years ago. We thought we were as happy as could be until God sent you down to us. You'll never know how proud I am of you. I've always, since that day, done everything possible for your benefit. I never dreamed of being away from you as I am now. You are too young to understand it now but you will later. It's all for your benefit. You came into a free world and I want you to finish in one. It's an awful feeling to be away from you like this, but it won't be so very long before I'll be back and will have something to be proud of. Baby, all I ask of you is to follow your mother's footsteps and I'll be satisfied. You are the sweetest in the world. Be sweet to Baby Boy and the very best wishes for many more birthdays.

Loving you always,
Daddy



Letter from Daddy...

(Baby Boy was my brother...that's what I called him until he became a teenager and was embarrassed when I call him that...so I changed and started calling him Bubba! He didn't mind that so much!)

I certainly do understand now what my dad was doing for his family and his country. He paid the ultimate price and I am very proud of him. He provided so much for us, freedom, a college education through the GI Bill, and many other things that I am so grateful for.

Another letter that touched my heart was one from his high school English teacher, Mrs. Marian Anglin. Mrs. Anglin wrote this letter to my mother in April 1945 after the confirmed death of my dad:

Dear Marguerite:

You and your precious children have been on my mind so much during recent months and especially during the past few weeks.

I wish with all my heart that I could do or say something to help you. I want you to know that as a pupil of mine, and later as a fine young man, I had a true appreciation for Robert.

He will want you to be happy, which now seems so hard, but I am sure that he would want it and want you to be the brave girl that you are.

You have been so strong and fine.

With Love,
Marian Anglin



After reading all of these letters, I feel now that I know my dad; his character, his desires for my brother and me. I know he was a compassionate and caring person, I know that he was a very neat person with his dress. He had to have his shirts and pants starched and creased just right. In one of his letters he asked my mother to be sure to get us out and let us do things and learn about life because he wanted us to grow up to "amount to something" He loved photography and I didn't know it until I read these letters. So, I suppose that I inherited my love of photography from him. In so many of his letters to my mother he would say that he hoped that she would be able to get film. He ask her to be sure to make pictures of my brother and me on every occasion, especially birthdays because he said he wanted one of us for every year. I knew my mother made a lot of photos of us through the years. It's so ironic that I have always been a "fanatic" about getting pictures of my children on their birthdays with their cakes even though Jimbo is 40 and Susan is 36. So far, I haven't missed a year, however, sometimes it's hard to "hem" them up on the exact day of their birthday. I think they know how important it is to me to have these pictures that they don't complain too terribly much, although they don't think that it is necessary. I feel the same about my grandchildren it is very important to me to photograph them on their birthdays! When they get to be about 13 years old they "make out" that they don't want their pictures made, but they sure do enjoy seeing them when I get them developed.

I remember when my mother and grandmother would bake cakes, cookies and make divinity candy to send to my dad. They would wrap it and wrap it and Uncle Jay would take the box uptown Lumpkin to mail it. I do believe that they sent him a box of goodies every week that he was gone. In his letters he would thank them and tell them how much he appreciated the sweets and how his buddies would look forward to their boxes just as much as he did. In his letters he would tell us about his buddies. His best buddy was Marion E. Sparkman from Crystal River, Florida. They did their basic training together and was shipped overseas at the same time, but then was separated when they arrived in Europe. "Sparky" as my dad called him made it home from the war and contacted my mother. Every year Sparky and his wife Regina and my mother exchanged Christmas gifts. Sparky died a few years ago, but Mama and Regina still send Christmas cards and gifts to each other every year. Mama had not met them until one summer in the 1980's when they were traveling to their home in Washington State from their home in Crystal River, Florida. They came through Moultrie and looked her up. It was like a reunion! They had never seen each other, but had corresponded for all those years! Sparky told my mother that my dad was one of the finest men he had ever known and that he still thought about him. They trusted each other and had the same morals and values.

One day my mother gave me an old brown leather pocketbook, which had cracked through the years. In this pocketbook was the original telegram dated November 13, 1944 notifying her of my dad's missing in action and the telegram dated March 19, 1945 confirming his death on October 29, 1944. There were letters from the War Department, The Adjutant General's Office in Washington, DC, from Walter F. George, Chairman of the United States Senate.

There was one from The Secretary of War in Washington, at the request of the President, to inform my mother that the Purple Heart had been awarded posthumously to my dad, who sacrificed his life in defense of his country.

There were letters from J. A. Ulio, Major General, The Adjutant General of the Army, to my mother assuring her that she would receive a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding the death of my daddy. Evidently, she must have written to the War Department on a regular basis wanting to know exactly what happened to him. I am attaching a copy of one of the Adjutant General's letter dated June 23, 1945 explaining the reason they could not give her the information immediately. Attached is also one from the office of the Quartermaster General explaining the grave location of my dad. Finally she received a letter from his Commanding Officer, Richard D. Chappuis, Lt. Col, Inf., dated August 7, 1945 giving her this explanation:

"At the time your husband was killed, we were fighting an intense action against a brutal attack by two German Divisions in the vicinity of Meijel, Holland. Naturally, in the face of such an assault, we were forced to give some ground. The company of which your husband was a member was almost completely encircled for 48 hours. The escape of those who survived seemed miraculous. Since they had to withdraw through swamps and peat bogs, they were forced to leave their dead and the more seriously wounded behind."

"In October, 1944 we were fighting under British Command. Following the bitter action around Meijel, we returned to United States control and moved to an area farther south."

"The bodies of those who passed on were, when the territory in which they lay was taken and held by the enemy, buried by the Germans. After the area was retaken by the British, these graves were carefully searched out and the bodies exhumed for interment in an American Military cemetery with full rites and honors, both religious and military."

"Naturally, considering the time required to recapture the area and to push forward beyond it to permit burial parties to operate, to exhume and rebury our American dead and then to have word of your husband's status reach us through both British and American channels, required several months. As soon as we were notified of Robert's true status, his old company commander wrote you."

"I wish that I could give you more detailed information regarding your husband's death but none is available. I hope, however, that my brief explanation of the circumstances occasioning your delay and suspense has helped you to realize how difficult it sometimes is, despite the Army's most conscientious efforts, to give true information as to status from the exact date on which a man becomes a casualty."

I feel that the letter he was writing on October 19, 1944 was started just before he had to go onto the above battlefield."

The 48th Armored Infantry unit was ordered to Meijel to protect the right flank of the northbound force, along a series of canals, marshes and minefields. While in defensive positions, an armored German force attacked across the canals.

Rutledge's unit was surrounded for two days. Many were killed or seriously wounded and left behind while survivors fled through the marshes, according to a letter to Hamner from Rutledge's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Richard Chappuis. There are 37 graves at Margraten from the 7th Armored Division, men who died from Oct. 26 to Oct. 30, 1944.

Two weeks later, authorities notified Ginger's mother that her husband was missing. He was 27.

"It was not until November 1947 that my mother received a letter from the Department of the Army telling her exactly where by dad had been buried and requesting her wishes as to the final disposition of my dad's body. After much consideration and discussion with my dad's parents, brother and sister, they decided not to disturb and move his body again after all these 3 years. He is buried in the United States Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland. He has a memorial stone in his family's cemetery plot in Lumpkin, Ga.

During the war my mother's sister's husband, Uncle Ben Shadrick, was fighting in Holland also.


First burial site of Pfc. Robert Lee Rutledge in Margarten, Holland (Picture courtesy of Ginger Rutledge
Gregory)



He became friends with a Dutch family, Gertie & Harry Heynen deKlerk who lived in Maassricht, Holland. After the war ended and my mother was notified where my dad had been buried, my Uncle Ben gave my mother Mr. & Mrs. de Klerk's last known address that he had.

My mother wrote to them and asked if they would go to the U.S. Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland to my dad's grave to say a prayer and to put some flowers on it for her. Mrs. de Klerk received the letter and replied to my mother in a letter dated March 5, 1946. She thanked my mother for putting faith in her and that she would certainly go to Margraten to the grave of my dad.

She told my mother that she understood so very well her feelings and hoped that it would afford her some consolation to know that there was a Dutch woman bringing flowers to and praying on the grave of her beloved husband. She said she would do this with all of her love and would go there as much as possible. She told my mother that it was 45 minutes on her bicycle, high on a hill from her home in Maastricht. She and my mother corresponded for many, many years. They exchanged gifts throughout the years. After the war everything was very scarce in Holland and very expensive. My mother would send Mrs. De Klerk lipstick (she loved the Coty brand because that was what she bought in Paris before the war). She also sent her silk stockings and slips which Mrs. de Klerk call "underskirts".

Mrs. de Klerk would send us Dutch chocolate; one time she sent us 3 silver teaspoons; she sent my brother and me a pair of wooden shoes (she told us that they did not really wear wooden shoes in Holland). She would send us very interesting gifts. Mrs. de Klerk pleaded with my mother to come to Holland. She thought it would make her feel more at peace to see the beautiful cemetery where my daddy was buried. Mrs. de Klerk went to my daddy's grave every week and put fresh flowers at his cross and she would say a prayer. She would send us photos of his grave and cross marker along with little sprigs of grass from his grave. We never made it to Holland, but we are planning a trip soon, my brother Bubba and his wife Shirley, my mother, and John and I."

Ginger Gregory last saw her father when she was 4, when he left Lumpkin, Ga., to fight World War II in Europe. She never saw his coffin and never laid flowers at his grave.

Private Rutledge is buried at Margraten American Military Cemetery, Plot D Row 7 Grave 21.

On May 8, 2005, US President Bush, the First Lady and Secretary of State Ms. Condoleezza Rice joined the Dutch queen Beatrix and prime-minister Jan-Peter Balkenende in a VE DAY memorial service at Margraten. In his speech, President Bush mentioned both Robert Lee Rutledge and his daughter Ginger as examples of a father who had laid down his life so his daughter could grow up in freedom.

"[...]There is no power like the power of freedom, and no soldier as strong as a soldier who fights for that freedom.

 Private Robert Lee Rutledge was one of those soldiers. He gave his life fighting against a brutal attack by two Nazi divisions. Weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter on her fifth birthday. The letter was addressed to little Ginger Rutledge in Lumpkin, Georgia. Private Rutledge told his daughter, "You're too young to understand it now, but you will later. It's all for your benefit. You came into a free world, and I want you to finish in one."

Sixty years later, Ginger is still free, and she does understand. And so do her three children and eight grandchildren. Private Rutledge did his job well, and the men who fought and bled and died here with him accomplished what they came for. The free America that Ginger grew up in was saved by their courage. The free Europe where many of them lie buried was built on their sacrifice. And the free and peaceful world that we hope to leave to our own children is inspired by their example [...]"

 The full text of President Bush's speech can be found here.


Prime-minister Balkenende, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush
at the May 8 VE Day Memorial service at Margraten, where President
Bush mentioned the sacrifice of Pvt. Robert Lee Rutledge, that
enabled the generations after him to grow up in peace.


Margraten, The Netherlands

See also:
 

Acknowledgements and Sources:
Mrs. Ginger Rutledge Gregory, Daughter of Pvt. Robert Lee Rutledge.
USA Today
US Department of State website
Wesley Johnston's Dad's War Website

Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

Updated 19 August 2005

If you have any suggestions, comments or additional information, please contact me.

This website is dedicated to the men and women who died and/or are buried in The Netherlands during World War II.

 

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