Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

FRANK LUDDEN

 

 

 


XII CORPS PATCH

WORN BY 282nd ENGINEERS


FRANK C. LUDDEN

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 Army, WWII, Europe 


In WWII,
Frank Ludden was a combat engineer, promoted up through the enlisted ranks, making Master Sergeant in record time.  Postwar, he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering then went on to a highly successful professional career of 42 years. But, despite those impressive lifetime achievements, today he modestly deflects attention from himself to other things he’s proudest of.  He says, “I have a brother that is famous, Allen Ludden, he was host of the TV show “Password” for ten years, married to one of the “Golden Girls,” Betty White.  Allen died in 1981, but Betty is still acting (Betty is in the recently released movie, “The Proposal,” with Sandra Bullock).  He next points to a display on a shelf, two Purple Heart Medals, one on each side of a battered old shell casing. One is his own, received for wounds sustained in 1945 in Luxemburg; the other was awarded to his father, Homer Ludden, an artilleryman wounded in France in 1918. The shell casing is from one of his dad’s “French 75’s.”  This is the only WWI - WWII, Father - Son, Purple Heart combination known among Chapter 1919’s 800 members, and Frank’s display is priceless. This is his story.

 

Frank C. Ludden was born in Elkhorn, Wisconsin in 1921.  His family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas when he was seven years old and he grew up and went through public schools there.  After graduating from Corpus Christi High School in the Class of 1939, Frank first worked for one year with CPL (Central Power and Light Company) and then went off to college.  He attended Texas A&M as a Mechanical Engineering student.  He was one of 6,000 Aggies in “the corps” at that time and was in Army ROTC.  But, after two years at A&M, and fearing the war might be over before he could graduate; he enlisted in the Army because he didn’t want to miss out on doing his part.  He was inducted into the service on March 25, 1943.

 

He was sent to Camp Butner, near Durham, North Carolina and immediately assigned to a new unit, the 282d Engineer Combat Battalion, that was being organized with its three line companies and a battalion headquarters company. Because of his experience, two years of ROTC and engineering courses, Frank was immediately promoted to Corporal and assigned to the battalion headquarters S-3 staff as part of the cadre that conducted the training of incoming personnel as the battalion built up in strength.  Frank remembers, “We were in training for about six months and then moved up to the port of New York and prepared to ship out for England.  My parents visited me in New York before we left and I have the picture to prove it !  The entire battalion was embarked on a single Liberty Ship and after arrival in England we were stationed at the little town of Budleigh Salterton on the Devon coast and near the larger town of Exeter about 15 miles to the north.

 

My position on the TO&E was that of Construction Supervisor, authorized in the grade of Master Sergeant, so I was promoted rapidly to Sergeant, then Staff Sergeant and to Technical Sergeant as our training continued until sometime after the D-Day Normandy invasion. It was not until General Patton’s 3d Army had reached Nancy, France that the 282nd Engineers were sent across the channel and into action for the first time.

 

The 3rd Army further attached the 282nd Engineers to XII Corps, and although it was a “corps troops” battalion it operated far forward in the combat area with the mission of getting the combat troops across the many rivers encountered during the advance across Europe.  We put in the Pontoon Bridges, Bailey Bridges, and rafts essential for rapidly moving large numbers of Infantry and Tanks over the numerous water obstacles. The combat engineers were rarely under direct fire as they worked, but it was not unusual for bridge sites under construction to be targeted by artillery or mortar fire.

 

Behind us were Construction Engineers. Their job was to come up to the bridge sites and go to work building replacement bridges nearby, cutting down trees for timber, using salvaged material, whatever was at hand near the worksite.  As soon as these bridges would be completed and traffic could be shifted onto them, they then disassembled our Bailey and Pontoon bridging and, as needed, sent it on the road up forward for us to use again on the next river crossing. Those engineers behind us were black troops, I don’t remember their unit designation, but they could work quick, they became really good at what they did.

 

In a typical operation, when our advancing troops would come up to a river line, we would call for the appropriate bridging components to be sent up to us, ideally to arrive the day before the planned crossing. The leading Infantry units would start by making an assault river crossing and clearing any German defenders from the opposite bank.  As soon as the bridgehead area was secure the Engineers would bring up the bridging to the work site and the bridge would be constructed as rapidly as possible. Follow-on Infantry and Armor then immediately started crossing over and continuing the advance.  I was wounded during the preparatory phases of one of these operations, it happened like this.

 

It was February 8, 1945, we were in the 4th Armored Division area, in Luxemburg, and a convoy of bridging materials had been sent up to us for a river crossing planned for the next day.  My job was to lead the convoy forward and position the bridging equipment where it would be safely out of the way for the night, but conveniently close to the location on the river where it was about to be used.  I had done that and was on my way back to battalion headquarters, just me and the driver, in our weapons carrier.  Night had fallen and we were moving along slowly in the darkness on a narrow little dirt road. It had a high crown and was not nearly wide enough for us and a big Tank Retriever that suddenly met us head-on, coming in the opposite direction. The VTR took the whole width of the road, yielding not an inch, and my driver quickly slid us over into the ditch, his only alternative to keep from being crushed under the tracks. The ditch was deep and muddy; we were nearly stuck but not quite.  I sent the driver further up the ditch to find a place where maybe our vehicle might be able to struggle back up onto the roadway, and I got behind the wheel to do the driving.  Unknown to us, we had slid over a German anti-tank mine that was lodged with a lot of mud forward of the passenger side rear wheel. It detonated when I started the vehicle forward. I was blown up into the air and out of the vehicle, my legs coming from being jammed up under the dash board sustained the greatest injury.

 

Some other vehicle that just happened along the road stopped and they took charge of me and dropped me off at a field hospital that was somewhere not far away; it wasn’t a long drive. The medics dressed my wounds and put a temporary cast on the leg with a cracked bone.  I was expeditiously sent back to my unit.  The wounds gradually healed except for one permanently damaged knee that still bothers me today.

 

I was promoted to Master Sergeant by the time the war ended.  The 282nd Engineer Combat Battalion was disbanded at Wurzburg and the men were all sent home “on points.”  It was 1946 before my turn came, but when it did, things moved quickly.   I was shipped back to New York and then sent by train to the Separation Center, discharged without delay and returned home to Corpus Christi.”

 

Frank Ludden returned to A&M, resuming his studies in Mechanical Engineering, and with the assistance of the G.I. Bill, graduated in 1947.  He then began a long career with a major chemical company, a subsidiary of PPG, Pittsburg Plate Glass, initially working in Corpus Christi.  He also joined the Army Reserve, received a commission and stayed in for four years; but then took his discharge as a 1st Lieutenant, closing out his military career. After 16 years working in Corpus Christi, he was transferred to Lake Charles, Louisiana.

 

The company’s Lake Charles plant had more than 2,000 employees and Frank was placed in charge of the various areas of labor relations, training, legal, employment, security, safety, medical, and community relations.  He retired in 1986 as Director of Human Resources.  After retirement, because of his extensive experience for many years in labor relations, he then went to work for the American Arbitration Association for another four years as an arbitrator in labor and construction disputes.  He then came to the Chapter 1919 local area, satisfying a long held desire for a lakefront property by purchasing a retirement home in Lago Vista, Texas.  He moved in during the Christmas holidays in 1990.

 

Throughout his career, he had been active in community affairs; he served in Corpus Christi as City Police Commissioner, as Regent to Del Mar College, was on the Board of Goodwill Industries, was President of the Downtown Lions Club and was a precinct chairman.  In Lake Charles, he was Chairman of Family Youth Counseling, President of the Rotary Club, and was on the Board of Goodwill Industries.

 

He joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart shortly after arrival in the Austin area and this month, Chapter 1919 and the PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salute Patriot Frank C. Ludden.


SSG FRANK LUDDEN

VISITING WITH PARENTS IN NEW YORK CITY

T/SGT LUDDEN SOMEWHERE IN LUXEMBOURG JANUARY 1945

FRANK’S DRIVER POSED FOR THIS PHOTO AFTER THEIR WEAPONS CARRIER WAS WRECKED BY THE ANTI-TANK MINE, BUT IT WAS FRANK THAT WAS DRIVING WHEN IT HAPPENED

BAILEY BRIDGE ERECTED BY THE
282nd ENGINEER BATTALION

SOMEWHERE IN EUROPE

PONTOON BRIDGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION BY THE 282ND ENGINEER BATTALION  SOMEWHERE IN EUROPE


 

TOP PHOTO

 

T/SGT FRANK LUDDEN

LUXEMBOURG

1945


Back To Index