FRANK C. LUDDEN
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Army, WWII, Europe
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
“I have a
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,
His family moved to Corpus Christi,
when he was seven years old and he grew up and went through public schools
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
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,
was sent to Camp
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
and then sent by train to the
discharged without delay and returned home to
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
he was transferred to Lake Charles,
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
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
He then came to the Chapter 1919 local area,
satisfying a long held desire for a lakefront property by purchasing a
retirement home in
He moved in during the Christmas holidays in
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
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.