Member of The Greatest Generation hits the century mark
Reprinted from New Castle Courier-Times, by Donna Cronk. What better day to honor one of these amazing soldiers than today? It is my distinct honor to share these veterans' stories. Let us not forget how they saved the free world.
MIDDLETOWN — World War II veteran George H. Dunnington has a special birthday coming up, one that few experience. The Middletown resident will become 100 years old on Wednesday, July 8.
While unable to be interviewed by the newspaper, his family members Cheryl Spessert, Emily Spessert, Molly Spessert and Don Dunnington have documented his life and times in interviews through the years and provided their information to the newspaper.
Born in Slat near Monticello, Kentucky, Dunnington attended public school, finishing eighth-grade in 1935. He told daughter Cheryl Spessert in a written interview in 2001, “I quit school, that was the worst thing that happened to me ... I’d rather plow than go to school.”
His first job was farming sun-up to sun-down at $1 a day. Farm work continued, including a year in Iowa – for no pay.
“My biggest regret was that I never got a good education,” he told family.
In his teens, Dunnington moved with his family to New Castle. He worked in agriculture before getting on at Perfect Circle in Hagerstown. He lived in the New Castle area for years with all four of his children born in Henry County.
In the Army now – finally
Dunnington joined the Army in September 1942. He had tried to enlist several times but a crooked right arm from a factory accident kept him from acceptance.
Yet he wanted to go and kept begging officials to take him. Finally, he and another fellow said they should try again. This time, a doctor checked him and declared that his arm was “just right for an MI rifle.”
Dunnington told family, “I got the same arm shot up again when I got in there. I been shot a lot a places, a lot of times. Oh mercy. I got blowed up once with a bomb. It blowed my stomach apart. I been blown up from head to toe.”
Assigned to A Company of the 448 Anti-Aircraft Battalion, the soldier was trained as a gunner and became a company cook. His unit arrived in England in spring 1944.
His battalion arrived at Normandy on D-Day plus one where they supported the 35th Infantry Division. His gun crew served near the front line where they repulsed counterattacks and the liberation of Saint-Lo.
Also, the soldier was injured in the Battle of the Bulge and was evacuated to an English hospital. His injuries prevented his return to the U.S. with the 35th in September 1945, according to family.
He told family, “Being in the Army, that’s fun. When you’re in the war, that’s a different story. Man, I’ve had great big strong men lay down on the ground and cry. I said ‘Boy, get up out of the dirt.’ I said ‘We’re fighting a war.’ I never remember being scared ... I wasn’t smart enough to get scared ...”
The veteran says he escaped being killed many times. “I was pretty lucky I got out of the war as good as I was,” he says. “That old war, the funny thing to me, we went over there and we won the war. We was in the last battle, called the Battle of the Bulge, one of the worst battles there was …that’s when I was hurt and they rushed me to the hospital. The war was over when I was in the hospital. I didn’t get to come home with my boys…”
So many memories abound and paint a picture of varied experiences. He remembers surviving when his helmet was shot and he fell to the ground without injury. He also speaks of providing food to hungry French kids.
Dunnington shared with his family about a Christmas Eve in Paris during the war when the soldiers were put up in a hotel and enjoyed a massive feast. But during the night, they were spotted by Germans who blew up the hotel.
On Dec. 26 that year, he and other soldiers were taken to Bastone for two months of heavy fighting. That March, he fell on his elbow, which swelled and froze in position. At the hospital, he met a man from New Castle.
Dunnington went on to have surgery. During that time, he befriended a nurse who let him slip out and go gamble.
“They drank but I didn’t, so I really cleaned them out. I never wanted for money in London,” Dunnington told family.
After the cast was removed, he started cooking again for troops until November even though the war had ended in April.
Other memories include a terrible battle in the Argon Forest. The enemy heavily bombed their ammunition depot which fell on the soldiers. The force blew soldiers from their foxholes.
A war buddy, calling him by his nickname said, “Hack, we’ll never see New Castle again.”
But both escaped without injury. He recalls that he later learned his sister Ora prayed for him that same night.
“She knew I was in trouble and woke up her husband to join her in prayer. She busted a blood vessel in her head, and they found her in a pile of blood.”
Dunnington said if not for Ora, his brother Lloyd and his wife, “I always believed I wouldn’t have made it through the war.”
But he did make it, and he believed in the cause.
“That’s the reason I went. I don’t think any of the boys wanted to fight, but what are you going to do? Either we went there or they came here, and they were pretty close a time or two.”
Despite his injuries, he is yet to receive a Purple Heart. Paperwork had been destroyed and family is working on trying to secure the award for their hero.
After the war
Dunnington returned to New Castle in 1945, returning to Perfect Circle where he completed 23 years before transitioning to full-time Christian ministry in 1963. He became an evangelist and then pastor for congregations in Shirley, Muncie and Corydon.
He met Lucille after the war, marrying her on Aug. 29, 1947. They were married for over 53 years.
“She was a sweetheart, oh mercy she was a sweetheart,” he says of his bride. “She loved her family and oh dear, she loved her kids. She loved everybody. She couldn’t see no harm in nobody, never could …”
She passed away with Alzheimers in 2001.
The couple parented four children: Don (wife Jane) Dunnington of Oklahoma City; Gary (wife Kim) Dunnington of Indianapolis; Joy (husband Steve) Broad of Middletown and Cheryl (husband Robert) Spessert of Augusta, Georgia.
There are 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Dunnington retired in New Castle in 1987 where he remained until moving in with his daughter Joy in 2016.
Son Don Dunnington says of his father, “Dad has modeled a deep faith and strong sense of personal integrity throughout my life. He emerged from a difficult background as a young man, was injured during the war and suffered other major setbacks along the way—yet built a strong and loving family and has lived a long life of service to God and others. I am grateful to be his son.”
The veteran became a Christ follower during a revival. “A lot of things changed in my life, it just turned around completely,” he said of his conversion. “But some of the hardest, hard men in the factory became some of my best friends. That’s all I want to do, see people get right with God. I’ve never lost that desire to this day, that’s what kept me going.”
For his birthday, family is asking for cards and photos from anyone who would like to send them. They will go into an album.
All four children will be there for his birthday and are making a memory blanket with all their family’s photos “so he can be covered in love when he sits in his chair,” says daughter Cheryl.
Greetings may be sent to George Dunnington, 4424 E. County Road 400 S., Middletown, IN 47356.