Robert Rudd was 31 when World War II broke out, but his mother, Emma, was chronically ill in Gatesville, Texas, a small town 40 miles from Waco, just outside of what is today Fort Cavazos. Robert was the only family member who could look after Emma, so he took a draft deferment to care for her.
When she passed away in 1942, Rudd enlisted in the Army and by the fall of 1944 was a Staff Sgt. fighting in Europe with the 2nd Infantry Division.
On January 30, 1945, Rudd’s 38th Infantry Regiment attacked heavily fortified German positions near Rocherath, Belgium in the farthest-north fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Rudd was killed amid artillery and gunfire so intense that his fellow soldiers could not recover his body.
Last month, nearly 79 years after he was killed, Rudd finally came home to Texas. His body was identified as part of a six-year project to account for soldiers lost in fighting in Belgium, a joint project between civilian historians and researchers and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
“I never dreamed that something like this would happen,” said Jane Olivier, Rudd’s niece, at Rudd’s final burial at Bethel Cemetary on Fort Cavazos, just a few miles from Gatesville. The ceremony was executed by members of the 1st Cavalry Division. “I’m so thankful that the Army was so insistent and diligent in taking care of this and bringing (him) back to us and having this today.”
Lost In 1945
Rudd’s journey from lost soldier in a Belgium firefight to a final burial in Texas is a long one, with at least one dead end, that led eventually to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha.
It began in 1946, the Army said in a release, when the American Graves Registration Command was charged with recovering and identifying remains in the European Theatre. Remains found on battlefields in the months and years after the war, which numbered in the thousands, were brought to the nearest American Military Cemetery in the area and designated with an X, a number, and their location. Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd’s remains became X-3144 Neuville. The files of several soldiers were checked against the body of X-3144, but none matched.
In 1950, a board determined that Rudd’s remains most likely “were disposed of by the enemy at an unknown location” and changed his official status to “non-recoverable.” In fact, by the time the board ruled, X-3144 had been buried for a year at what became known as the Ardennes American Cemetery in 1949.
A New Search
In 2017, a long-term research project by Belgian and American researchers into missing soldiers from the Battle of the Bulge began to examine the battles around Rocherath. The researchers suggested to DPAA officials that X-3144 might be associated with an unaccounted member of the 99th Infantry Division and should be disinterred. The researchers also thought that the list of possible candidates for remains in the cemetery should be expanded to include 18 Soldiers still missing from the 2nd Infantry Division — a list that included Rudd.
The X-3144 remains were disinterred on June 23, 2021 and moved to Offutt. There, officials used anthropological analysis, dental records, and three DNA tests to compare the remains of missing soldiers.
Rudd was officially accounted for on June 20, 2022.
Rudd was one of nearly a dozen formerly unaccounted soldiers identified from remains located nearby.
Rudd’s medals included a Bronze Star with the medal “V” device and one bronze oak leaf cluster, a Purple Heart, Good Conduct medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four Bronze Service Stars, World War II Victory Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantryman Badge, Honorable Service Lapel Button – World War II and the Belgian Fourragere.
After his death, his family was presented with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his heroism.
“It was a very moving day for us as we watched everybody participate and just knowing that he’s home and that it took so long but the diligence and persistence was very moving,” Cindy Williford, a great-niece of Rudd, said. “Jane and I were at the airport when they brought him in last night and to watch as Austin-Bergstorm Airport came to a standstill with lights and water, it was the most surreal moment as you watched this plane taxi to the gate. I will never forget that. …
Rudd’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Margraten, Netherlands, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Final Resting Place
The Bethel Cemetary sits a few miles south of Gatesville, just within the northern boundary of Fort Cavazos. Once a public cemetery, it was the final resting place of Rudd’s parents, Emma and John, before it was absorbed into Cavazos’ sprawling ranges. When Rudd was identified, the base agreed to open it so he could be interred next to his parents.
More than a dozen veterans, and supporters attended the burial in December, along with five surviving family members.
“My grandma is one of the surviving nieces, and she named her youngest son after him,” Stacy Baldwin, a great, great niece of Rudd, told the Army.
“Actually, (Stacy’s) grandmother used to write to (Rudd) when he was in the Army,” Olivier shared. “She would write to him until one day, she got the letter back.”
Baldwin became emotional at the thought of representing her grandmother that day, who was unable to attend.
“My grandmother was very, very happy to hear that he had been found,” she stated.
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