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Jess Willard Hudnall
1915-1943

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

Ambrose Redmoon

Army Private First Class Jess Willard Hudnall was born in Fayette County, West Virginia, in 1915 to parents Thomas Cleveland Hudnall and Fonda Mae Cline Hudnall. Jess had a two-year-older brother, George Edward, who died in 1928. It appears that Jess spent the entirety of his early life in Fayette County, where he attended grammar school, completing the eighth grade, according to the 1940 Federal Census.

On April 22, 1937, a marriage for Jess Hudnall and Ourda (or Audrey) Kitchen was registered in Gauley Bridge, at which time he stated he was 22 and she, 21. The marriage record is barely readable, but it is likely that the “Ourda” of the register is the “Audrey Kitchen” of the 1930 Census, who was 10 at the time, making her 17 years of age in 1937. According to U.S. Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Jess Hudnall registered for the military on January 20, 1941, at Huntington, West Virginia. At that time he indicated that his civilian occupation was as a “skilled miner, or mining machine operator,” which is corroborated by the 1940 Census, which lists his occupation as “coal loader.”

Pfc. Hudnall was assigned to the 111th Engineer Combat Battalion, 36th Infantry Division, 5th Army. It was as part of this unit where he met his untimely death in Italy on September 9, 1943. A brief death notice in the Montgomery newspaper provides the following account:

Fighting single-handedly against three members of a German tank crew, Pvt. 1-c Jess W. Hudnall killed all three but received a fatal wound during the encounter. He has been awarded the Silver Star posthumously for this gallantry in action on the Fifth Army front in Italy.

Pvt. Hudnall, who was the son of Mrs. Wanda [sic] M. Hudnall, Gamoca, West Virginia, was on duty with the combat engineers of the 36th “Texas” Division. While assaulting the enemy lines in close combat, Pvt. Hudnall became separated from his squad.

Three members of an enemy tank crew saw the engineer private and began closing in on him. Although outnumbered and alone, Private Hudnall fired three shots and killed all three Germans. However, Hudnall was then fired upon by an enemy sniper. (Source: “Silver Star Awarded Posthumously to Former Fayette County Boy,” Montgomery [WV] News, 15 March 1944.)

Members of the 36th Division were called “T-Patchers” for their distinctive insignia—an arrowhead with an imbedded “T.” In his narrative of the Division, Steve Cole writes that “the 36th Division was in combat for 400 days. Its first experience in combat was Operation AVALANCHE, the amphibious landing at Salerno on September 9, 1943. After the fall of Rome, it was pulled out of the front line in order to prepare for the amphibious landing in Southern France in August 1944.” Cole’s history is based on a small booklet prepared near the end of the war, The Story of the 36th Infantry Division, but he has added an introduction, background, additional history, a list of commanders, and a list of Medal of Honor recipients. While there is some speculation that Pfc. Hudnall was killed in North Africa, this document would seem to confirm his death in Italy, as it exactly coincides with his Division’s assault on Salerno. (Source: “WW2 History of the 36th Infantry Division,” 2011, accessed 11 Sept. 2014, http://www.custermen.com/ItalyWW2/Units/Division36.htm.)

In addition to the Silver Star, Pfc. Hudnall also received the Purple Heart. He is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno, Italy, in Plot F, Row 5, Grave 19.
Sicily-Rome American Cemetery

Sicily-Rome American Cemetery. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure

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Jess Hudnall

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