Veteran Interviews: Andy Dunavant

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When I sat down for an interview with Mr. Andy [Andrew] Wiley Dunavant, I knew I was in for a real treat. He is well-known around here in Tipton County because of his incredible service in both World War II and Korea, along with the Battle of The Bulge. Sacrifice runs deep in his family — his father, Private Andrew Lenard Dunavant (1893—1963), served in World War I from 1918 to 1919 in Division 81, Unit 318 Field Artillery Company. His portrait hangs in the Tipton County Museum today, along with memorabilia such as a 75 millimeter shell he carved himself. His son, now 94 years old (with a birthday around the corner), does not like to sit still. He stays busier than men more than half his age! He has a genuine fondness for the Tipton County Museum and makes a trip there about three to four times a week to visit with wonderful director, Ms. Barrie Foster, and the other employees and volunteers at the museum. As to why visiting the museum is so important to him, he said, “I’m retired and my wife passed away in 2013...I don’t sit down.” For a while, he even worked on rebuilding an old John Deere Tractor and his own car, a Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel. “I set it up for about 15 years... I got 238,000 miles on it! I’ve had it rebuilt…” he explained. His philosophy is to always stay busy. He said, “They always say retire, sit down and do nothing, you’re going to last about four or five years.”

    In fact, the Tipton County Museum itself is where our interview took place. Upon meeting him, he was proudly wearing a “World War II and Korea Veteran” hat. As we sat down to begin our interview, Ms. Foster welcomingly brewed us a hot cup of coffee. We sat back in the quiet conference room and sipped on our coffee as he effortlessly delved into his stories as if they had happened just yesterday.

    Mr. Dunavant was drafted into the second World War at the young age of 18. Upon receiving his notice, his life quickly changed. “When I was 18, in October ‘42, I got my notice, my papers and everything...then I got my notice to appear for induction in March of ‘43 and went to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. I was sworn in...I got to come home for 7 days, and then went back and was assigned to a group that went to Camp Butner, North Carolina [in Durham]. We formed the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion and we went through Basic there. We passed the test that they had to give and they transferred us from Camp Butner to Fort Bragg, North Carolina — to Heavy Artillery 240 Millimeter guns. The camp in Butner wasn’t large enough to handle the big guns.”

    When asked whether suddenly being drafted and sent to boot camp was a difficult adjustment, Mr. Andy explained, “Yeah, you went through physical training, running obstacle courses, and field marching, and hikes...15 to 20, 25 mile hikes, and going out into the field and going through like you were fighting and learn how to get the guns oriented.” Upon the completion of boot camp, he could never stay in one place for very long. “After that, we went to New York to, I believe, Camp Kilmer.” Shortly after that, his troop boarded Queen Elizabeth I. “We shipped over the Atlantic to Europe, landed in Glasgow, Scotland. From there, we got on the train and went from Glasgow to Birmingham Coventry, England.”

    He continued, “Then, we got on trucks and were transported from the railhead to Packington Park in Coventry, England, where we stayed until we got our guns in. They shipped our guns from overseas. Got ‘em cleaned up and then we went from there to South Wales, for two weeks, to zero the guns in. We came back and crossed the channel, landing in Utah Beach. Being heavy artillery, we landed D-Day plus 61 [61 days after D-Day]...We had to wait until the front moved so we could get our guns set up and started firing. The Germans were about to retake Normandy and we started firing, keeping the Germans from coming back and retaking Omaha.”

    It is incredible the vast amount of places that Mr. Dunavant and his fellow men travelled. He explained, “We were not division or brigade — we were Army. So we went whenever and wherever we were needed. We went all the way across France and Belgium and Holland, Luxemburg…[we] were within 35 miles of Berlin. We went through Normandy...the Battle of The Bulge, Central Europe…”

“It was so cold, he tried to fire his gun and it just clicked. He picked that machine gun up — it was 50-caliber and heavy — and brought it into the barn where we were sleeping, tore it down and cleaned it up. [We] took it back out there — it took two men to take it back out there! It was adrenaline that kicked in. In that position, we shot down one plane and crippled one. We captured four Germans in that position.”

    His tales of surviving the extremely challenging conditions were absolutely incredible. “We were able to survive...during the Battle of The Bulge, it was 19 below zero. [We were] about knee deep in snow. But, I guess I was fortunate to be able to not have to be out in the snow too much because I was driving the truck for surveying. After we got our surveying done, we were out of the snow and everything. We found a house or a barn where we could get out of the cold.”

    Enduring these harsh conditions together made the men form a special bond. When asked if he formed any friendships during this time, he didn’t hesitate to answer. “Oh, yeah,” he explained. “We establish a closeness like brothers. In fact, one position we were in before the Bulge, the weather was so bad. We were firing harassing fire, but supplying the ammunition got to where it had to be rationed because we weren’t getting the supplies that we needed. A buddy of mine, he drove a jeep for the survey section.” Together, they came across a bunker that the Germans had built underground. There, they shared experiences that made bonding inevitable.  “We moved into there and it was built so that you go in this way and there was a raised place on each side and you could sit on it and put your feet down.” All they really had was a little light so that they could see more easily at night. “That’s where we lived...We were there about 2 months. It just got so bad that... we weren’t able to move. The Germans weren’t moving and we weren’t moving.”

    He also shared a wonderful story of how they were able to enjoy an actual meal together. He remembered fondly, “We did take over a house in a little town about a quarter of a mile from where our position was. In that little house, we were able to get baths, get cleaned up and build a fire. I remember one time, there was about 6 of us, and we were wondering, ‘What are we going to eat?!’” Luckily, they found some pancake mix. “Well, we can make pancakes, what about eggs and milk,” he remembers thinking. They began looking around and found a cow in the basement. “We milked the cow, got some milk, looked around, and there was a great big stone crock with eggs in it and brine to preserve them. So, we got eggs and ran upstairs and mixed up some pancake mix, scrambled some eggs, and finally found some syrup. We had a great meal. We also found some coffee. We survived! That was part of our survival and getting by.”

Mr. Andy Dunavant solutes with practice and poise.

Mr. Andy Dunavant solutes with practice and poise.

    He continued, “Then, we moved from there to the beginning of the [Battle of The] Bulge. Thank goodness, we missed [The Malmedy Massacre].” He recounts the time he witnessed a German Observation plane flying overhead. “It was so cold, he [a Sergeant] tried to fire his gun and it just clicked. He picked that machine gun up — it was 50-caliber and heavy — and brought it into the barn where we were sleeping, tore it down and cleaned it up. [We] took it back out there — it took two men to take it back out there! It was adrenaline that kicked in. In that position, we shot down one plane and crippled one. We captured four Germans in that position.” A short time after these events occurred, they had to be transferred back to Belgium.

    There, they were instructed by the Captain about how to properly handle the grenades. “That night, we were told we were going to have to move. The projector weighed about 360 pounds. We had so much ammunition on the ground, ready to put into the gun and fire, so he said we were going to pull station and march order to get out of here. So we started firing and got through firing and, of course, had to pick up everything and put everything back together. We headed out of there in the dark and Captain said, ‘You see that glow? That’s the town that we fired on.’ It was set on fire.”

    At this time, Mr. Andy and his troop observed fourteen German bombs. Some landed frighteningly close to them. “Luckily, we didn’t have any casualties,” he said. “We had position there and there was a family that had a restaurant in their house. We took over the upstairs of that house. That night the bomb landed, there was a boulder that landed atop of my truck. Some more debris landed on the roof of the house and snow started coming in the upstairs of the house.” Nevertheless, they remained there and even celebrated Christmas there. He recalled, “Christmas Eve, a bunch of us got familiar with the Belgian people still in the house. We got to know them and that Christmas Eve night, we all got together and were singing Christmas carols. We were singing in English and they were singing in their native Belgium. We had a good time.”

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    When the war was over, he was unable to go home right away. They transferred him from ‘C’ Battalion to the ‘Service’ Battalion, in which he was in charge of providing supplies to the different Battalions. “I served in Service until the war was over. Service Battalion, we weren’t as close to the front. We were back a distance due to the ‘in and out’ of getting the supplies. It was better.”

    When he finally got to go home, he was relieved. “It took us a long time after the war was over...we were guarding the DP’s, the displaced persons.” Finally, he arrived home. “I came home with the 84th Division. I got discharged in January of ‘46.”

    Because he was drafted at the young age of 18, Dunavant wasn’t married when he served in World War II. However, upon arriving home, he met his wife. He gushed, “We got married in February of ‘47. Money was kind of scarce. I told my wife, “I think I ‘oughta get in the Guard and make a little bit of [extra] money. They had an opening for a full-time employee, a caregiver, and I was fortunate enough to obtain that job.” However, money was still tight, so he applied to the International Harvester Plant in Memphis and received the job. Him and his wife then made the move to Memphis.

    It was when they made it to Memphis that he was activated and was sent to Korea. “That was rough,” he recalled. “It was rough in Germany, but it was rougher in Korea. The facilities and you couldn’t go find a house to get in to be warm. We had to have our own protection…” In Korea, Dunavant supplied ammunition to the different battalions. “We had different sized guns, but we were still field artillery.” While in Korea, Dunavant earned the title “Chief of 3rd Ammo.”

He even explained the story of how he broke his arm. “On trucks, the hubs stick out. Well I was easing in gear. I bumped the hook and broke my arm. I ended up [spending] about 2 months in an Osaka, Japan hospital.” There, he found out he had Malaria. Thankfully, he was successfully treated and eventually healed.

    When he left for Korea, him and his wife had 1 child together. During his service, his wife gave birth to another child. “I got home in December ‘51. [During the Vietnam draft], I was approached about joining the Tennessee Defense Force with the purpose of helping the families of the wounded. My purpose was to help the families with their needs and their records and whatever they needed. I stayed in that until I reached the age of 70 — that was the age limit and I was forced to get out.”

    During his earlier years in the Service, he had the very honorable rank of Sgt. First Class. “When I got in the Defense Force, I automatically got in as Lieutenant.” He then advanced in rank to Major. “My rank was Major when I got out. That uniform, I’m still able to wear,” he joked. “I wear that during the Veterans’ Memorial and Veterans’ Day.”

    For quite a long time, Mr. Dunavant was able to march in the Veterans’ Parade. Now, while he’s had to give that up, he found great enjoyment in participating. However, he still attends every year! On top of all that, he also attends events held by the Tipton County Veteran’s Council, such as the Veteran of the Month held at the Museum on the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 pm.

    Getting the chance to speak with Mr. Dunavant and hear about his incredible experiences was an absolute honor. He has so many tales from his time in service that he tells so eloquently, and even if I had all day to sit and speak with him, it still would not be enough.  I feel incredibly honored that he was willing to share his experiences with me, and while I will never fully comprehend the true nature of those experiences, I do know one thing — Mr. Andrew W.  Dunavant is a shining example of sacrifice, courage, and national pride.