WWII veteran to receive medals 73 years after earning them

Pfc. Waddie Fuda was a rifleman in the U.S. Army during World War II and was seriously injured in 1944. Although he never spoke of the injury, his children learned after his wife’s death that he should have been awarded a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and several other military honors that will be presented posthumously during a ceremony.


By TAMMIE TOLER | The Princeton Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 8, 2017

PRINCETON, W. Va. — Siblings Mary Thompson, Diana Billings and Jimmie Fuda grew up knowing their father had served his country proudly and honorably in the U.S. Army during World War II, before returning home to work a full career underground in the coal mines of McComas.

They had no idea he had once been wounded so severely he earned a bronze star, a purple heart and several other medals that will be presented to the family posthumously in a ceremony Sunday at the Mercer County Memorial building.

This weekend, more than 70 years after he earned the honors, PFC Waddie Fuda will finally be presented the honors he deserved during his time served in the 39th Infantry Regiment. The service is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m., inside the building that houses the Those Who Served Military Museum, with U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins due to present the medals and other honors to Fuda's family.

Although they finally have some answers to the long-running mystery, there are still some questions that Thompson and Billings said this week they have accepted they may never know. They attribute part of that reality to the fact that there were some things their father simply didn't want to worry their mother, Alma, with; although a letter from him to her saved in an heirloom album indicates the couple clearly knew each other while he fought for his country, they were not a tightly bound couple when he left for combat.

Waddie joined the military so that he could help his mother support the children she was raising largely alone. It was a different world then, and although he had dropped out of school after repeating the fifth grade three times, Waddie had already worked three years in the coal mines before he joined the Army. His daughters recalled this week that he reportedly sent his earnings from the military home to his mom to pay for his sisters' welfare.

"She had 10 children at home at one time, and even though Daddy was one of the younger of his brothers, he wanted to do what he could to help her," one of the sisters said. "That's just who he was."

It was a telegram sent from the Army to Waddie Fuda's mother, Mrs. Mary Fuda, in their hometown of McComas, that initially clued his children in that their father had experienced something huge, of which, they had never heard.

That Western Union telegram was dated July 7, 1944, indicated it came from Washington, and read, "Regret to inform you your son Private First Class Waddie Fuda was seriously injured in action nineteenth June in France ..."

The same envelope that held the fateful telegram also carried a series of letters from military and government officials indicating that they would soon be forwarding Waddie's personal effects and clothing to his mother for safe keeping and mementos. But, they weren't for memorial purposes, because after healing in the 52nd General Hospital, he recovered -- apparently completely, since his daughters said they never saw a scar on his body from the episode.

Part of the reason the secret never got passed down to the rest of his family may have been because Waddie and his mother only spoke Italian to each other. Even when with other family members.

"I can remember when we went to see her, Daddy would take us into her room one at a time, and we would talk to her through him," Diana said. "She didn't speak one word of English."

She and Mary figured that perhaps once their father healed from the potentially debilitating injury, he simply wanted to move past it and chose never to speak of it again, if he could avoid it.

"We knew he had malaria and that he got better from that," Diana said.

"And we knew he hurt his finger," Mary added. "Didn't he say he was cleaning his gun and hurt his finger?"

They both recalled that, but neither ever heard any sort of mention of the biggest injury he suffered.

Waddie and Alma Fuda were united in marriage in 1946, only after he had healed from the injury he sustained from a hand grenade blast in June 1944. They made a home and raised five children.

Both consented wholeheartedly that if he asked their mother not to speak of the injury she would have -- and evidently did -- keep that secret to the day she died.

"Daddy was the type that he didn't talk about [his experiences during war]," Diana said.

"And, if he didn't want us to know, Mommy would have never told us," Mary added. "That's just how she was. She wouldn't talk about it if he didn't want her to."

After Billings, Thompson and Fuda gained the assistance of Jenkins' office in looking into exactly what their father encountered during WWII and which service honors he should have received, they learned he likely deserved more medals, ribbons and salutes than he ever got while he lived. That's when Jenkins' Office Manager Kim McMillion notified them that their father would be presented the following:

--Bronze Star: Awarded for heroism and exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat;

--Purple Heart: Awarded for wounds received as a result of hostile action. Waddie Fuda was wounded by a hand grenade blast during an enemy engagement on June 7, 1944, and was hospitalized for six months;

--European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Silver Service Star and one Bronze Service Star. The Silver Star is for five campaigns. The Bronze Star attachment is for six campaigns.

--WWII Victory Medal: Awarded to veterans after the war;

--Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp: the United States occupied Germany after the war and assisted with rebuilding efforts;

--Presidential unit citation: The president recognized this unit for meritorious action in battle;

--Belgium Fourragere: For service in Belgium.

The siblings are not positive what to expect when the ceremony turns to reality Sunday. They know they don't have all the answers about what their father experienced, but they are proud of his service and the strength he exhibited in surviving the ordeal.

Maybe more importantly, they are at peace knowing that they did their part to bring their Daddy the recognition he deserved all along.

"We're satisfied. He dealt with whatever he had to deal with, and he dealt with it just fine," Diana said.

They're thankful for their mother's tendency to hold onto everything.

"She was a pack rat, and I'm the same way," Mary said.

"But, thank goodness she was, or we never would have known about any of this," Diana chipped in.

Together, they flipped the pages in a now-bound album of the keepsake pages they've put together of the military and government memorabilia.

"That's our heritage. We couldn't throw it away. That's 60 years, and it meant something to her," Mary said.

Sharing the rest of their Daddy's life story, the sisters said he was a wonderful father, who worked hard in the coal mines to support his wife and five children, and he continued working at odd jobs even after he came home.

"Sometimes he would come home and lay down for a little while," Diana said. "He'd say he was going to take a nap before he went to bed."

At the age of 50, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed to the point that he could not return underground. At 62, he died of a heart attack, too young, leaving only the memories they keep alive with a legacy they loved -- and still do -- dearly.

The family is hoping for a large crowd of family and friends on hand Sunday to celebrate their Daddy. If only immediate family members show up, they were counting at least 30-35 people, but they are aiming for more.

"He was the best man you ever knew, if you'd known him," Mary said. "I spoke with a man we grew up beside, and he said he never knew he was hurt in the war. He's going to try to come to the service Sunday, because he was such a good man ... Even his own brother didn't know when he was hurt, and they were in the service together."

The event is open to anyone who wishes to attend. The Memorial Building is located at 1500 West Main St., Princeton.

©2017 Princeton Times (Princeton, W.Va.)
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