Families want war effort recognized

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A former Roxboro man’s military service is at the center of an effort to recognize a group of veterans who were crucial to the Allied war effort during World War II.

James B. Hudnell, who died in 2007 at the age of 82, was among the first U.S. Army Rangers who trained with the British ahead of the D-Day invasion of Normany. He was among 7,000 early members of the U.S. Army Rangers and descendants of those men are now trying to convince Congress that their efforts should be recognized.

“In my opinion, the Rangers led every major allied landing in World War II in Europe, Africa, Sicily and Normandy. They were the leading soldiers,” said Rod Hudnell, who is leading an effort to win recognition for the Rangers with a Congressional Gold Medal.

Rod Hudnell, who now lives in Winston-Salem, said his father’s units took part in some of the most bitter fighting of the war.

“They started with 225 soldiers in my father’s battalion. Less than half of that number were not casualties. Same thing at Salerno, Anzio and Sicily. They were going in under darkness and heavy fire. You read about that and you understand why this country relied on 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds. They had a can-do attitude about what they were doing,” Rod Hudnell said.

James Hudnell was featured in a 2006 article in The Courier-Times that told the story of his return to Normandy. During the D-Day invasion, James Hudnell’s landing craft was damaged before it ever reached the shore. After floating in the waters of the English Channel, James Hudnell was rescued and brought on board a hospital ship.

In 2006, he completed the landing with a trip to England and a much more peaceful ferry ride across the English Channel.

Now, Rod Hudnell and other children and grandchildren of the World War II rangers are navigating the legislative process to get their relative’s contributions recognized.

A bill sponsored late in the 115th Congress gained the support of only about 16 or 17 senators, Rod Hudnell said, and was never brought to a vote. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican and Michigan Democrat Gary Peters have cosponsored the bill again this year. Hudnell said the bill got an earlier start this session as it weaves its way through the legislative process.

Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen has sponsored identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

Hudnell said supporters of the bill are reaching out to their local congressmen and senators to get them to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Hudnell said his representative, Virginia Foxx, a Republican from Boone, has agreed to vote for the measure if it comes before the House, but she stopped short of agreeing to sponsor the bill. “She said she doesn’t like to sponsor these kinds of bills, because there are so many,” Hudnell said.

It is a political process. While it may seem like a simple matter to recognize a group of war heroes, Hudnell said there are many groups jockeying for support for other groups that served in World War II and Congress doesn’t want to dilute the honor.

“There are usually about 15 or 16 groups being voted on each year. Typically only four or five of them are honored,” Hudnell said.

Whether the Rangers will be among the groups recognized this year, remains unclear. Hudnell said congressman have been agreeing to sponsor the bill at about the same rate they did last year. He said it seems to take about three sessions of Congress before a group develops enough critical mass among legislators to achieve the honor.

Time is running out if supporters of the movement want to recognize any of the original Rangers while they are still alive. Hudnell said only 56 of the original troops are still alive.

For now, Hudnell and his fellow descendants are seeking a Republican House sponsor to work with Cohen in the House. Hudnell said he will continue to work with other descendants to keep the political messaging in front of lawmakers.

“We’ve got a descendants reunion coming up at the end of the month in Gettysburg. Hopefully, we’ll have a few more senators by then. But we’ll tell the descendants, ‘Here’s what we need to do. Here’s who you need to call. This is what you need to tell them,’” Hudnell said.

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