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Friday, December 8, 2023

Ralph Cundiff: From County Agent to KIA in WW2

Ralph Cundiff had just begun what was expected to be a bright and promising career in agriculture until World War II came along. Born in 1911 and raised in the Faubush community of Pulaski County, he graduated from Berea college with a degree in agriculture in 1938. Later that year he became the assistant county agent in Wayne County, serving until March of 1939, at which time he was appointed county agent of Clinton County. A prominent and highly respected citizen, he was a Deacon at Albany First Baptist Church and was a leading member of the Albany Lions Club. He had married Hazel Dalton, daughter of Walter Dalton.

Then came his induction into the U.S. Army in October 1942. He was assigned to Unit I Company, 330th Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Division, commanded by Major General Robert C. Macon. News correspondents nicknamed the 83rd "The Rag-Tag Circus" due to the resourcefulness of Major General Macon, who would order the supplementing of the division's transport with anything that moved with an attitude of "no questions asked."

The 83rd arrived in England on April 16, 1944 with its first divisional headquarters at Keele Hall in Staffordshire. After training in Wales, the division, took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy, landing at Omaha Beach on June 18th 1944. Nine days later they entered the hedgerow struggle south of Carentan.

"Mrs. Ralph Cundiff has been notified by the War Department of the death of her husband, SSgt. Ralph Cundiff, on July 6, 1944 in France."

He was 33.

The Allied forces' hard-won foothold on the bloody beaches of Normandy on D-Day was only the beginning of what would become a costly, foot-slogging effort to retake, field by field, town by town and house by house, all French ground the Germans had occupied since 1940. By the beginning of July the Allied invasion of Normandy, was not progressing as rapidly as anticipated.

The British Second Army had yet to secure one of its primary objectives, the pivotal crossroads city of Caen, effectively halting its advance on Paris before it began. To block the advancement the Germans deployed a staggering force of tanks and armored fighting vehicles along a tight 20-mile front. The most formidable obstruction was the countryside itself, dotted with small farms or orchards, each bordered by thick hedgerows that ranged anywhere from 4 to 15 feet in height. The Germans did not defend every hedgerow, but no one knew without stepping out into the spotlight which ones he did defend. As GIs emerged from the rows they became easy targets for German artillery and nested machine guns. The fighting continued for two days, ending with the Germans in retreat, but the battle was costly, as there were more than 15,000 American casualties.

Six other soldiers from Cundiff's company were also killed that day. He was awarded a Purple Heart, the WWII Victory Medal and a Combat Infantryman Badge. He is buried at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. His widow later married John Dorris Jr. She died in 1975 and is buried at Goodlettsville. Ralph Cundiff's name is on two monuments, the War Veterans Monument located outside the Clinton County Courthouse and on a monument outside the Pulaski County Courthouse.

By the way, Cundiff's replacement as Clinton County Agricultural Extension Agent was D.E. Salisbury, who moved from assistant county agent in Wayne County to county agent in Clinton County at the beginning of 1943.



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