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OUR COLONEL DUNNINGTON
by
Dick Goodie
486th AAA Bn, 3AD
Written in 1998

 

Most of the 750 men who filled the ranks of Colonel Raymond Dunnington's 486th Battalion in January 1943, were 18 or 19 year old draftees from New England. The battalion was activated at Camp Davis, a wartime camp surrounded by swamps on the North Carolina coast.

The Colonel was 37.

His task was enormous and immediate. That January of 1943 the world was splitting at the seams. Not only had the colonel suddenly become surrogate father to over 700 teenagers, but within the span of a few months his quest was to turn us into a cohesive, combat unit and to make us responsible far beyond our years.

[Continued below]


  Photo Above: Lt. Col. Raymond Dunnington (left) and Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley. The date and location is not identified. (Photo by T/5 Marvin Mischnick, 3AD Hq)

 

[Continued from above]

Hitler had already enslaved most of Europe; Rommel and the British 8th Army were battling in the deserts around Tripoli; and Hitler had 22 divisions amassed in the snow before the gates of Stalingrad.

As with numerous other start-up units, the motivation of the colonel's newly formed 486th Battalion was clear: A madman was loose on the planet and the world was a mess.

Everyone who had come to believe that Freedom would be a better choice than Nazi Tyranny wanted to help stop this self-anointed zealot who believed he was preordained to rule the world without a safety net of checks and balances - an ideology as wacky as he was.

To join the millions in the nation who were mobilizing to check this threat to a free society, the colonel, in record time, directed us through the rigors of basic training in the swamp country of North Carolina. Within a few months we left the swamps as qualified commandos. Then we became an anti-aircraft unit and were issued armored M-15 half-tracks that mounted a 37 mm cannon flanked by twin .50 caliber machine guns; and M-16 half-tracks armed with four fifties. Both vehicles carried great firepower for ground targets as well as for aircraft.

The summer of '43 the battalion participated in the massive war games on the Sabine River along the Louisiana/Texas border. In December we shipped to England on the Queen Mary, having become efficient enough to take over a shift in the gun turrets of that famous ship - then converted to a troop transport.

We arrived in England just before Christmas. Colonel Dunnington's first order of business was to have each man in the battalion adopt a London orphan (there were many) for Christmas Day. Each soldier had to be certain his orphan-for-a-day was presented with a gift before being chaperoned to an unforgettable Christmas dinner.

We had been under the colonels' command for nearly a year and were becoming familiar with his style of leadership. Fueled by the ancient, military code: fair, firm and honest (a natural manifestation of his character), his concern for the common soldier evolved around his inherent need to be around large groups of people and become involved in the betterment of each - the mark of a natural born leader.

Never in the battalion had anyone heard the colonel say an unkind word about another, and no one had ever heard another say an unkind word about the colonel, the perfect balance of mutual respect; the precursor for successful command; the awakening of pride within ones' psyche for the whole unit; and the necessary fermentation that nurtures esprit de corps, the vital component that formulates the perfect fighting machine.

A thoroughly honest man, the colonel carried a sincerity that made others feel secure in his leadership. Yet he was as common as the men he led. Never ostentatious in dress or manner, his speech direct, clear, and as practical as the earth he stood upon, he had a subtle way of making each soldier feel the importance of his assignment, thus trusting his decision-making process.

After a year under his command and six months before D-Day, he made the battalion efficient enough to qualify as an integral part of the crack Third Armored Division - the unit that would spearhead the U. S. First Army across France and Belgium and become the first unit to capture a German town since the Napoleonic wars - Roetgen.

The Third Armored often teamed with the First Infantry Division (The Big Red One), and the P-47 Thunderbolts of the Ninth Tactical Air Force, and it has been recorded that those three units attacking as a single force were unstoppable. Our 486th Battalion was proud to have been part of that combat team.

For this, we point to Colonel Dunnington for making us that way . . . even though at times during basic training, while hiking the earthen roads of North Carolina - once 35-miles - we couldn't figure out what he was up to.

And now as our years turn golden, the memories of those exciting, historical happenings return again and again as in kaleidoscope and they rest gentle on our minds.

I am reminded of our battalion reunion at Enfield, Connecticut during August of 1997. I was standing in the hotel yard with other men and their wives, saying farewell to comrades who were departing in every direction. The colonel was one of them, on his way to the airport. During the reunion we were concerned he might become overtired. He was 92. He had made a great effort to travel from Springfield, Illinois, accompanied by his niece, Dr. Joanne Frank.

Normally, a rugged, two hundred pound man, his weight was down to 121 pounds, and we all knew he wasn't feeling well, but he came "to be with my boys" - the way he often put it.

Standing in the hotel yard, I thought about his generous contributions since 1947 to assure the success of each reunion, and I thought about the great distance he drove each time to attend them, and how he would make an additional donation to the Battalion Association if he didn't get a speeding ticket on the way home.

And while watching the colonel being assisted into his car, in a sudden rush I began a mind game of comparing his gift of leadership with other administrators I happened to have been associated with since the war. None came close.

As the colonel's car left the hotel yard (the last time we would see him), I heard the comrade standing next to me utter: "There goes one hell of a man."

The rest of us nodded and watched his car disappear from view.



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