Soldiers from 1st Cavalry Division Artillery carry Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd's casket Dec. 9, 2023, to his final resting place in Bethel Cemetry, located in the northern training area of Fort Cavazos.
Soldiers from 1st Cavalry Division Artillery carry Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd's casket Dec. 9, 2023, to his final resting place in Bethel Cemetry, located in the northern training area of Fort Cavazos. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Samantha Harms) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — A dozen American flags, along with one United States Army flag, waved in the crisp breeze Saturday as Chaplain (Maj.) Matt Burden, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, welcomed visitors to Bethel Cemetery.

“What an honor to be among you, to get a chance to lead us in this (service) and just to memorialize the heroism of a great man, a great Soldier,” he shared.

Bethel Cemetery, located in the northern training area of Fort Cavazos, was opened to finally lay Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd to rest next to his parents after 78 years.

Rudd, who served with 2nd Infantry Division, was killed in action on Jan. 30, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge.

“I never dreamed that something like this would happen,” Jane Olivier, Rudd’s niece, shared after the service, “but I’m so thankful that the Army was so insistent and diligent in taking care of this and bringing (him) back to us and having this today.”

More than a dozen veterans and supporters were in attendance for the service, along with five surviving family members of Rudd, including Olivier. Other surviving family members were unable to attend, yet they passed along their joy of Rudd finally returning home.

“My grandma is one of the surviving nieces, and she named her youngest son after him,” Stacy Baldwin, a great, great niece of Rudd, said.

This prompted the memory of Olivier.

“Actually, (Stacy’s) grandmother used to write to (Rudd) when he was in the Army,” Olivier shared. “She would write to him until one day, she got the letter back.”

Baldwin became emotional at the thought of representing her grandmother that day, who was unable to attend.

“My grandmother was very, very happy to hear that he had been found,” she stated.

Military service, tragic loss

During World War II, Rudd deferred the draft order he received because he was the primary caregiver of his mother. When she passed however, he voluntarily entered the U.S. Army, joining April 12, 1942, in Dallas. He served with Company C, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Inf. Div., during World War II.

In 1944, American troops were amassed along Germany’s western borders resting and refitting. On Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched its final counterattack along the western front. The ensuing battle, known now as the Battle of the Bulge, lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, with remnants lasting through February, costing more than 19,000 American lives, according to historical reports from the Army.

During this counterattack, the 2nd Inf. Div. became concentrated with the 99th Infantry Division around Elsenborn, Belgium; they dug in and held a defensive line, repulsing several increasingly desperate assaults by German troops. They finally began to push out of their positions in January 1945 and recapture the wooded areas east of Elsenborn, known as the Elsenbüchel Forest.

Toward the end of January 1945, Rudd’s battalion received orders to attack several new towns.

According to Rudd’s funeral service program, “it was by bright moonlight that troops began the attack, through chest high snowdrifts and mined areas the battalions secured ground around Wirtzfeld within several hours.” Moving on to the towns of Rocherath-Krinkelt, known as the “twin towns,” they found themselves in fierce fighting by late morning even though the regimental artillery had laid a huge barrage on the towns. It was sometime during the fighting Jan. 30, 1945, at Rocherath that Rudd was killed.

Due to intense fighting and fierce artillery shelling, and major restrictions in the area, Rudd’s body was unrecoverable, and the War Department submitted a Report of Death on Feb. 20, 1945, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, also known as DPAA.

It was in 1946 that the American Graves Registration Command was charged with recovering and identifying remains in the European Theatre. Those that could not be immediately identified, which numbered in the thousands, were brought to the nearest American Military Cemetery in the area and named with an X followed by a number.

Throughout the years, several requests were made to compare the remains of an unknown to that of Rudd. However, no matches could be found.

In 1950, a board of officers determined that Rudd’s status was that his remains “were disposed of by the enemy at an unknown location” and further approved his status as “non-recoverable.”

The process

DPAA announced Oct. 23 that Rudd was accounted for on June 20, 2022.

“After reviewing information provided by Belgian and American researchers in 2017, DPAA historians analyzed evidence related to several sets of remains initially recovered by Belgian locals in the Elsenbuchel Forest that had been interred at what is now the Ardennes American Cemetery in 1949, including unknown remains X-3144 Neuville,” according to DPAA.

Researchers suggested to DPAA that “X-3144” might be associated with an unaccounted for member of the 99th Infantry Division, and that the remains should be disinterred, and the list expanded for possible candidates beyond the 99th Infantry Division to include Soldiers, like Rudd, from the 2nd Inf. Div.

This list included 18 individuals whose regiments had operated north of Wirtzfeld. It was this area where the 38th Inf. Regt., 2nd Inf. Div., had operated when Rudd had disappeared, according to DPAA. Historians noted that given his regiment’s location, it was quite possible he perished in or very near the Elsenbüchel Forest.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Peavler, 1st Cavalry Division Artillery, presents an American flag to Teri Olivier, a great-niece of Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd Dec. 9 at Bethel Cemetery while the rest of the family watches. Rudd, killed during the Battle of the Bulge, was finally laid to rest after 78 years.
Staff Sgt. Kyle Peavler, 1st Cavalry Division Artillery, presents an American flag to Teri Olivier, a great-niece of Staff Sgt. Robert G. Rudd Dec. 9 at Bethel Cemetery while the rest of the family watches. Rudd, killed during the Battle of the Bulge, was finally laid to rest after 78 years. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Samantha Harms) VIEW ORIGINAL

Following an interdisciplinary analysis by DPAA historical and scientific staff, the X-3144 remains were disinterred from Ardennes American Cemetery on June 23, 2021, and transferred to DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for comparison.

To identify Rudd’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis and dental records. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.

It was then determined that Rudd had been located and identified based on location and history of Rudd’s reported loss location and date of death, circumstances of loss and historians’ comprehensive research of the Battle of the Bulge, according to Rudd’s obituary.

Because of the dedicated long-term research and field investigations by Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, along with input from private historians in both the U.S. and Belgium, nearly a dozen formerly unaccounted for Soldiers have been identified from remains located. Rudd was identified by the work these teams accomplished, more specifically, benefiting from 30 years of analysis and the work of two Belgian researchers and an American historian, who are focused on locating the missing members of the 99th Infantry Division from the Battle of Bulge.

Rudd’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Margraten, Netherlands, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Awards, recognition earned

Rudd’s medals included a Bronze Star with the medal “V” device and one bronze oak leaf cluster, a Purple Heart, Good Conduct medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with four Bronze Service Stars, World War II Victory Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantryman Badge, Honorable Service Lapel Button - World War II and the Belgian Fourragere.

After his death, his family was presented the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his heroism.

Following the funeral, Rudd’s family members took a moment to reflect on what they had learned about their relative and on the service.

“It was a very moving day for us as we watched everybody participate and just knowing that he’s home, and that it took so long but the diligence and persistence was very moving,” Cindy Williford, a great niece of Rudd, said. “Jane and I were at the airport when they brought him in last night and to watch as Austin-Bergstorm Airport came to a standstill with lights and water, it was the most surreal moment as you watched this plane taxi to the gate. I will never forget that. …

“This is something that I never thought would happen and I’m thankful for everyone who was involved in bringing him home. …,” she shared. “It makes you proud to be an American.”