Editor's Note: The following story is about the service record and awards Teddy Sutherland received during his service as an army staff sergeant in World War II. Sutherland was born in Saddle Nov. 19, 1922.
He was the ninth of 12 children born to D.W. and Alise Sutherland, both of Saddle. Sutherland's family has lived in Fulton County for over six generations.
When Sutherland returned from the war he moved with his wife, Bonnie, to the small town of Mound, near Rector. He has resided there ever since
Although 60 years have passed since World War II, the heroism of our veterans remains undiminished, and for one of those veterans, that heroism has finally been properly awarded.
When he returned home, he had ribbon bars, but not all of the medals he had earned.
Sutherland's heroism, for which he was awarded a Silver Star, is documented in the Combat History Three Hundred Twenty-Fourth Infantry Regiment by Army & Navy Publishing Company: "On one occasion, a machine gun manned by Sergeants Herrity and Sutherland was surrounded, but they refused to yield. In an effort to knock them out, a direct attack of 25 enemies was launched against them. However, the Sergeants waited until the (Germans) had advanced to within 25 yards, when they poured in heavy fire, killing four enemy and wounding or driving off the remainder. Only when directly ordered to withdraw, did Herrity and Sutherland leave their position."
The following articles about Sutherland appeared in the Salem (Ark.) Headlight newspaper in March of 1945. The first recounts the battle with Herrity and the latter is a letter he wrote to his mother:
The first article reads:
Staff Sgt. Teddy Sutherland, son of Mr. and Mrs. D.W. Sutherland, Saddle, was one of two 44th Division soldiers who found themselves surrounded during a German counterattack, but who stayed at their machine gun rather than surrender.
Sgt. William H. Herrity, Mahony, Pa., and Sgt. Sutherland were at their machine gun positions when a fierce German attack swirled around them. They stuck to their gun, determined to give the Germans as much trouble as possible.
Once they let a platoon of Germans approach within thirds of their position before they opened fire. Then they killed four and wounded twenty of the attackers. Later the two were subjected to devastating shell fire from the Germans, but still they refused to leave their position.
Only when they had done the maximum possible damage, and had been given a direct order by their commander, did the two machine gunners remove themselves and their gun to the company's line. Their determined stand contributed masterfully to the defeat of the Germans, and enabled their company to counteract and restore the original lines.
It was for this action that Sgt. Sutherland was awarded the Silver Star.
The second article and its enclosed letter reads:
S-Sgt. Teddy Sutherland, son of Mr. and Mrs. D.W. Sutherland of Saddle, has won the Silver Star recently. Also he was promoted from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant and was awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge.
In a letter to his mother, written March 1, S-Sgt. Sutherland mentions some exciting experiences in Germany.
S-Sgt. Sutherland is the husband of Mrs. Bonnie Sutherland, to whom he refers in his letter:
Will drop you a few lines to let you know I am O.K., and hope to find you the same. I got a letter from my Honey. She was fine and said our son was doing fine.
Well, Mother, I got you a present in Nancy. I sent my Expert Infantryman Badge with it, so you can give it to Bonnie.
I got the Silver Star the other day. When we got pushed back out of Germany, William H. Herrity and I got quite a bunch of the Krauts. We were left two days by ourselves. Did not know where our Company was.
Well, Mother, I don't think of much to write, so will close for now.
All my love to my loving Mother and Dad,
"The life expectancy of a machine gunner was about three minutes," his son, Danny Sutherland Sr., explained. Danny recounted some of the near-misses his father had experienced.
"Dad was shooting at a German running across the field when the Germans opened fire at him with their machine guns, cutting down the bush he was hiding behind and creasing his helmet with one round.
"He walked from Cherbourgh, France, to Austria and Germany in the rain and cold. When they surrendered, he said he had rifles and pistols piled head-high for 300 yards."
The image is vivid, the amount almost unfathomable for those of us who have never been to war.
His granddaughter, Sharon Boyd-Davis, described one of his most harrowing experiences during the war. During the drive from the Embermeil defense line to the Sarrebourg objective Nov. 13, 1944, came an order for Company L to advance and secure the road net to the south and east of the Rechicourt. Company I was pinned down and could offer no assistance. Company D, to the rear, stood helplessly by and peered hopelessly into the mixture of snow and fog, while Company L moved ahead without their masking gunfire. Company L moved about 2,000 yards when they were stopped cold. There were 30 casualties in 15 minutes. Two platoon leaders were killed instantly. No medics could reach them. No men could be evacuated. They remained there for two days while the snow and rain increased. No supplies could be brought up and they were using their emergency rations, which were one to two boxes of K rations per man per day. It was too muddy for tanks to relieve them. Three more days passed and the casualties from the enemy and from trench foot mounted. Of the 210 men who started, there were 42 remaining able to fight.
During the battle for Avicourt, another two battalions were held down by surrounding Germans and movement for an assault was impossible. The closest support was the remaining 42 men of Company L. They had no choice but to attack. With pure determination, tired, cold men, limping from trench foot, left the minimal security of their foxholes and forged ahead.
Sutherland proudly served in Company L of the 324th infantry regiment of the 44th division in the Seventh Army under General Patch and was stationed in Europe. His tour of duty took him through some of the bloodiest battles fought in Normandy, France, Rhineland, Alsace-Lorraine, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. He was in the service for two years, nine months and eight days. Overseas service was 10 months, 16 days. Miraculously, he was never wounded.
On July 15, 1945, he boarded the HMS Queen Elizabeth and set sail for the U.S. He arrived on July 20, 1945.
Although he returned home in 1945, Sutherland did not receive all his medals until 2003. Some of his medals were lost in a fire, and some were unissued because of the lack of brass. Also, the Bronze Star was not authorized for the military personnel of World War II until 1947, after which time soldiers who had earned it were required to send in a letter of request to receive it.
Like many things, the request of the medals was postponed by the routine of daily life. The first time his daughter, Fayetta Baalman, attempted to replace them was 25 years ago. There was no response to her letter, and again daily life pushed the quest for Sutherland's medals into the background.
Last January she wrote another letter to NPRC. This time she received a response thanking her for contacting them, but telling her that the records she needed to answer her inquiry had been lost in a fire. At this time his granddaughter, Sharon Davis, took over the case.
Davis figured out the infamous Army bureaucracy procedures that were needed in order to receive replacement medals. First, the request must be from the veteran or the next of kin if the veteran is deceased. A Standard Form (SF 180) Request Pertaining to Military Records must be obtained. The form must be filled out as completely as possible and the veteran must sign the form. This must be mailed or delivered to the NPRC for verification of service and entitled awards. If the NPRC can verify, then the request is forwarded to the appropriate service department for issuance of the medals.
Once the order for re-issuance is complete, it is forwarded to the department that actually sends out the medals. That office is in Philadelphia. The whole process can take as little as six months or as long as two years, depending on the backlog of requests.
Davis explained that after she found out what she had to do, she collected Sutherland's DD 214 and separation certificate and had Sutherland sign a completed SF 180. She then took her mother to the NPRC in April of 2003 to talk to someone about their request.
"We took a little trip to St. Louis, got to the guarded gates, received permission to enter the grounds, went through metal detectors and guard searches, and were shown the correct department," she recalled. "Once inside, we talked to the clerk behind glass panels. He told me that if the records cannot be reconstructed by them, we have to provide proof of service and honorable discharge to them."
She was prepared and presented her grandfather's records. The clerk made copies and then informed her that she had to have a completed and signed SF 180, which she also had on hand.
"The clerk took the form and told us that their office didn't handle the reissuing of medals, but since they now had verification of service, they could use alternate records sources that often contain information which can be used to reconstruct service record data lost in the 1973 fire and provide an NA Form 13038, Certification of Military Service," Davis said. "Once they verified the awards he was entitled, they forwarded the information and a request for issuance of the medals to the appropriate service department."
Davis said their next step was to simply go home and wait. They received a letter in June. The letter stated that the separation document Davis had provided contained more information than they were able to reconstruct, so they made copies of all the documentation and will maintain it on file.
"They also informed us of the awards entitled and gave us a request number to use if we had any questions," she explained. "They advised us that there would not be a certificate to accompany the Bronze Star because none were ever issued."
Davis also learned that although the NPRC verifies entitlement to awards, the Department of the Army maintains the jurisdiction for issuing the actual awards.
"The awards were to be shipped directly to us from the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command in Pennsylvania," she said. "Any further correspondences should be addressed to them. The issuing department was processing requests received in November 2002. At that point, we knew we would be getting the medals, we just didn't know when."
Davis said her grandfather's medals came in the mail in October 2003. When he saw them, Davis said, "He was as proud as a new dad."
Sutherland's family includes his wife of 60 years, Bonnie Evans-Sutherland; two sons, the late Teddy D. Sutherland and Danny Sutherland and wife Peggy; a daughter, Fayetta Sutherland Baalman, and husband, Randy; 10 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
He also had two brothers who served. His older brother, Luther, served in the Army as a T5 and was stationed in Alaska. His younger brother, Lynuel, a private, was a paratrooper in the 507th PIR of the 82nd airborne "All American" which jumped on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was killed in action July 6, 1944, in France.