Montie Cudd ... on a mission across Arkansas
Montie Cudd is an 83-year-old karate student, war hero, charity runner, and he has dedicated himself to one more amazing task -- he is walking 1,000 miles across the state of Arkansas, all while pulling a small covered wagon in the name of education.
Cudd, who has called Izard County home since April, 1993, has lived through what many students read about in history books.
"I was 17 and one week old when Pearl Harbor happened," Cudd said. "Then we had a thing called the National Youth Administration and I went to welding school in that. My mother got $30 a month for me doing this. On Saturdays we would go and work on a community project. The pine trees in Craighead Forest, we planted those in 1942."
Before Cudd's time in the military he worked for Boeing Aircraft at Seattle, Wash., in the electronics field. "I was sent out there as a welder but they needed an electrician real bad so they hired me as an electrician. I helped wire the first B-29. (B-29 Superfortress was a four-engine heavy bomber propeller aircraft.) Everybody in the plant got to work on that airplane. President Roosevelt came down and watched it fly its first time," Cudd said.
Cudd returned home and joined the Navy while the country was engaging in World War II.
"I went into the military in 1944, when I was 19-years-old," Cudd said. "Four weeks and three days into boot camp they asked if anyone wanted to get out of boot camp, get their gear and put it on that flatbed and get up on it," he said. "I went and got my gear and threw it up there."
To Cudd's surprise, he was taken to Marine boot camp. "I was put into the amphibious force, which is the Navy's Special Forces unit. They formed SLCU36 and SLCU38. SLCU36 went to Okinawa and SLCU38 (Cudd's unit) went to Iwo Jima," he said.
"I worked demolition on Iwo Jima until even after the war was over. I had the ability to look at pictures and booby traps and figure out how they were put together and take them apart. Like the old Chinese proverb about a picture being worth a thousand words," he said.
"My first job in Iwo Jima was towing a paravane, which was to sweep mines off the beach so we could start putting Marines on the beach. They laid a smoke screen and it blew away. We came out of the smoke screen exposed to enemy fire and I had to take us back into the smoke and on up the beach. We were supposed to be told by radio when to turn, well the radio message never came," Cudd said.
Going up the beach and back out to sea, Cudd was able to prevent any casualties among his men. "Just a few bullet holes in the boat," he said.
Cudd received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iwo Jima during the Banzai Attack while blowing up an ammunition dump. He also received a spinal injury while in a Japanese tunnel.
"I got buried in a tunnel in April. I guess I missed the trip wire and the tunnel fell in on me. That injured my cervical spine," he said.
Cudd said had it not been for another soldier's Japanese pistol he had with him at the time of the tunnel collapse, he would have died in that tunnel.
"He wanted his pistol as a souvenir. That was the reason they dug me out," Cudd said. "They both got fired (from their position with Cudd's group) that day for standing out there talking about digging me out. I couldn't move. I could breathe and I could think. They were talking about how there was no point because I was dead. They thought they would just leave me in there," Cudd said.
The soldiers, in an attempt to save the pistol, dug Cudd out of the ground. "Once they uncovered me I could move," he said.
Cudd said before entering the tunnel he almost chose to take his Thompson automatic machine gun but was urged to take the pistol. The choice saved his life, he said.
In another instance, while searching a tunnel on the island of Iwo Jima, Cudd said he discovered the body of a red haired white woman.
"She really could have been Amelia Earhart because of the facial features and the long red hair. We didn't think anything about it because I didn't know why Amelia Earhart would have been on Iwo Jima this whole time," Cudd said.
The place where Earhart was thought to have went down in her plane was, according to Cudd, about 400 to 500 miles away from Iwo Jima. "She had the same orange red hair and the same facial features," he said.
Cudd said a psychiatrist once asked him if he had ever made a mistake on a booby trap or landmine. He replied by asking the doctor if those were his certificates hanging on his wall. "He asked me what I meant. I said, 'I'm sitting here talking to you' too many mistakes and I wouldn't have been sitting there," Cudd said with a laugh.
Cudd once received a commendation medal when, while facing a typhoon, he worked to secure a landing craft mechanism which could hold about 60 men. He was able to save all the crafts without any injuries. "Captain Connors was screaming at me the whole time to get out of the water. Then he gave me a commendation," Cudd said.
Cudd is a strong supporter of karate, a striking martial art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-hand techniques, to teach discipline, focus and also aid those with learning disabilities.
"I have found in karate that these students with learning disabilities can learn much faster and a lot more if they take karate. This is because of the discipline and the confidence they build," Cudd said.
Cudd said he himself has enrolled in karate classes at the Karate for Christ dojo in Franklin under the guidance and instruction of Grandmaster Curtis Futch.
Although new to karate, Cudd received a form of Jujitsu training while in the Navy Special Forces. "Karate is different. What we had was basically how to disarm someone with a bayonet or push a rifle up to where it fires over your head," he said.
Another challenge Cudd has taken on is the raising of his granddaughter Michaela. At 72-years-old Cudd became the parent of an infant, but it wasn't the first time. "Actually, she is number 12 or 13 I have raised. I am still learning," he said. Also Cudd said raising a child has helped him to deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the war.
Cudd has a long history of fundraising for charity including several running expeditions that took him from Chicago to Detroit, an eight day journey nearly 330 miles long. "I lost every toenail I had," Cudd recalls.
Cudd at one point could barely walk due to arthritis and was told by doctors to seek home assistance but Cudd was determined not to go down that road.
"I was 53 and my doctor told me to go home and have somebody take care of me. My ankles, knees, hips, back, it was all bad. Part of it was from the tunnel falling in on me," he said.
Cudd said that one day several girls stopped by his house to invite his son to go to the local school's track, which was close to his home.
"They encouraged me to go with them. Everyday when school let out I was able to hold my kneecaps and walk over there. Well, then they would want me to walk around the track with them," he said.
"I would walk around this track and I finally got to where I could jog two or three steps at a time. In a year, I could go over there and run around that track for three or four hours. So, then I got the idea to run from city hall in Chicago to city hall in Detroit, which is 328 miles, to build a new track," he said.
Running to raise money for a new Olympic style track for the school and the girls who inspired Cudd to run and ultimately resurrected his health, raised over $126,000 for the project. "I ran in snow, sleet, thunderstorms, the hot sun and I made it," he said.
Cudd ran several long distance runs after that, raising money for various charities including a Chicago to Detroit run that also swept through Lansing, Mich., locking in over 400 miles total.
Cudd's most recent undertaking is a 1,000-mile trek across Arkansas that started with covering 55 miles from Bono to Paragould. Cudd, who was pulling a small covered wagon, suffered a heat stroke but said he isn't giving up.
"To finish my 1,000 miles, I will start going to different towns and get on their track and walk a certain amount of miles. I will visit with the kids at the school and let them put their names on the wagon. All the kids at Izard County Consolidated put their names on it," Cudd said.
The reason for his latest adventure is to promote education, he said.
"We need to address our education," he said. "I taught a little boy with autism to speak 20 years ago by spending time with him. Pediatricians don't spend enough time with kids. We are not actually doing what we should do. The churches, the families, the teachers, people in the community; we need to come together and work together to do this. We can educate our children to a much higher degree, but only if we apply ourselves," Cudd said.
A child's education should not be the sole responsibility of the teacher or the parent, but a group effort to better serve the child, Cudd said. "What if the parent don't know any better?" he said, explaining that some problems might not be identifiable by a parent without specific knowledge.
"We are going to march on the governor when we can all get together. We will get a meeting with him and the state board of education as well as the state legislature," Cudd said.
When Cudd has the opportunity to speak with Gov. Mike Beebe he said he already knows what he is going to say. "When are you going to make the same sacrifices I have so our children can be educated? I have lost all my toenails running for kids," Cudd said.
Cudd said a good leader leads from the front. "Politicians talk about pushing something, we don't need pushers, we need leaders," he said.
Cudd said karate is a good place to start educating children in such a way that it can help them have more confidence, respect, discipline and focus. "I have discussed this with several preachers and a lot of them are interested in getting karate in their churches," Cudd said.
At 83-years-old Cudd is a war hero with 25 service medals, combat ribbons and badges. Cudd fought in two wars and has helped an untold number of people whose lives have been touched by his efforts for charity, children and education. Cudd said his work for what he believes in is far from over.