In the winter of 1980, I was a brand new 22-year old lieutenant fresh out of my officer basic and Airborne school and anxious to make my mark with the 1/505 Infantry (Airborne) Battalion, 82nd Airborne “All American” Division.
Amid all the HOO-WAH and “All the Way” candor of living in the world of paratroopers, I was always amazed at the faith and morality on public display as well. When you are America’s “Guard of Honor” (When Uncle Sam dials 911, it’s the 82nd that answers the call) and you’re always 18-hours away from “wheels up,” it’s easy to think about mortality. So one day, I wandered into the Chaplain’s office for a chat and saw a small, powder blue pamphlet on display. It was called A Paratrooper’s Faith. I picked it up and stuck it in one of the many cargo pockets of my jungle cammies (this was long before the days of BDUs … traditional Army units still wore the OD green fatigues).
That night, I opened that little book for the first time. It reproduced sayings, psalms and poems that were carried by Sergeant George Tullidge during WWII and had been provided free of charge by his parents to paratroopers since late WWII.
Tullidge had been part of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment during WWII. Their D-Day objective was to secure the crossing over the Mederet River. During the jump, the unit missed the drop zone and was scattered for miles due to heavy German anti-aircraft fire and low clouds. The Regimental Commander, Colonel George Millet, was captured, allowing Colonel Edson Raff to take over. The regiment took the nickname “Raff’s Ruffians.” The “Jumping Spiders” (another regimental nickname) served with great distinction through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge (they were assigned to the 17th Division following D-Day) and the invasion of Germany. But young SGT Tullidge never saw any of those operations. He was killed on June 8th, 1944. Severely wound, he took over a machine-gun position over the road from St. Mere Eglise and held off the German counter attack allowing his wounded troopers to be rescued. He died of his wounds and never left his post to seek medical attention.
Thinking of the relationship I had with my own parents in 1980 and knowing how much my own mother worried about me and my safety, I felt an immediate connection to the words that gripped my heart from that little book. The inscription gave me chills:
In loving and ever-glorious remembrance to OUR SON, GEORGE BOWLER TULLIDGE III, Sergeant of 507th Parachute Infantry 82nd Airborne Division, who, at the age of twenty years, gave his life in the Invasion of France, June 8th, 1944. And to all the other heroes who willingly and gladly gave and are giving their lives to rid the world of tyranny and oppression.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a may lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.
Mrs. Tullidge explained the purpose of the book further, dating back to 1944:
“Some months ago we sent George a pocket-size notebook in which I had copied a number of poems, excerpts, and Bible verses. We felt that in the lonely, anxious, and trying experiences he was passing through, a few moments reading of these might give him hope and strength. … Since he wrote us a number of times that he had received much help from reading it, we are duplicating it in this booklet. Our desire is that other boys who read it may receive an inspiration and help from these thoughts of great minds and souls of the past and present.”
In addition to the last letter her son ever wrote (reproduced in the pamphlet) I found page after page of inspiring quotes, Bible verses, and poems, all urging readers to never give up, always do the right thing, and never lose faith. So inspired by the raw emotion that permeated those pages, I did some research and discovered that the Tullidges were still living. And so, doing my best detective work, I found an address. What followed was years of correspondence with Mrs. Tullidge that never failed to inspire or motivate me. And it still does to this day.
Mrs. Archer Tullidge passed away in 1995 (her husband passed in 1983). But she lived long enough to see “Tullidge Way” dedicated to her son on Ft. Bragg in 1981 and, in 1989, she was awarded the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service in a Pentagon ceremony by Secretary of The Army John O. Marsh, Jr. The citation reads:
Mrs. Archer Tullidge is officially commended for her distinguished civilian service to the United States Army, to our veterans, and to the nation over the last 50 years. During World War II, on her own initiative and at her own personal expense, Mrs. Tullidge voluntarily duplicated and mailed to over 300,000 soldiers the booklet entitled, ‘A Paratrooper’s Faith.’ Her personal commitment and deep concern were appreciated by many returning soldiers who commented on the strength and courage they received from the booklet’s message. Mrs. Tullidge’s strong support and patriotism did not end with World War II as she continues to dedicate her life to volunteer services to The Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center. This unselfish devotion to our American soldiers, strong personal commitment, and selfless service to the United States Army stands as a worthy example for all Americans to emulate.
In his last letter home (addressed to his little brother), George Tullidge gives us a glimpse into a seasoned maturity rarely found in men of any age, but this was especially meaningful to me as it was written by a young man only 20 years old (remember, I had just turned 22 at the time)!
“Often times when I feel depressed and blue it does me an awful lot of good to read my Bible and a little book that Mother sent me. … As long as I seem to be preaching a sermon, I want to ask a big favor of you. You know this mess will “bust” inside open one of these days, and I imagine I will have a first hand look at what is going on. Of course, Mother knows this, too, so I want you to be a comfort to her. There will probably be a long time, maybe a couple of months, that she won’t hear from me. I know it will be a big strain to her, so I want you boys to help her as much as possible. Dad will be worried, too, but won’t show it perhaps as much, so just be as good and helpful as you can. Thanks!”
Less than a month later, young SGT Tullidge was dead. But thanks to the tireless efforts of his parents, his influence lived on, inspiring countless thousands of paratroopers deployed into harm’s way from WWII to Korea to Viet Nam to the 1980s.
It is said that faith is a belief in things unseen. SGT George Tullidge had that faith that actions and deeds leave their mark for generations to come. He was a paratrooper, and he had faith shared by his parents that reached out to touch me, a then 22-year old novice soldier standing at the beginning of a winding path that could have led anywhere.
That faith said, “It’s okay. I’ll show you the way.” And it did show me the way. I am forever thankful to you, SGT Tullidge (and Mrs. Tullidge). It was YOUR faith … a paratrooper’s faith … that made me strong. And you should know … it STILL does!
Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. And lo, no one was there. Anon