On June 6, 1944, an 18-year-old Bud Gowder of Gainesville jumped out of a plane to land on the beaches of Normandy. He missed slightly, landing in a tree.
His wife, Laverne Gowder, recounted this story and others like it more than 70 years later at her home in Gainesville.
She said her late husband dropped out of school as a teenager to become an Army paratrooper.
“He was in the regular paratroops,” the 88-year-old woman said. “But when they did the jump D-Day, they merged with the 82nd Airborne, if you remember reading about them.”
The 82nd Airborne Division is an active-duty airborne infantry division of the U.S. Army, which specializes in parachute assault operations. It merged with other divisions for the Normandy invasion, where thousands of paratroopers died.
“It was all about the paratroopers,” Gowder said. “But they had no idea when they were going on this mission. That morning or night or whenever it was, they loaded them onto a plane and then told them where they were headed.”
Gowder said her husband retold the story of landing in a tree in the dark. She said he was afraid to move, so he waited, still and silent, for the break of day to make sure all was clear.
“Quite a few of the boys he was with, his company, were lost,” she said. “He said it took several days for them all to get back together again.”
Gowder said her husband fought in Germany for most of the war, but some of his worst battles were in France.
“D-Day was a very bad, very bloody day,” she said. “But he said one of the major battles he was in was the Battle of the Bulge. A lot of the American boys lost their lives there. He told me in the Battle of the Bulge, the ground was just ice.”
Gowder said her husband recalled having “dug a hole and living in it.”
“One thing always stood out in his mind,” she said. “One of the buddies next to him had raised up out of his place, his hole in the ground, and just as he did come up, a bullet went right through him. So Bud felt like he had just been absolutely spared there.”
While he was only a teenager in one of history’s deadliest wars, “he didn’t get a scratch on him,” Gowder said.
“Can you imagine, 18 years old, all that going on around you?” she said. “And he just came back. It was unreal.”
Gowder said her husband received the Bronze Arrowhead Device, awarded to personnel who have been a part of a combat parachute drop. He also earned the World War II Victory Medal, good conduct medals and more throughout his military career.
Gowder, who is retired from Gainesville National Bank, said she and her husband lived their lives in Gainesville. She was in school during the war, but said although she didn’t know him well yet, she “knew of him already.”
The couple was married in 1948 and remained together until Bud died in 1992. Gowder said her husband spoke little throughout the decades of his war experiences.
“It seemed to bother him very bad sometimes,” she said. “He was in a lot, I mean a lot, of battles. As a matter of fact, when he first came home, his family told me noise — a plane or a car backfiring or anything like that — made him very jumpy. I was surprised he even told me this much. It was always more than I expected of him.
“But he’d take a spell every now and then and talk about it. They went through a lot together in Normandy, those boys, and the way he talked about it, you know, they seemed like family.”