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Remembering Private Rutledge: A devoted daughter's story

Step back in time as Ginger (Rutledge) Gregory shares childhood memories of her father, Private Robert Lee Rutledge, as he went to serve in WWII, where he ultimately gave his life. Her story is from the April Bulloch County Historical Society meeting.

In a powerful tribute on Monday, April 22, 2024, Ginger Rutledge Gregory shared the moving story of her father, Robert Lee Rutledge, and his time in the service during WWII, where he ultimately gave his life.

Through glimpses of her childhood memories—visiting him in Fort McClellan, Alabama, checking the mail each day for letters from him, and watching her mother and grandparents endure their tragic loss, remaining steadfast as they honored his memory with their lives—those present at the April Bulloch County Historical Society meeting had the rare opportunity to relive history through Mrs. Gregory’s accounts.

Fond family memories in Lumpkin, Georgia

Her story was shared as a pre-recorded interview, but she was present at the meeting alongside her son, Jimbo Anthony, daughter, Susan Lee Anthony (named in honor of her grandfather, Robert Lee Rutledge), and grandson Chris Johnson.          

Ginger poses at the Monday's BCHS meeting (left to right): Son Jimbo Anthony, Daughter Susan Lee Anthony, Tyson Davis, Ginger Gregory, Grandson Chris Johnson.

Her tales of a happy childhood began in Lumpkin, Georgia where her father, Robert Lee Rutledge, and her mother, Marguerite (Cannington) Rutledge, both grew up. Mrs. Gregory was born in her grandparents’ home on September 18, 1939. Her brother, Robert Leron Rutledge (whom she affectionately called Baby Boy until switching to Bubba in his teen years), was born May 16, 1941.

Her father worked at C.P. Trotman Company, a grocery and dry goods store in Lumpkin, and they owned a small farm in Stewart County, “We were just a happy little family,” Gregory shared as she recalled those early years in the interview.

Ginger Gregory as a child with her mother, Marguerite, and brother, Bubba.

“I have been told that I was a very independent, busy child and my main interest was figuring out a way to go to my Gram-mama and Granddaddy Rutledge's house," Gregory said.

Her father was something special, according to all accounts. He was "idolized" by his two siblings, one older and one younger, and well loved by everyone in their community, known for making music at get-togethers and being kind to all. His older brother, "Uncle Jay" to Gregory, even bought Rutledge a car before he had one of his own. He was only 27 when he enlisted, his wife Marguerite was 24, and their children were 4 (Ginger) and 2 (Bubba). 

Reporting for Duty: An unlikely ride

In March 1944, as World War II raged in Europe, Rutledge enlisted with the United States Army. He was selected for the draft and received training at Fort McClellan, Alabama for seventeen weeks before being sent to Fort Meade, Maryland for a short time.

When he went to report for duty in Atlanta, the bus line coming from Columbus was on strike. With no way to get there from Lumpkin, he and the five men who were drafted with him were offered a ride by Earl Carter, the father of then-future President Jimmy Carter.

Carter had learned of the bus strike and made the 29-mile drive from Plains to Lumpkin to help the young men get to Americus, Georgia, where "he put them on the bus to Atlanta or they would have been in trouble," Gregory recalled from one of her father's letters. 


During the time he was in training in Fort McClellan, Gregory recalls visiting him in their ’39 Chevy, sleeping in the car because the few motels in the city were filled to capacity. She didn’t know at the time, but later learned that gasoline was being rationed, and several family members in Lumpkin would save their gas tickets so that her mother and the children could go and visit their father during training.

Gregory remembers later asking her mother how they all managed to sleep in the car, and her mother responding, “We would do anything just to get to see my dad for a few short hours.” As a child, the trips from Lumpkin to Fort McClellan were great fun, especially if they brought one of her cousins to play with. The bleachers were a playground for her, and her brother Bubba spent the hours listening to their father tell stories. 

Ginger and her brother, "Bubba," in Sears, Roebuck & Co., Army Suits. Photo used with permission.

In September 1944, he boarded a ship to Europe to serve in the European Theater with the 48th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division.

A legacy of letters

Rutledge wrote daily letters to his family, and they to him, during his time in the service. These letters are now Gregory’s source of comfort and insight into her father’s character and life.

The letters were in a brown duffle bag tucked away in a closet at her grandparents' home. She remembers noticing it one day as she was playing, but when she peeked inside and saw that it was full of letters, she ignored it, not realizing they were from her father.

In 1995, her beloved Uncle Jay, who had made it his life's work to look after his younger brother's family, gave her the bag of letters. When she rediscovered them, she pored over them for weeks, absorbing every word from her father, finally getting a glimpse into who he was. 

“My favorite letter was one that he wrote to me on my fifth birthday, explaining why he couldn’t be there,” she said.

My Darling Baby,

What sweet memories I have today. It carries me back 5 years ago. We thought we were as happy as could be until God sent you down to us. You'll never know how proud I am of you. I've always, since that day, done everything possible for your benefit. I never dreamed of being away from you as I am now. You are too young to understand it now but you will later.

Sixty years later, former President George W. Bush quoted this letter in a speech celebrating VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) at the US Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland on May 8, 2005:

“There is no power like the power of freedom, and no soldier as strong as a soldier who fights for that freedom. Private Robert Lee Rutledge was one of those soldiers. He gave his life fighting against a brutal attack by two Nazi divisions. Weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter on her fifth birthday. The letter was addressed to little Ginger Rutledge in Lumpkin, Georgia. Private Rutledge told his daughter, ‘You're too young to understand it now, but you will later. It's all for your benefit. You came into a free world, and I want you to finish in one.’ Private Rutledge did his job well, and the men who fought and bled and died here with him accomplished what they came for. The free America that Ginger grew up in was saved by their courage.”

In a memorial she wrote for the American War Orphans Network (AWON), Gregory said:

Only forty-one days after my Dad wrote my birthday letter he was killed in action fighting an intense battle against a brutal attack by two German divisions in the vicinity of Meijel, Holland. He is buried at the US Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland, where Dutch friends have visited his grave, carried beautiful flowers and said prayers since 1945. I am very grateful to Gertie and Harry Heyman de Klerk, who visited his grave site until their deaths in the 1980s. Now, Martien and Ellemien Salden, our dear Dutch friends, visit my Dad's grave site on every special occasion with flowers and prayers.

"We won't let them forget you"

Private Rutledge’s hundreds of letters tell the story of his kindness and humility, his intense devotion to his family, and his dedication to serving his country.

More than 200 letters were in the brown duffle bag Gregory saw as a child. 

Ginger pictured with many of the letters from her father's time in the service. Photo used with permission.

In one of his final letters, he asked his wife “please don’t let the children forget me.”

She didn’t, and they haven’t: In fact, his story has been written about in USA Today, quoted internationally, shared in a presidential speech, and widely cited online.

Through his sacrifice, Private Rutledge has inspired countless people to live their lives fully and dedicate themselves to doing what is right.

Visiting his grave

In 2015, after 70 years of waiting, Gregory was finally able to make the journey to visit her father’s grave at the US Military Cemetery in Margraten, Holland. While her brother passed away before he was able to go, his wife, Shirley Rutledge, made the trip on his behalf.

Ginger and her sister-in-law, Shirley, visiting her father's grave in Margraten, Holland, in 2015. Photo used with permission.

“The cemetery is beautiful,” Gregory said, and she enjoyed time with her “Dutch Family,” a family who have cared for Private Rutledge’s grave all these years in gratitude for the American soldiers who protected them.

“I am glad the family decided to let him rest where he was,” Gregory said. The intense search for Rutledge, who was classified as Missing in Action in October 1944, and later confirmed as Killed in Action in a telegram the family received in March 1945, can be seen in the many letters and telegrams exchanged between his wife, Marguerite, and the War Department. What followed was a lengthy process of discovering where and how he lost his life, with his family finally receiving those explanations and closure in 1947. 

Further reading

The dedication and love of the Rutledge family is evident in the abundance of stories, letters, and pictures which they have generously shared online. For additional details, photographs, handwritten letters, and stories, please see the following: 

  • Read a detailed firsthand account from Mrs. Gregory in World War II Stories here.
  • Read a detailed firsthand account Mrs. Gregory submitted to AWON here.
  • Find details of Robert Lee Rutledge’s time in the service here.

Many thanks to Ginger Rutledge Gregory, the Rutledge family, and the Bulloch County Historical Society for allowing us to share this incredible story of family, patriotism, and service.