Most people who knew Maj. Charles Hunter knew him not as the soldier, but as the football coach at Evarts High School.
Long before his coaching days, before having the field in Evarts named in his honor, before setting up a scholarship for kids in the area, before he had a wife and children, before he was a major in the Kentucky National Guard and went to help during the riots in Louisville – he was a soldier in World War II.
Soldier isn’t a fitting word to sum up Charles Hunter. It just doesn’t do the man justice, considering what he did during his time in the European theatre of operations. Another word more accurately describes Hunter. A word that goes beyond what people think a soldier does during their time at war. A word that encompasses his four Bronze Stars, Purple Heart and Silver Star received during that time. The word is hero.
Before his service he wasn’t much different than any other teenager growing up in Appalachia. His father died in a coal mining accident when he was young and he fully expected to join the workforce after he finished high school, so he could support his mother and siblings financially. Like many others in the area at that time though – when the United States joined the war, he was drafted.
He served as a platoon guide during the war. His wife, Maxine Hunter said he got the job because he was from the mountains. She said boys from the mountains could navigate the terrain easily and were marksmen – two of the most important skills for a platoon guide to possess in those days. She said if you were a platoon guide it also meant you were in the front all the time.
Maxine said he was in the front during the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, and he was in the front when he single-handedly saved his platoon too. She said his commanding officer got his platoon lost and was marching them into danger when the enemy opened fire. She said he held off the enemy by himself until the platoon gathered the wounded and escaped. He was in the front when the Army marched for 16 days and nights during the Battle of the Bulge. On V-Day, when the Germans surrendered, he was in the front.
One of his bronze stars had a certificate explaining what he did to earn it. He was a technical sergeant acting as platoon guide and the day was March 14, 1944. Near Levigne, France his platoon was being devastated by mortar, artillery and sniper fire when Hunter ran into the fire to administer first-aid to wounded soldiers before finding an advantageous position with an anti-tank rocket launcher. He began firing at the complex housing the enemy snipers. The award says he then “placed such devastating fire upon the enemy that the entire enemy unit surrendered.”
She said she asked him one time, “Why’d you do all those things during the war?” She said he told her “to win the war and get back home.” A simple answer to a simple question, but it hit the nail on the head she explained. “Those men did all those things just so they could get back home as quickly as possible.”
After he got back home he met Maxine, who he stayed married to for 57 years and raised a family. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in 2005. It’s hard to believe all those extraordinary feats could be done by a single soldier during war, but those feats can be summed up with a single word to describe Maj. Charles Hunter – hero.
Reach Bradley at 606-909-4146 or on Twitter @bradley_HDE