WWII hero, Rector native, dies at age 82

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

(Editor's Note: This article about Rector native Denver "Bull" Randleman is reprinted from the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette. Randleman was the subject a few weeks ago of a feature in this newspaper's Delta Life section. He lived at one time in the Freer community on the outskirts of Trumann. His mother, Zora Randleman, sent all five of her sons - Denver, Jack, Max, Charles and Dallas - to serve their country. All returned home safely. At the time of his death last week, Denver was residing in Texarkana).

By PHILLIP REESE

Arkansas-Democrat Gazette

On Sept. 19, 1944, (Rector) Arkansas native Denver "Bull Randleman hid stone silent underneath hay, a German soldier he had just killed beside him, in Nuenen, Holland, where during better times, Vincent van Gogh had lived and painted.

Randleman was hurt, his shoulder bleeding from the earlier battle. He was cut off from his Army unit, E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne.

He couldn't have known it then, but that day, one of the hardest in his life - the German sniper, the tank heading toward him, the metal in his shoulder, the hay over his head - would be painstakingly recreated and experienced by millions nearly 60 years later.

Randleman, who survived that day and the rest of World War II, unwittingly had written himself into a best-selling history book and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. The miniseries retells the story of Randleman's company from 1942 until the end of the war.

"He was a very gentle, humble man," Michael Cudlitz, the actor who portrayed Randleman in Band of Brothers, said Saturday from his California home. "He was just a very special man who was just remarkably in love with his wife."

Randleman, a Texarkana resident, died Thursday (June 26) after complications from a routine procedure to prepare him for kidney dialysis. He was 82.

"For 59 years, if it was my birthday, I always knew that before the day was out, I would have a call from Bull wishing me a happy day," Richard D. Winters, Randleman's commander during World War II and a principle voice in Band of Brothers, said from his Pennsylvania home Saturday. "He was a wonderful soldier, a wonderful friend and a wonderful man. I will miss him."

Randleman was born in Rector, one of five children. When he was 18, he moved to Michigan and helped take care of his mother, who by then was a widow.

He enlisted as a paratrooper in 1942, obtaining the rank of sergeant.

"He really felt like he would be drafted," Vera Randleman, his wife, said Saturday. "He thought, Ah, I might as well make the best of it.' The paratrooper battalion was new at the time; he earned $50 (extra) a month."

Randleman and his colleagues in Easy Company trained in Camp Toccoa, Ga. The training was thorough and rigorous. In his best-selling book Band of Brothers, the late Stephen Ambrose described how Randleman, on one excruciating training jump, threw up in his helmet.

"The man in front of him took one look and lost his lunch," Ambrose wrote. "The process worked right up the line."

After months of training, the moment he and his colleagues had been waiting for arrived: D-Day, June 6, 1944.

"Bull was No. 17, the last man in the stick, the pusher," Winters said. "It was his job to see that everybody got out of the plane as quickly as possible.

"As soon as Bull landed, while still in his parachute harness, he fixed his bayonet. His first contact with the enemy was with a German who thought he would bayonet Bull while he was down. The German lost."

Randleman's Army buddies called him "Bull" because of his brawny build and husky voice.

Over the next year, the war took Randleman to Nuenen, where he was wounded, and, perhaps even more memorably, to Bastogne, France, and the Battle of the Bulge. Easy Company was pinned down in a large forest, holding the front line. They and others were surrounded, hungry, tired.

"They were out of good, out of everything," Vera Randleman said. "His feet froze."

The siege lasted weeks. When it was finally broken by Gen. George Patton, Randleman's company again went on the offensive, eventually winding up in Germany at the end of the war.

"I didn't think about danger," Randleman said in a 2001 interview. "When you get in the military, you're going to make it or not make it. Why worry?"

Randleman came home and went to school in Memphis, where he met his wife.

"We went on a blind date," Vera said. "I knew him for a total of two months and nine days (before the wedding)."

Randleman got a job in Fort Smith in 1950 as a mechanic. He moved around but always stayed in Arkansas.

In 2000 and 2001, everything changed for Randleman. He started getting calls from Cudlitz, who was abroad shooting Band of Brothers.

"We were in contact from the beginning of the project," Cudlitz recalled. "I spoke to him probably twice a month. By the end, I was speaking to him maybe twice a week."

When the miniseries debuted, Randleman and his wife flew all over the world helping to promote it. They attended the show where the miniseries won multiple Emmys. Winters wondered whether his friend was pushing himself too much.

"He was so conscientious," Winters said. "If a doctor told him to ride a bike for an hour, he would ride it for an hour. He was just that sort of guy. I always thought he would overwork himself."

In the end, blood poisoning after a minor operation, not overwork, led to Randleman's death. He leaves behind a son, a daughter and his wife of 56 years. His funeral was 2 p.m. Tuesday in Texarkana.

"I went by and told him I loved him," Vera said, recalling Thursday. "I don't think he heard me. I came back, and he was gone."

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