WW2 vet gets medals back 67 years after war
Hahnville-native Eugene Baudouin sits at his kitchen table with his medals, photos from his time in the army and a copy of the book Tank Driver in which his story is mentioned.
Eugene Baudouin has spent almost his entire 92 years in a small pocket of Hahnville off River Road on a piece of property where he and six of his siblings were born and where he later built his own home.
His only extended time away from that small strip of land was when he enlisted in the Army during World War II.
"I’m not a hero. I was just over there doing my job," Baudouin said.
Before joining the military, Baudouin spent a year at Shell to secure a position for when he returned.
"I went to work young. My father emancipated me when I was 17 so I could go to work," he said. "They let me finish up work at Shell for a year so I would have a job when I got back home."
He said the day after he had a year invested in Shell, he joined the military. Recruiters at first told him that he was not qualified to join.
"When they examined me they said ‘no, his eyes are too bad,’ but I said no, I’m going anyway," Baudouin said.
After persuading the recruiters to allow him to join up, Baudouin began the longest journey of his life, which lasted 44 months and took him across the country and the Atlantic Ocean and into Europe.
The first leg of his trip took him to Fort Polk, where he underwent basic training and boot camp. He then went for specialized training as a tank gunner in California before taking a train back across the country to New Jersey and shipping out to the European combat zone.
"They put us on an old English ship. They took this thing out of the mothballs and it was dirty and triple overloaded it," Baudouin said.
After arriving in Europe, Baudouin began putting his training to use in the 11th Armored Division.
The end of Baudouin’s involvement in the war came when he was injured in the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive movement in Belgium that began in December 1944, nearly six months before the end of the war in Europe.
"I was a gunner and I was sitting up top. The first shell came and hit us in the track and then the second shell came up underneath me and put shrapnel throughout my legs and up my body," Baudouin said.
Of the six in the tank that day, only Baudouin and one other survived.
The moments after the attack were captured in the 2003 book Tank Driver, written by Ted Hartman.
"I jumped out of the tank and I immediately put snow on my face," Baudouin said. "It was the first time I had ever seen snow."
Baudouin stumbled away from the destroyed tank and came across Hartman’s tank crew who helped him to safety.
"They put me on a stretcher and I stayed there as they moved me from France to Belgium to England. It got to be where it was cutting in my back, but I was happy to be there," Baudouin said. "It must have been two weeks before I got up once I got to England."
Baudouin’s hands were severely damaged in the battle and his face was entirely burnt.
Over the next 15 months, he spent his time in recovery.
"My hands were wrapped. My face was wrapped and only my nose stuck out a little bit and there were holes for my eyes and my mouth. After I got mobile and was able to move around, I kind of enjoyed the hospital," Baudouin said. "They had a big refrigerator with all sorts of things to eat and ice cream. I got real fat before I left."
He said it was during his recovery, when he was traveling from one hospital to another, that his duffle bag was stolen.
"I had two or three cartons of cigarettes and they were a dollar a carton," Baudouin said. "Whoever stole them on the bus was after the cigarettes."
Along with the cigarettes, Baudouin’s medals from the war went missing. Baudoin had a bronze star, WWII victory medal, honorable service lapel, machine gun expert badge, a good conduct medal and a Purple Heart.
It was not until 67 years later that one of his daughters requested new medals from the Army.
"I didn’t want all of those medals, but my daughter got them for me," Baudouin said. "That’s the one I wanted right there - the Purple Heart."
Following the war, Baudouin returned to his family’s property on River Road where he stills lives. He got married and had seven children.
"I went back to Shell Oil Company right away," Baudouin said. "I didn’t take a vacation."
He worked at Shell for 43 years before retiring after which he focused on his herd of cattle, citrus grove and garden.
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