Burton L. Cordry

[ Age 83 ] The retired health systems engineer penned a memoir about his experiences in World War II.

Mr. Cordry sought to write stories from "my war," some humorous and others offering a "touch of inspiration."

May 02, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun staff

Burton Lloyd Cordry, a retired health systems engineer who had recently completed a World War II memoir about his days as an Army staff sergeant, died of heart failure Friday at his Glen Arm home. He was 83.

Mr. Cordry was born and raised in Hannibal, Mo., where in his youth he enjoyed guiding visitors to sites associated with Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, family members said.

Mr. Cordry's college studies at Hannibal-LaGrange College, across the street from his boyhood home, were interrupted when he enlisted in the Army in 1943.

In the unpublished memoir's introduction, Mr. Cordry explained that he was writing a series of stories from "my war," some that were humorous and others that offered a "touch of inspiration" - rather than those that are "too distressing or only bring up unhappiness."

Mr. Cordry served in Europe with a mechanized reconnaissance squadron of the 14th Armored Division.

Arriving at their first position in Alsace at night, Mr. Cordry and his fellow soldiers selected a large, dry barn in which to sleep. However, warned that the Germans sometimes raided at night, their slumbers were disturbed early the next morning when they heard "very loud yelling and screaming in some foreign tongue," he wrote.

As they scrambled for boots and carbines, believing they were about to experience their first combat, Mr. Cordry and his comrades slowly opened the barn door with "fear and trembling."

What they found was a man standing on a box in the town square. "He was facing a large group of local people and was belting out a lot of gibberish in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the village without the benefit of a PA system," he wrote. "Finally, it all made sense to me, he was the town crier, straight out of Colonial times in the U.S."

On Christmas Eve 1944, Mr. Cordry and 10 other GIs from his platoon were taken into a home by an Alsatian family who spoke only German - which none of the soldiers knew. Mr. Cordry sat down at the family's piano and played Silent Night as the soldiers sang the first verse in English, and their host's children sang in German.

Despite the "strained, reserved atmosphere" caused by language differences, Mr. Cordry wrote, that wartime Christmas was made bright and unifying by singing the carols.

"What a beautiful, warm way to spend Christmas Eve. By the time I crawled into my sleeping bag that night, I was as full of the old Christmas spirit as I can ever remember being," he wrote.

On another night, while sitting in a foxhole with two other soldiers, Mr. Cordry and his companions heard noises and were convinced that an enemy patrol was crawling up the embankment beneath them. Surrounded by jettisoned, half-empty C-ration cans of the much-disliked hash, the trio decided on a given signal to throw the cans at the noise. "We figured if it's an American, he'll let out some cuss words in English, but if he cusses in German, we grab our guns and be prepared to defend ourselves," he wrote.

The suspected German patrol turned out to be escaped pigs drawn to the site by the smell of the greasy hash. "By cleaning one can at a time, they were slowly working their way up to us," Mr. Cordry wrote. "Needless to say, we were very relieved."

But Mr. Cordry, who was still able to fit into his 60-year-old Army Eisenhower jacket from the war, did not write of the circumstances that earned him two Bronze Stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.

After being discharged, he entered the University of Illinois and earned a bachelor's degree in electronics.

"He graduated in 1948, married Joyce Corbin - literally the girl next door - and left for his honeymoon and a job as an avionics engineer at Bendix Radio in Towson. All in the same week," said a daughter, Karen R. Cordry of Silver Spring.

In 1968, he became a health systems engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Linthicum. He retired in 1985.

During Mr. Cordry's tenure with Westinghouse, the company managed a Head Start program, and he was assigned as co-director of its health care component.

"His work with Head Start sites on the Navajo reservations left him with an abiding interest in the challenges facing Native Americans," his daughter said.

He also volunteered with Baltimore Station, a South Baltimore shelter for homeless men.

In 1957, Mr. Cordry designed the Glen Arm house where he lived until his death. His wife died in 1996.

Until selling his 32-foot sailboat Dreamin last year, Mr. Cordry enjoyed using it on the Chesapeake Bay.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Chestnut Grove Presbyterian Church, 3701 Sweet Air Road in Phoenix, where he was a 50-year member, served as a deacon and elder, and sang in the choir. He also wrote a history of the church, which was founded in 1842.

Also surviving are a son, Burton Neil Cordry of Timonium; another daughter, Dorothy L. Eberly of Milroy, Pa.; three brothers, Earl R. Cordry of Vandalia, Mo., Kenneth Cordry of Sedalia, Mo., and James Cordry of Hannibal; seven grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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