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The Fighting Funderburgs

Eight Oklahoma brothers served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Coming from humble roots in Wilburton, the brothers just wanted to repay their parents and make them proud. Serving their country is how they chose to do that.
by Adam Kemp Published: November 10, 2013

GUYS like Stanley Funderburg are just around the corner.

They are always there with the same tricks to beat you in driveway basketball and the same jokes that make you smile even though you've heard them a thousand times.

Growing up down the street from Mr. Funderburg, I thought I knew every punch line the man had to offer.

But when a guy like Stanley calls you out of the blue to tell you about his brothers, his seven brothers, who collectively served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, you stop what you're doing because the life of the neighbor you thought that you've known since you were 10, suddenly has a movie-script twist.

You shut up and listen as he tells you about how he and his brothers tried to repay the love of their parents by serving their country, how the ultimate sacrifice of one brother affected them as a family and how they go on now in hopes of telling their stories so others won't forget.

As the ragged piece of 1943 newsprint from Wilburton proudly stated about the Funderburg family, “Praise be to Mr. and Mrs. Funderburg for giving their honest and morally true sons to the cause of Uncle Sam's Army.”

‘We were always happy'

Growing up in Wilburton, there were two sounds you didn't hear in the Funderburg house; the sound of meat frying in the kitchen and the sound of spare change jingling in pockets.

John Henry Funderburg and Rhoda Katherine Funderburg made a lot from very little.

Their 10 children, Eula, OC, Lewis, Floyd, James, Bennie, Jack, Charles, Stanley and Norma Jean, were often thought to be more entertaining than the circus when you put all 10 of them around the dinner table.

The house they lived in was a refurbished cow barn, no running water, no electricity and no room to breathe.

Stanley remembers sleeping three deep in the living room that was converted to the boys bedroom.

If you got cold, just throw another kid on top, his momma always said.

While John Henry worked the coal mines and later laid track on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad to put food on the table, Rhoda ruled the house with an iron fist, teaching the children to watch out for each other but making sure they didn't get into any unnecessary fights.

If you picked on one Funderburg, you got to feel the force of 10.

Rhoda spent the summers growing fruits and vegetables in her garden so she could can them for winter.

When those ran out, family meals consisted of biscuits for breakfast, cornbread for lunch and cornbread for dinner.

“Daddy had a third-grade education, and Momma had a fifth-grade education,” Stanley said. “In those days you had to work to eke out a living, but us kids never knew any better. We were always happy. We never knew how hard Mom and Dad worked to give us the little that we had.”

The oldest son, OC, joined the Civil Conservation Corps before the start of World War II to get a little money flowing for the family. Cutting down trees and fighting wildfires, he was able to help pay $35 for the family's house.

When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, OC was the first of the boys to be drafted, working throughout World War II on a B-17 bomber in Alaska and parts of Canada.

OC would just be the start of the family's military history, as every Funderburg boy followed in his footsteps.

For God and country, Mom and Dad

When James Funderburg saw his brother with his head wrapped up like a mummy, he knew immediately that he was gonna be in trouble back home.

Just days earlier, Bennie Funderburg had been injured while his company helped take the town of Rosario in the Philippines in spring of 1944.

A mortar round was fired from what defenses the town had left, and Bennie took shrapnel wounds to his body and head.

As the older of the two boys stationed together and the third oldest of eight, James was going to have to explain to Mom and Dad why his younger brother had gotten hurt.

“You get a lot of pressure from your mother and father when it comes to being the older brother in a war,” James said. “Mom would ask why I wasn't taking care of my brother. Of course she had no idea what we were going through in combat or anything else. When we were together, I guess I didn't really think of my own safety as much as I was always thinking about Bennie's.”

Bennie was sent to the hospital infirmary while James, who was a platoon sergeant over the light machine guns in a rifle company, was mobilized to another position to help protect a dam that was coming under heavy artillery fire.

James watched as another platoon tried to change positions during the battle and were struck, killing dozens and sending shrapnel flying in all directions.

James' head was struck with a piece that dented his helmet.

“Things like that were always happening,” James said. “I wouldn't report my injuries because I didn't want to put any more stress on my parents than they already had.”

But as the wounded were taken back to the infirmary, one of the soldiers told Bennie that James had died in the battle.

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by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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