Stone Harbor, New Jersey, US
United States Army
PFC, 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division
Ostheim, France, 01/23/1945
Stephen Ludlam was just a little more than a month past his 18th birthday in December 1943 when he received his draft notice and order to report for induction into the Army. The son of Jesse and Patience Ludlam, Steve, as his friends and family referred to him, was a popular senior at Westtown School; a Quaker boarding school in Chester County, PA and a star athlete.
Steve was a football and baseball player when he arrived at the school, but Westtown had no football program, so he focused on soccer in the fall. By the time he was a senior, he was moved by his coach from his position as goal keeper to front line in order to add more of a scoring threat. He ended up earning “All-Philadelphia” honors.
“Steve was an outstanding athlete,” remembered James B. Yarnall, his good friend from Westtown. “But he was more than just a great athlete. He was also a super human being. He had so many friends; he was handsome, possessed a great smile, a terrific sense of humor – and was a great flirt. He was such a special person,”
PFC Stephen Ludlam of Stone Harbor was just 19 years old when he gave his life for his country in 1945. The last letter his parents received was dated January 21. In it he wished his mother a happy birthday; told of a Frenchman who shared his wine as a sign of appreciation; and signed his letter “I send my love to you, Steve.” That was the last Jesse and Patience Ludlum heard from their youngest son.
On January 23, 1945, near Ostheim, then considered part of Allied controlled France, PFC Stephen C. Ludlam – just 19 – was killed in action. According to reports, Steve’s company, part of the 7th Infantry’s Third Division, was caught in an open snow-covered field facing automatic rifle fire from point blank range. Thirty of the unit’s men were initially killed. Steve survived the first round along with seven other men who then advanced the attack. Badly outnumbered and out armed, Steve came to a stop in an exposed sitting position and continued to battle the enemy for 45 minutes – an eternity in battle and against insurmountable odds – and at times with the enemy just 25 yards away. Still, inexplicably Steve was credited with saving the lives of others by somehow silencing an enemy machine gun battery and killing seven German soldiers before being killed himself. In their report, the Army described his snowsuit as “bullet-riddled.”
Stephen was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart for what the Army called “Extraordinary heroism in action” in a special ceremony broadcast live by WFPG radio in Atlantic City in April 1946.
How rare is the Distinguished Service Cross? Consider this – since 1975 and the end of the Vietnam Conflict, only six have been awarded. Both of Stephen’s medals now hang in the American Legion Post named in his honor.
But it’s also important to remember what Memorial Day is really about. It’s about people like Stephen C. Ludlam. Isn’t it amazing how fast a boy can become a man? Steve knew that he had a part to play but amazingly viewed his sacrifice as small. Could it have been a premonition?
“…there is something bigger than I am at stake and though I hate this small part allotted to me – it never the less is my part,” Steve wrote. “I shall do my best and though I’ll never be really happy, I again won’t really mind. My sacrifice is small.”