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Former POW ’just tried to survive’

Former POW ’just tried to survive’
GREGORY RIPPS Raymond Bunte shows off part of his cap collection, which depict various facets of his life. Bunte said his son acquired most of them for him.

When Raymond Bunte of La Vernia celebrated his 90th birthday in June, the top of his cake prominently featured a depiction of the iconic POW-MIA flag. Bunte never let his wartime confinement define his life, yet he carries a very real part of that experience with him.

Just before Bunte was captured, he was shot in the head by a .31-caliber rifle bullet; the bullet is still there.

He was drafted into the Army and deployed with the 85th Infantry Division to Italy in 1943. He clearly remembers the day he was shot and captured May 12, 1944 by German soldiers who then took him to the rear of their lines. After two or three days, Bunte recalled, Germans strapped him to a table, and a military doctor probed his head.

“They didn’t have medical supplies,” Bunte said. “They didn’t have gas to give me.”

The German doctor decided he couldn’t safely remove the bullet, so he bandaged Bunte up and sent him back to a field hospital. Interestingly, other doctors since that time have come to the same conclusion as that German.

“It’s still there,” Bunte said. “It’s too dangerous to take it out.”

But having a bullet in his head was only the beginning of Bunte’s POW story. After about a month, the soldiers loaded him and other prisoners onto boxcars that took him to Germany. He was imprisoned first at Stalag 7A and later at Stalag 2B, where he constantly served on work details.

“I spent 257 days as a prisoner of war in Germany until the end of the war,” Bunte related.

He got out of the Army, but four and a half months later he joined the new U.S. Air Force and became part of what was then known as the Air Police. Originally from La Grange, Texas, Bunte first arrived in San Antonio in 1949 and was assigned to work as part of a 67-man squadron in conjunction with the San Antonio police for two years. It was during this time he met and married Sarah, his wife to this day.

The Air Force stationed him at various locations, including Misawa Air Base, Japan, during the last year of the Korean War. He retired in Spokane, Wash., in 1963.

“I had a total of 20 years, 28 days in the Army and the Air Force,” said Bunte. His military career ended, he moved into his second career.

“I went to barber school on the G.I. Bill,” Bunte said. “I was a barber for 29 years in San Antonio.”

While Bunte worked in a shop on Austin Highway, his wife worked as a beautician on Houston Street for about 20 years. In the 1970s, the couple acquired the property where they still live near La Vernia, living in a mobile home until three years ago, when they moved into a permanent structure “just 200 feet away.”

Bunte retired in 1993. Since then, he said, “I haven’t really done anything, just tried to survive.”

That’s an understatement, however, in light of an event that occurred seven years ago. When two 23-year-old men broke into a neighbor’s house, Bunte, then 83, tried to stop them with a 12-gauge shotgun. He said he ordered them to come out with their hands up. One ran, and one jumped into a car and started it.

“I shouted, ’Get out of the car and get on the ground,’” Bunte said. “I repeated it, but he turned the car toward me and stepped on it.”

Bunte fired through the windshield, fatally wounding the burglar.

“I didn’t want to shoot him, but he gave me no choice,” said Bunte, whose law-enforcement training had kicked in.

The other burglar, who took off on foot, was caught later that day. Both had committed a series of burglaries and had broken into another house the same day, according to Bunte.

Other than that frightening incident, Bunte said most of his activity in recent years has been going to the La Vernia Church of Christ. He said there used to be an area organization of former POWs, but that there weren’t enough of them to keep it going.

But Bunte keeps going, despite Parkinson’s disease, a heart condition, and not seeing very well. The third youngest of six children, Bunte said they are all alive except his oldest brother, who died at age 95.

Sarah and Raymond have a son, Michael, born in 1970, who attended La Vernia schools and currently lives in San Antonio.

As for the bullet in his head, Bunte said, “I kinda forget about it.”

Medals, decorations

Wounded in Rome in 1944, Raymond Bunte was a prisoner of war for 257 days. He served more than 20 years in the military. Among his awards and decorations, Bunte received:

¢Purple Heart

¢Bronze Star

¢Combat Infantry Badge

¢Good Conduct medal

¢Recognition for service in Europe, Africa, and Korea, among others.

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