“Through the fires, through the waters, through the terrible times, one thing you can always see, is you can see Jesus leading the way. There is hope.”
It was 1943.
Fred Lunsford, at 18, had just been drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in World War II.
Kenneth Woodard, then 22, was already serving in the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion, driving military trucks and cranes in the South Pacific.
Both of these men from western North Carolina fought for our nation. God’s plan was evident in their lives.
Woodard helped build men’s dining facilities, drain swamps and pave the way for runaways and roads on islands like Guam and Iwo Jima.
“They built runways for airplanes to land on, and take off from to head towards Japan,” said Warren Woodard, Kenneth’s son.
At times, Wοοdard underwent sniper fire while unloading equipment on the beaches, seeing sand pop right near him.
His work helped soldiers, such as Lunsford, be able to fight.
In 1944, Lunsford was sent to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion but was first given another assignment. With two years of typing experience in high school, Lunsford traveled to London to help with a typist shortage in support of the war effort.
That opportunity delayed him from participating in the first day of the Normandy invasion. It very well might have saved his life.
On June 7, 1944, Lunsford joined the invasion at Normandy, having lost many friends who were sent to the beach the day before. Lunsford guessed that of the 13,000 that were on his ship, 90% were in the Normandy Invasion and at least 40% of them were killed.
“When we got on the sandy shores of the Normandy Beach, there were dead bodies scattered all over the beach,” Lunsford recalled. “[There was] blood-stained sand. I walked through blood, walked over bodies, climbed up the incline, and my best friend by my side fell. It was a bullet.
“And on we went,” Lunsford said. The next morning, bulldozers hurriedly dug a channel to bury all of the dead bodies.
“It had been a nightmare for me,” Lunsford said. “That was a horrifying thing to think about.
“At the same time, I was a Christian, and I knew Jesus as my Savior.”
His faith would carry him through the war.
Later in France, Lunsford encountered the excruciating smell of decaying flesh in a heavily shelled area. He met a man, also 19 at the time, sitting on the side of the road with a bruised head and bloody hands.
“There’s no hope,” the man said, weeping. Lunsford asked him if he was a Christian.
“There is hope,” Lunsford told him. “Get up from there, come on, let’s go.”
Following the war, Woodard and Lunsford returned safely to their homes in western North Carolina. Woodard pursued a career as an electrician and plumber. Lunsford was also a plumber and eventually felt called to be a pastor.
The two men crossed paths when another local pastor wanted to have a prayer meeting.
The pastor lived in the old Truett home, where George W. Truett — one of the most well-known Southern Baptist preachers — was born.
At the time, Lunsford was pastor of Little Brasstown Baptist Church in Brasstown, and Woodard served as a deacon at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Hayesville.
The local pastor took the group behind the Truett home and said, “My wife and I feel like God [wants us] to use this property for a camp for children, for boys especially. We wanted to gather you guys to pray about it.”
So, they circled together and prayed. In 1953, the following year, they held their first boys’ camp using some old army tents at the Truett property, adjacent to the homeplace. Soon after, both Lunsford and Woodard helped construct the camp’s first concrete building nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
That was the humble beginnings of Truett Conference Center & Camp in Clay County.
“Over the years, Dad helped sustain it,” said Warren Woodard. “In the early days, there wasn’t a lot of money. Between him and these other men, they were able to fund enough money to keep it going, to keep the lights on.”
For their generosity, the camp cafeteria was named in the veteran and his wife’s honor: Kenneth and Mildred Woodard Dining Hall.
In addition to his financial role, Woodard was heavily involved in leading Truett Camp.
“Dad was in a leadership position, taking young boys, myself included, [to] go camping,” Warren explained.
In the meantime, Lunsford served on the camp committee for the region for more than a dozen years and constantly spoke at the center. In 1964, Lunsford became the director of missions for the two Baptist associations in Cherokee and Clay counties, which merged into what is now called the Truett Association.
“He was very prominent in realizing that the growth of churches was keyed by programming for young people and children,” said Ben Lunsford, Fred Lunsford’s son. Ben recalls going with his dad to the camp property when things were being built and trails cut. He attended the camp and later worked at Truett as a camp counselor.
“[Dad] believed that a Christian-based camp experience would be very formative for boys and girls,” Ben Lunsford said. “The options for mountain children to have camp experiences were slim to none, particularly if you were poor.”
Sixty-eight years later, the now boys’ and girls’ camp is still leading people to Christ.
“There’s been hundreds and hundreds of [children] saved through that camp,” Lunsford said.
An ongoing battle
Today, Lunsford is 97 and Woodard is 101 years old. They are still fighting the same battle — a spiritual one for America.
David Horton, president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College, got a closeup view of this fight when he and a few others visited Lunsford in his home in Marble. Lunsford greeted them barefoot, still affected by the frostbite he received during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.
“The interesting thing about Fred is it was almost like we had to force him to talk about the fact that he was a hero in the war,” Horton explained. “Fred wanted to talk most about prayer, and he had a desire that God had put on his heart to lead a million people to pray for revival and spiritual awakening.”
For the past three years, Lunsford has been leading a movement called “Praying on the Mountain,” trying to get as many people as possible to pray for spiritual awakening.
“He took time to tell us some stories of being in the war, but his primary mission and goal in life at this point is to fight a spiritual battle,” Horton continued. “He believes that battle is best won through prayer. … I think World War II, although it’s always in his mind, it’s not nearly as important as the spiritual battle that he’s fighting now.”
Though the battle is difficult, the same remains true today as what Lunsford shared with the young man on the side of the road during World War II.
“Through the fires, through the waters, through the terrible times, one thing you can always see, is you can see Jesus leading the way,” Lunsford said. “There is hope.”
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer