Private Franklin J. Polster (1919–1944)

Private Franklin J. Polster (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareCigar store manager
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32950468
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “F,” 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman BadgeNormandy

Author’s note: This article incorporates some text from my article about Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton, another Delaware man in Company “A,” 116th Infantry Regiment.

Early Life & Family

Franklin J. Polster and his wife Mae at their wedding in 1942 (Courtesy of the Frank J. Polster)

Franklin Joseph Polster was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 2, 1919.  He was the son of Carrie M. Polster (1896–1987).  He apparently was named after his uncle, also Franklin Joseph Polster (1888–1962).  Polster and his mother were recorded on the census on January 12, 1920 living at 101 North 3rd Street.  Carrie was working as a servant to the Earp family who lived there.  The Polsters appear to have been recorded on the next census on April 14, 1930 (albeit under the last name Holsten or Holster) living at 401 West 7th Street in Wilmington.

Polster graduated from Wilmington High School.  He was recorded on the census on April 12, 1940 living with his mother and uncle at 800 West 4th Street in Wilmington.  His occupation was listed as clerk for a drug company.

When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Polster was described as standing five feet, nine inches tall and weighing 135 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.  He wore eyeglasses.  He listed his employer as United-Whelan Stores, Inc.  Indeed, a July 26, 1944 article in Journal-Every Evening described him as “former manager of the United Cigar Store at Tenth and Market Streets”. 

Polster married Mae Elizabeth Hastings (1925–2014) at the Union Methodist Church in Wilmington on January 10, 1942.  Polster was drafted the following year, around the time that Mae gave birth to a son. 


Private Polster in an undated photo (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

Military Training

Private Polster with his son, probably in late 1943 just prior to going overseas (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

According to his enlistment data card, Polster was inducted into the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey on May 20, 1943.  He went on active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey on June 3, 1943.  Around June 8, 1943, Private Polster began basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia.  He was briefly stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland beginning in November 1943.  The following month, he moved to Camp Shanks, New York, a staging area for the New York Port of Embarkation.  Around January 10, 1944, he shipped out for England.

In England, Private Polster joined Company “F,” 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.  The 29th Infantry Division had originally been composed entirely of men from National Guard units (primarily those from Maryland and Virginia).  However, the division was federalized on February 3, 1941 and personnel (like Polster) subsequently transferred into the division from other parts of the country.  Private Polster’s regiment had arrived in the United Kingdom on October 3, 1942 as part of the buildup prior to the invasion of France.

Private Polster joined the 29th Infantry Division in the middle of training for the invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord.  The division participated in a series of exercises including simulated landings at Slapton Sands, England.  At the same time, on the other side of the English Channel, the Germans were rapidly building up fortifications, obstacles, and minefields on the coast of the countries that they occupied.

Private Polster (left) with two unidentified buddies (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

Preparations for D-Day

Allied planners selected the 116th Infantry Regiment to spearhead the 29th Infantry Division landings on the western portion of Omaha Beach on D-Day.

In his book Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasions and the Liberation of France, Peter Caddick-Adams wrote:

The primary importance of Omaha was in the fact that it lay between Utah and Gold Beaches — fourteen miles as the crow flies to the former, sixteen to the latter.  Linking up with both would be a critical phase in the success of Overlord.  […]  The quickest of overviews indicates just three platoon-sized resistance nests on the coast capable of interfering with the landings at Utah.  The same computation for the five miles of Omaha indicates a much greater density: fourteen equivalent strongpoints, admittedly some unfinished on 6 June, which is why further postponement of D-Day would have spelled disaster.

Caddick-Adams wrote that German troop strength at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 was about three times as strong as Allied intelligence had estimated.  The terrain at Omaha was also particularly tough compared to the other landing beaches, due to high bluffs, with a handful of draws providing the only routes to move men and equipment inland.  In his book Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

The success of the Omaha invasion depended on quick seizure of these draws.  The Yanks expected to be able to drive their trucks and tanks off the beach through these gaps only three hours after the first wave.  The Germans, of course, also recognized the importance of the draws and were prepared to defend them resolutely.

U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson seen in a 1943 photograph taken while the transport was participating in the invasion of Sicily (National Archives via Naval History and Heritage Command)

Leading up to the invasion, Private Polster’s unit staged in Marshalling Area D-9 at Bincombe, in Dorset, England.  On the morning of June 2, 1944, 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment (including Private Polster’s Company “F”) boarded the attack transport U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson in Portland Harbour, England.  The ship’s war diary reported that 1,249 officers and men boarded the ship between 0842 and 1015 hours.

That same day, Private Polster wrote a V-mail to his wife.

Dear Sweetheart:

          Well honey, here is your husband sitting on his bunk thinking of my lovely wife and son.  I certainly am in love with her.  I always will be no matter what happens.  It has been two days and no letters from you, so I just read the letter I will always keep.  The one you wrote to me on our anniversary and look at the swell pictures of my wife and son.  I am proud to have such a good wife and a big strong son.  Thanks a million for such a son.

          I hope the letter finds you and our son in good health.  I certainly am.  How is your work getting along[? …] I keep all the picture of our son and you in my bible close to my heart.  I know that is the best place for it.

          Well honey I guess this is all for now.  Until my next letter.  I love you always. God bless you and Jr.

Love

Your Devoted Husband

He wrote another to Frank:

Dear Son:

          Well Son it has been sometime since I wrote to you but I guess your mother has kept you informed of how I was making out […]  I bet it is nice and warm back home.  Is your mother taking you out for walks whenever she can[?]  She is working too hard.  I wish she would take it easy.

          I received the picture you and mother had taken together.  It is a wonderful picture.  I am very proud for it.  I keep it next to my heart all the time.  I look at it every night.  I can say one thing: I am proud of you.  I guess the next time I see you, you will be so big I won’t know you.

          Well son I guess this is all for now.  Take good care of you[r] mother.  Good-by for now.  God bless you and you[r] mother.

Love

Your father

Private Polster’s June 2, 1944 V-mail to his wife (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)
Private Polster’s June 2, 1944 V-mail to his son (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

D-Day in Normandy

According to the transport’s war diary, the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson remained in Portland Harbour for several days.  The soldiers aboard had a debarkation drill on June 3, 1944 and another on June 5.  At 1658 hours that afternoon, the ship sailed for Normandy, part of a large convoy.  The Jefferson dropped anchor offshore from Omaha Beach at 0324 hours on June 6, 1944.  At 0336 hours, soldiers began boarding the transport’s L.C.V.P.s (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel).  The last boat departed the transport at 0444 hours.  The men of 2nd Battalion endured the 11-mile long run from the transport staging area to the beach in heavy seas.

Private Polster’s Company “F” was part of the first wave of infantry, scheduled to hit the beach at 0631 hours, one minute after H-Hour.  Companies “A,” “E,” “F,” and “G” were supposed to land together.  In the event, Companies “F” and “G” ended up landing near Les Moulins, with the other companies landing too far away to aid one another.  Les Moulins—where sectors Dog Red and Easy Green met—was defended by two German strongpoints (WN-66 and WN-68) sited on either side of the Les Moulins Draw (D-3).

Joseph Balkoski wrote in his book Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944:

The Germans had not been driven from their pillboxes, and the Americans had to cross 400 yards of open beach directly in front of those pillboxes to get at the enemy. Just as they had done at the Vierville draw, the Germans held their fire until most of the LCVPs had been emptied and the men had advanced through the surf up to the first belt of German beach obstacles.

With no place to hide, several F and G Company men […] were cut down the moment the enemy opened fire. Some of the remainder pressed on; others dropped to the sand and crawled forward to seek shelter behind the obstacles. They would not be able to remain there long, as the rapidly rising tide impelled them to move ahead or drown.

Company “F” took heavy losses.  The survivors reached the temporary protection of the shingle embankment at the edge of the beach but were pinned down there.  Balkoski wrote that about 90 minutes into the invasion, battalion commander Major Sidney Bingham “collected as many willing and able-bodied men as he could find” from Polster’s company and 2nd Battalion headquarters “and organized a desperate frontal attack over the shingle” directed at a house that the Germans had fortified on the eastern side of the draw.

Les Moulins proved to be a particularly tough objective.  The strongpoints were finally flanked and neutralized by other battalions on the afternoon of June 6, but it wasn’t until June 8 that Allied forces finished mopping up the last German holdouts in Les Moulins. 

Private Polster was—almost certainly—among the men from Company “F,” 116th Infantry Regiment killed in action on D-Day.  (See the Notes section below, which discusses some documents that state that he was killed on June 9.) As with so many other men who died that day, the specific circumstances by which he lost his life are unknown.  He was initially buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery, St. Laurent (Plot F, Row 1, Grave 17).  After the war, Private Polster’s mother requested that his body be returned home. 

Private Polster’s Purple Heart certificate (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

Polster’s body was disinterred on September 17, 1947 and was repatriated to the United States several months later.  After services at the Yeatman & Son funeral home in Wilmington on February 12, 1948, he was buried in nearby Riverview Cemetery.  For years afterword, members of his family had a memorial message run in a Wilmington newspaper on June 6, with the last in 1972 placed by “Mother and Son.”

Private Polster’s decorations include the Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Arrowhead device and one bronze service star.

A display of Private Polster’s decorations. (The blue and yellow medal and diamond shaped badge are from his son Frank’s service.) The Bronze Star Medal was awarded postwar based on a 1947 decision that anyone qualifying for the Combat Infantryman Badge during the war had thereby fulfilled the requirements to be awarded the Bronze Star. (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

Notes

Wife’s Year of Birth

Mae Hastings’s birth year was listed as 1922 on her marriage certificate to Polster but 1925 in other sources.  She remarried on November 16, 1944.

Beginning of Basic Training

The diary of military service dates stated that Private Polster began his basic training at Camp Wheeler on June 8, 1943, while the State of Delaware Individual Military Service Record filled out by his mother gave the date as June 10.

Diary of Private Polster’s dates of service (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

Date of Death

Private Polster’s official date of death is June 6, 1944 and that is his most likely date of death.  However, the Company “F” morning report recorded him as being killed in action on June 9, 1944.  Some early documentation (i.e. his Purple Heart certificate) also has that date.  June 6, 1944 was the date of death supplied to his family.  A headstone application listing June 6, 1944 was initially flagged for review due to a report of June 9 as the date of death, but the objection was dropped based on a War Department letter confirming the June 6, 1944 date of death.  The 1947 disinterment directive also listed Polster’s date of June 6, 1944.

Company “F” sustained very heavy casualties on June 6, 1944.  However, the morning report for that date recorded only 15 dead and 15 wounded.  The June 7, 1944 morning report listed 18 wounded.  The June 9, 1944 morning report listed three men killed in action (including Private Polster), two wounded, and 15 men missing in action. 

It seems clear that most of those 68 casualties occurred on D-Day, not June 7–9, when the company was involved only in limited mopping up actions in the vicinity of Les Moulins, Louviers, Grandcamp, and Longueville.  Ideally, the company clerk preparing subsequent reports would have backdated any casualties that had in fact occurred on previous days.  Morning reports filed by other companies in the 116th Infantry Regiment did so.  However, no casualties were backdated in any Company “F” morning report until June 12, when some of those men listed as missing on June 9 were updated as having been killed in action on June 6!

Private Polster’s son spoke with several members of his father’s company decades after the war.  None remembered seeing what happened to him, nor did any recall seeing him after June 6. 

It is conceivable that some casualties might have been sustained in mopping up operations, due to landmines, or hazards.  However, it is beyond dispute that most Company “F” casualties recorded in morning reports as happening on June 7–9 in fact happened on June 6, due to the clerk’s failure to backdate.  In that context, that the War Department listed Private Polster’s date of death as June 6 is most likely correct.

A presidential letter which cites the June 9, 1944 date of death (Courtesy of Frank J. Polster)

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Private Polster’s son Frank J. Polster for providing the photos used in this article as well as many valuable documents.

This piece is part of a series honoring fallen service members. Additional tributes by the author can be viewed here.


Bibliography

Applications for Headstones, compiled 01/01/1925 – 06/30/1970, documenting the period ca. 1776 – 1970.  Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774 –1985.  The National Archives at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421401755_0409-00827   

Balkoski, Joseph.  Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy.  Revised ed.  Stackpole Books, 2005.

Balkoski, Joseph.  Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944.  Stackpole Books, 2004.

Caddick-Adams, Peter.  Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasions and the Liberation of France.  Oxford University Press, 2019.

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12425-33776-15, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12352-36974-12    

“Former Cigar Store Manager Killed Overseas.”  Journal-Every Evening, July 26, 1944.  Pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/76544092/franklin-polster-kia/

“In Memoriam.”  The Morning News, June 6, 1972.  Pg. 19.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/76701086/polster-1972/

Morning Reports for Company “F,” 116th Infantry Regiment.  June 1944.  National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Polster, Carrie.  Franklin Joseph Polster Individual Military Service Record, September 7, 1945.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.   https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/20330

Polster, Franklin J.  Correspondence and diary of service dates.  Courtesy of Frank J. Polster.

“PVT Franklin Joseph Polster.”  Find a Grave.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/17598466/franklin-joseph-polster

“Rites Set Thursday For GI Killed On D-Day.”  Wilmington Morning News, February 9, 1948. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/76698815/franklin-j-polster-funeral/

Silverman, Lowell.  “Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton (1917–1944).”  https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2021/05/17/private-1st-class-walter-s-brinton/

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946.  Revised ed.  Stackpole Books, 2006.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.     https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295772-00221

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531893_00722    

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00549-00291

“War Diary, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson.” June 1944. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945.  Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/276947348

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  https://www.fold3.com/record/86654532/franklin-j-polster-wwii-army-enlistment-records

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947.  Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System.  National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_13_00006-00281   


Last updated on May 24, 2021

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