Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton (1917–1944)

Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareMachinist for the Pennsylvania Railroad
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32267437
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “A,” 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartNormandy

Early Life & Family

Walter Stanley Brinton was born in Wilmington, Delaware on December 29, 1917.  He was the son of Willard Leighton Brinton (1884–1937) and Viola Brinton (née Cobb, c. 1893–1981).  His father and grandfather were both machinists.  Walter grew up with an older half-brother and an older brother; much later, his half-sister was born (see notes section for further about his siblings).  The Brinton family was recorded on the census on January 3, 1920 living at 2225 Carter Street in Wilmington.  By the time of the next census, on April 10, 1930, the Brinton family had moved to 7 Buena Vista Street in Wilmington. 

Various sources listed contradictory details about Walter’s education.  According to a December 4, 1947 Journal-Every Evening article, Walter graduated from Pierre S. Dupont High School.  The 1940 census stated he had completed one year of high school, while his enlistment data stated that he completed three years.

As of April 15, 1940, following the death of Walter’s father, the rest of the Brinton family was living at 12 Buena Vista Street, where they were boarders at David Roney’s house.  Walter was described as a general helper at a grocery store.  However, by October 16, 1940, when he registered for the draft, he was working as a machinist at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Wilmington Shops.  At the time, Brinton was described as standing five feet, nine inches tall and weighing 150 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes.


Stateside Training

After Brinton was drafted, he went on active duty in the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey on May 12, 1942.  Private Brinton was assigned to Company “A,” 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, but also a handful from Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.).  However, the division was federalized on February 3, 1941 and subsequently stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.  Many of the original guardsmen remained even as men from other parts of the country (like Brinton) joined the division.

According to the Individual Military Service Record filled out by his mother for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Private Brinton joined the division at Fort Meade in May 1942.  However, the regiment had moved from Fort Meade to Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia in April 1942 (followed by maneuvers in the Carolinas in July and a move to Camp Blanding, Florida in 1942).  It’s possible that Private Brinton attended basic training at Fort Meade before joining the unit. 

Brinton’s mother wrote that her son moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey in September 1942 and went overseas that same month.  Indeed, the 29th Infantry Division arrived at Camp Kilmer in September 1942.  The 116th Infantry Regiment boarded the ocean liner turned troopship R.M.S. Queen Mary on September 26, 1942 at the New York Port of Embarkation, shipping out the following morning. 


Training in the United Kingdom

The transatlantic voyage was marred by an accident on October 2, 1942 in which the Queen Mary collided with and sank an escorting cruiser—H.M.S. Curacoa—with heavy loss of life.  The following day, Queen Mary arrived in Greenock, Scotland.

The 29th Infantry Division spent the next 20 months training in the United Kingdom.   Initially based at Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire, England the division moved to southwest England in May 1943.  The division was not deployed to the Mediterranean Theater and its men would not enter combat until the invasion of France (Operation Overlord).  Brinton’s mother stated that he “Went to school in England and studied communication and radio” and was a “communication man” but did not know any other details of his military service prior to the invasion of Normandy.  That implied that he was a radio operator (or less likely, a wireman).  Brinton was promoted to private 1st class on an unknown date prior to June 6, 1944.

The 29th Infantry Division began amphibious training in September 1943.  In the months that followed, 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. 

Allied planners selected the 116th Infantry Regiment to spearhead the 29th Infantry Division landings on the western portion of Omaha Beach on D-Day, with Company “A” assigned to sector “Dog Green,” near Vierville-sur-Mer, France.  Company “A” was the lead company in 1st Battalion and scheduled to land with the first wave of infantry to hit the beach.

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.  He also observed that:

Utah’s defenders were largely distracted by the sudden presence of two American airborne formations dropping in their midst.  The garrison behind Omaha — larger in strength, and lurking in more and better-prepared defensive positions — would have no such interference.  Undoubtedly, the appearance of Allied airborne forces behind the defenders of Omaha would have made all the difference.  This had been the original COSSAC [Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander] plan, and there were additional trained formations (British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade) in England, but no additional airlift capacity, spare gliders or tugs, to deploy a fourth airborne formation simultaneously into battle with the existing three.

The terrain at Omaha Beach was particularly tough, 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.


D-Day in Normandy

1st Battalion (including Private 1st Class Brinton’s Company “A”) sailed from England aboard the transport S.S. Empire Javelin.  Early on the morning of June 6, 1944, Brinton’s company boarded a group of six L.C.A.s (Landing Craft, Assault).  If his mother’s account was correct and Brinton was indeed a radio operator, he most likely would have stood in the bow of one of the boats, accompanying an officer. 

The naval bombardment preceding the landing had only limited effect and heavy bombers dropped their ordnance well inland.  Planners decided to begin the landings close to low tide so that engineers could eliminate obstacles that would otherwise have been underwater later in the day.  Although that would make things easier for the follow-up waves, the first troops to land would have to cross a much longer stretch of beach on foot while under fire.

In his book Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

It took about an hour to load the first-wave boats and lower them into the sea.  This was the moment when the 29ers most needed their seasickness pills; for in the rough seas off Normandy, the little assault boats bombed up and down on the waves like bathtub toys.  […]  According to the plan, the first wave of the 116th Infantry would hit the beach at exactly 6:31 A.M.  The 116th’s three transports were anchored eleven miles offshore, so plenty of time had to be allowed for the nine-knot landing craft to reach the beach at their appointed times.

On the way to the beach, one of the landing craft (LCA-911) foundered, killing another Delawarean, Private 1st Class James M. Padley.  Much of the armor and artillery earmarked to support the infantry at Omaha beach also sank offshore.  Then 100 yards from the beach, another landing craft “was hit by a shell—some said it was a mine—and the boat disintegrated.”

The remaining four landing craft made it to the beach, only for their occupants to be decimated by machine gun fire from the bluffs as soon as they began struggling ashore.  The only cover—ironically, the beach obstacles—provided scant protection.  The Company “A” commanding officer, Captain Taylor Fellers, and every soldier aboard his landing craft were killed.

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

The primary source of the killing was probably an enemy pillbox camouflaged nearly perfectly in the folds of the bluff about 220 yards west of the Vierville draw. This pillbox was sited to fire only eastward, and through its firing slit, occupants had an idea view of the beach where Company A disembarked.  At about 400 yards range, a German manning a fixed machine gun with a perfect flank shot could hardly miss.

Only a handful of men made it to the relative safety of the base of the bluffs (though most men from LCA-911 were rescued).  Compounding the tragedy, the remainder of 1st Battalion (except Company “C,” which landed further east than planned) landed in successive waves and were decimated just as Company “A” had been.  The survivors of the 116th Infantry Regiment and other units eventually pushed their way up the draws and eliminated the German positions one by one. 

By some casualty estimates, by the end of D-Day, over half the men in Company “A” were dead.  One of them was Private 1st Class Brinton.  There is no known documentation for how he died; no cause of death was recorded in the report of burial or report of death in his Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F.).  Brinton was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.  His mother wrote that she was notified by telegram that he was missing in action followed by an August 1, 1944 letter from the War Department informing her of his death on June 6. 

Private 1st Class Brinton was originally buried on June 10, 1944 at the U.S. Military Cemetery St. Laurent, France (Plot A, Row 10, Grave 184).  After the war, Brinton’s mother requested that his body be returned to the United States.  His body was disinterred on September 17, 1947 and returned to the United States aboard the U.S.A.T. Robert F. Burns.  After his funeral at the Pentecostal Church of Delaware on December 6, 1947, he was buried in the Riverview Cemetery in Wilmington. 


Notes

Siblings

Walter had an older brother Willard L. Brinton (1915– 1971, who was buried alongside Walter after his death), as well as two half-siblings.  Brinton’s half-brother, Edward I. Brinton (1907–1975) was the son of Amanda E. Brinton (née Palmer), who died just one month after giving birth.  Walter’s younger half-sister Audrey Roe (later Corrie and then Glass, 1942–2002) was his mother’s daughter with Howard Roe (1897–1960), who she married in 1941.

Residence

Although the Brintons initially lived there as boarders, Brinton’s mother and her second husband purchased the home at 12 Buena Vista Street on June 7, 1944, one day after Brinton’s death.

Place of employment

The maintenance yard known as Wilmington Shops still exists, now operated by Amtrak.

Bedford, Virginia

Companies of the 116th Infantry Regiment had been based in towns across Virginia, with Company “A” at the Bedford Armory.  35 federalized Virginia National Guardsmen from Bedford remained in the company.  23 men Company “A” men from Bedford were killed in action in Normandy, including an astonishing 19 on D-Day alone.

Company “A,” 116th Infantry Regiment D-Day strength and casualties

The precise number of men who were about the six L.C.A.s as well as the number of Company “A” casualties is uncertain.  There are no known lists of men assigned to each landing craft, which makes determining the fate of each man more difficulty, though each boat had approximately 31 soldiers aboard (totaling about 186 men in the wave). 

According to a compilation of morning reports posted on the 116th Infantry Regiment Foundation website, on June 6, 1944 alone, Company “A” suffered 98 dead, 22 wounded (of whom one later died of wounds), and one captured.  That includes morning reports from later dates which specified the event as having occurred on June 6, 1944.  Even these figures contain errors.  For example, Private 1st Class James M. Padley was killed when his landing craft sank on D-Day but he was listed as missing in action on June 9, 1944.  Similarly, 1st Lieutenant Elisha R. Nance was wounded on D-Day but the injury was recorded the following day.  It is also possible that some casualties for the days following the invasion were erroneously attributed to June 6. 

Caddick-Adams, citing John Robert Slaughter’s book Omaha Beach and Beyond, stated that “of the 180 who set up in [Royal Naval Sub-lieutenant] Jimmy Green’s little flotilla of six boats, ninety-one of the landing party died within minutes from gunshot wounds or drowning.” 

Although all these figures are at best estimates, it seems clear that in its first day or days in combat, the company suffered close to 50% fatalities.

Cause of death

A hospital admission card was filled under Brinton’s service number, but like the other documents, did not record his cause of death.  These cards were filled out even when a soldier did not survive long enough to get to medical treatment and there is no indication that Private 1st Class Brinton made it to an aid station or hospital.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Private 1st Class Brinton.

This piece was written by Lowell Silverman, part of a series honoring fallen service members. Additional tributes by the author can be viewed here.


Bibliography

“1/116 Morning Reports WWII.”  The 116th Infantry Regiment Foundation, Inc website.  https://116thfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/116MorRpt.xls

“116th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, A Company – Group Critique Notes.”  D-Day Overlord website.  https://www.dday-overlord.com/en/battle-of-normandy/after-action-reports/29th-infantry/116th-ir-1st-bn-a-co

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_644066_0362-03127

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.

“Death of Mrs. William Brinton.”  The Morning News, March 9, 1907.  Pg. 9.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73357242/william-brinton-first-wife-death/

Individual Deceased Personnel File for Walter S. Brinton.  National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Roe, Viola.  Walter S. Brinton Individual Military Service Record, December 4, 1944.  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/17825/rec/4

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 and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295770-00275,   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295770-00276 

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.     https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531893_00029 

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.     https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00551-00676

“Viola Roe.”  The Morning News, August 11, 1981.  Pg. C5.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/68955853/viola-roe/

“Willard L. Brinton.”  Find a Grave.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/117252657/willard-l.-brinton

“W. S. Brinton, Slain On D-Day, to Be Buried.”  Journal-Every Evening, December 4, 1947.  Pg. B19.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73355340/walter-s-brinton-funeral/

World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. The National Archives at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6482/images/005207038_04508

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/86130431/walter-s-brinton-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_02_00001-01346  


Last updated on May 18, 2021

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