|Home State||Civilian Employer|
|Delaware||Sun Oil Company|
|European||Company “A,” 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division|
Author’s note: This article incorporates some text from my article about Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton, another Delawarean in Company “A,” 116th Infantry Regiment.
Early Life & Family
James Merritt Padley was born at the Delaware Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, on the evening of September 24, 1923. He was the firstborn (and apparently only) child of James Vandegrift Padley (a farmer, 1898–1953) and Gertrude Baker Padley (1903–1998).
The family was recorded on the census on April 7, 1930, living on River Road in Red Lion Hundred west of Delaware City. Around 1932, the family moved to Claymont after James V. Padley became the farm superintendent at the Delaware Industrial School for Girls (also known as the Wood Haven School for Girls). By the time they were next recorded on the census on April 2, 1940, the Padley family was living on Darley Road in Claymont.
Journal-Every Evening reported that Padley was “An honor student as well as an athlete” at Claymont High School and “had received several awards for track, football, and basketball.”
When he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942―the same month he graduated from high school―Padley was still living with his parents on Darley Road but was working for the Sun Oil Company in nearby Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. The following year, when Padley was drafted, his occupation was recorded on his enlistment data card as “Semiskilled construction occupations.” His religious preference was recorded as Protestant in military paperwork. Military records describe him as standing five feet, 7¼ inches tall and weighing 155 lbs., with blond hair and blue eyes.
Padley was inducted into the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on February 18, 1943. Private Padley went to basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, an Infantry Replacement Training Center (from March 3, 1943, through June 4, 1943, according to his mother’s statement). Next, Padley was stationed at a replacement depot, Camp Shenango, Pennsylvania, from June 10, 1943, through July 18, 1943. He went overseas later that month. These dates are supported by paperwork in Padley’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F.), which stated that he was at Fort Dix in March 1943, Camp Wolters from March to June 1943, and the Shenango Personnel Depot in June and July 1943.
Soldiers sometimes had the opportunity to visit home after completing their stateside training and before going overseas, but Padley did not. In a letter to the Adjutant General’s Office dated March 13, 1945, Gertrude Padley lamented: “Private Padley never had a furlough from the time he was inducted until he landed in England. Then it was too late.”
Padley’s mother wrote that after her son arrived in the United Kingdom on August 6, 1943, he 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. Many of the original guardsmen remained even as men from other parts of the country joined the division. The division arrived in the United Kingdom in October 1942 and spent the next 20 months training. Private Padley arrived just prior to the start of the division’s amphibious training in preparation for the invasion of France (Operation Overlord). Padley’s mother wrote that her son was promoted to private 1st class in November 1943. Journal-Every Evening stated that Private 1st Class Padley “had written to his parents one week before the invasion, saying he had completed his course at communications school in the Infantry.”
Leading up to D-Day in Normandy, the 29th Infantry Division participated in a series of exercises including simulated landings at Slapton Sands, England. 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.
D-Day in Normandy
1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment (including Private 1st Class Padley’s Company “A”) sailed from England aboard the transport S.S. Empire Javelin. Early on the morning of June 6, 1944, Company “A” boarded a group of six Royal Navy L.C.A.s (Landing Craft, Assault). Private 1st Class Padley was assigned to LCA-911. As a radio operator, he would have probably been positioned in the bow with the boat’s officer, 2nd Lieutenant Edward Marcellus Gearing (1924–1962).
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.
Peter Caddick-Adams wrote in Sand & Steel:
Lieutenant Jimmy Green of the 551st LCA Flotilla, skipper of LCA-910, was in charge of the first ‘flight’ of six boats from the Javelin. […] Green launched early, knowing the sea state would slow them down. As they left, his craft was hit in the stern by LCA-911 and began taking on water. It was too late to change boats so they continued with the hand pump at its maximum.
About 1,000 yards offshore, LCA-911 began to sink. In Sand & Steel, Caddick-Adams quoted Lieutenant Green’s account of the incident:
It was beginning to get light and about time to form line abreast and make our dash for the shore. I turned round to see the bow of LCA-911 dipping into the sea and disappearing below the waves. It goes against the grain for a sailor to leave his comrades in the sea, but we had no room and our orders were to leave survivors in the sea to be picked up later.
In email correspondence, Joseph Balkoski stated:
Some accounts say that the LCA hit an obstacle or a mine, but the true cause of the loss was a collision of two LCAs as they were being lowered into the sea in preparation for the trip to the beach. There was a hole somewhere in the hull in which water came through too fast for the men to bale it out.
Caddick-Adams quoted one of the soldiers aboard, John J. Barnes, about what happened next: “The boat went down and we all floated to the surface except the radioman who apparently had strapped the radio to his back and got caught in the boat and never did come up.”
Similarly, Joseph Balkoski wrote in his book, Omaha Beach:
As the LCA disappeared beneath their feet, the men activated carbon dioxide capsules to inflate their life belts and waged frantic life-or-death struggles to shed heavy equipment before the sea swallowed them forever. Only one man, radio operator PFC Jim Padley, drowned. He was last seen on the crest of a swell, and then he was gone. The rest would later be rescued by Green and returned to Empire Javelin.
Private 1st Class Padley was the first man from Company “A,” 116th Infantry Regiment to die on D-Day. Those men did reach the beach were decimated by enemy fire. By some estimates, over half the men in Company “A” were killed before the end of the day, most of them in the opening minutes of the landing. Understandably, recordkeeping was poor in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. He was recorded as missing in action on a company morning report only on June 9, 1944.
Recovery & Repatriation
Padley’s body was carried east by the current and eventually washed ashore in the vicinity of Ecqueville, north of the city of Le Havre. German soldiers, apparently from the local garrison (which had batteries that were part of the Atlantic Wall), discovered his body on July 12, 1944. They deemed that the condition of the body precluded movement to a cemetery, so they buried his body on the beach and erected a cross with his name and the date of recovery.
German authorities notified the War Department via the International Red Cross that Padley’s body had been buried in Ecqueville. They forwarded one of his dog tags, which remains preserved in his I.D.P.F. Although the German recovery team reported making a sketch of the isolated grave, the sketch was not discovered with German records pertaining to the burial seized after the conclusion of the Normandy campaign. Padley’s body would not be recovered for more than two years, though Padley’s parents had confirmation of their son’s death by February 13, 1945, when the news was printed in Journal-Every Evening. Correspondence in Padley’s I.D.P.F. documents his parents’ despair at being unable to learn more about the circumstances of Padley’s death and the location of his burial.
On or around November 21, 1946, more than a year after the end of the war in Europe, a British officer searching for missing members of the Royal Air Force discovered Private 1st Class Padley’s grave on the beach. The discovery was fortuitous, as erosion was severe enough that he deemed it likely that the grave would have been washed away in the next few days. Local civilians denied any knowledge of the gravesite. British grave registration authorities exhumed Padley’s body and brought it to Rouen, where they determined that the body was most likely American and turned it over American Graves Registration Command.
American authorities conducted a forensic analysis of the body. Although his second dog tag was not located, the contents of his wallet, the name on the cross, and dental records confirmed his identity as Private 1st Class Padley. On December 17, 1946, he was reburied at the U.S. Military Cemetery Blosville (Plot DD, Row 7, Grave 132), located in Carquebut, France.
In September 1947, Padley’s parents requested that their son’s body be repatriated to the United States. His body was disinterred on February 16, 1948, and returned to the United States the following month aboard the U.S.A.T. John L. McCarley. After a funeral at Hearn Funeral Home in Wilmington on May 1, 1948, Padley was buried in St. Georges Cemetery in St. Georges, Delaware. His parents were also buried there after their deaths.
Place of Birth
Padley’s draft card gave his place of birth as Wilmington, while the Individual Military Service Record filled out by his mother for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission listed Delaware City. His birth certificate shows that he was born in Wilmington, though the family was living in or near Delaware City at the time.
Father’s Employment and Move
James V. Padley’s obituary, printed in the Wilmington Morning News on February 13, 1953, stated he was “former farm superintendent for the Woods Haven School for Girls, Claymont” for 19 years prior to his retirement circa 1951.
Morning Report Details
Private 1st Class Padley’s status was initially recorded in a company morning report on June 9, 1944, as missing in action and dropped from the rolls effective August 8. He was listed as killed in action on the official casualty list. Technically, he died of non-battle causes because the landing craft sank due to an accidental collision and/or heavy seas, not enemy action.
1944 Burial Location
Most records in Padley’s I.D.P.F. stated his body washed up at Ecqueville. Some 1946 records list a similarly named nearby village instead: Heuqueville. A contemporary German document included in the I.D.P.F. listed Ecqueville, so it seems likely that Heuqueville was an error that entered the historical record after his recovery.
Special thanks to Joe Balkoski for his assistance in unraveling some of the mysteries this piece presented and to Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Private 1st Class Padley.
“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_0012-02193
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.
Balkoski, Joseph. Email correspondence, March 14, 2021.
“Blosville Cemetery – Then, Later and Now.” 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment website. http://www.508pir.org/album_lewis/lewis_items_05.htm
Caddick-Adams, Peter. Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasions and the Liberation of France. Oxford University Press, 2019.
“Identification of Unknown Deceased X-381.” May 5, 1947. Blosville France Reference Sheet for Identified X-Files. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General. National Archives at Suitland, Maryland.
“Invasion Hero Returned.” Journal-Every Evening, March 31, 1948. Pg. 24. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73518330/padley-return/
James M. Padley Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
James Merritt Padley certificate of birth, September 24, 1923. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.
“James V. Padley.” Wilmington Morning News, February 13, 1953. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73516559/james-v-padley-obit/
Padley, Gertrude B. James Merritt Padley Individual Military Service Record, circa 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/20205
“PFC James Merritt Padley.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14449057/james-merritt-padley
“Rites Saturday for 3 War Heroes.” Wilmington Morning News, April 29, 1948. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73517282/padley-funeral/
Silverman, Lowell. “Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton (1917–1944).” Delaware’s World War II Fallen website, May 17, 2021. Updated February 9, 2022. 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. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00457
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-t0627-00545-00179
“Sergeant, Wounded at Biak, Recovers and Rejoins Unit.” Journal-Every Evening, July 20, 1944. Pg. 10. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73517580/james-padley-kia/
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/86507879/james-m-padley-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_03_00002-01197, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_03_00002-01199
Last updated on April 14, 2022
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