|Born in Maryland, moved to Delaware as an adult||Machine helper at Curtis Paper Mill|
|European||Headquarters & Service Troop, 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 11th Cavalry Group|
|Purple Heart||Roer River/Operation Grenade|
Early Life & Family
Homer Burton Wooleyhan was born in Millington, Maryland (located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland) on August 28, 1918. He was the son of Clinton E. (a farmer, 1872–1950) and Clara M. Wooleyhan (née Boggs, 1877–1925). He had at least three brothers and five sisters. (A family tree states a fourth older brother died as a child.) The family was recorded on the census on January 15, 1920 as living in Dixon, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland (under the name Wooleyhand).
Based on his signature and the 1940 census, Wooleyhan went by his middle name, Burton. According to an April 7, 1945 article in Journal-Every Evening, Wooleyhan lived with his sister in Templeville, Maryland after his mother died, graduated from Sudlersville High School, and moved to Newark around 1939. However, the 1940 census stated that Wooleyan’s highest completed level of education was eighth grade; likewise, his enlistment data card gave his education level as grammar school. The Journal-Every Evening article stated that Wooleyhan “was known as a dancer and had won several dancing contests.”
By the time he was recorded on the census on April 13, 1940, Wooleyhan had moved to 20 East Cleveland Avenue in Newark, Delaware. At the time, he and his older brother Julian were living as a lodger at the home of Oscar Knox. Homer was working as a machine helper at the nearby Curtis Paper Mill. Knox, a coworker, worked as an engineer at the paper mill. When Wooleyhan registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was described as standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing 140 lbs., with black hair and brown eyes.
Wooleyhan was drafted before the U.S. entered World War II. He was inducted in Trenton, New Jersey on March 4, 1941. According to a State of Delaware Individual Military Service Record filled out by Wooleyhan’s coworker and landlord, Oscar Knox, Wooleyhan trained at a number of stateside installations. It is unclear if Knox placed them in order: Fort Riley, Kansas; Camp Gordon, Georgia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His statement also stated that Wooleyhan trained in the California desert, but not when that was relative to his other assignments. The April 7, 1945 Journal-Every Evening article stated that Wooleyhan “attended specialist schools at Milwaukee, Wis., and Kansas City, Kan.”
Knox’s statement indicates that Wooleyhan joined the 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized) stateside. Though it is not clear when Wooleyhan joined that unit, the squadron’s movements (as recorded in the group history, The Eleventh Cavalry from The Roer to the Elbe 1944–1945) were consistent with several locations that Knox mentioned. The 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was originally the 8th Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 8th Motorized Division at Fort Jackson in 1942.
The unit was subsequently stationed at Fort Leonard Wood and after maneuvers in the deserts of Arizona and California, joined the 11th Cavalry Group at Camp Hyder, Arizona on August 1, 1943. (The 11th Cavalry Group also had the 90th Reconnaissance Squadron, later redesignated the 36th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.) The group transferred to Camp Pilot Knob, California shortly thereafter. The 8th Reconnaissance Squadron was redesignated the 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron on December 22, 1943. Early the following year, the squadron headed east back across the country, split between several installations with the 44th at Camp Stoney Field, South Carolina. In mid-1944, the entire 11th Cavalry Group moved to Camp Gordon and then staged at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey before going overseas from the New York Port of Embarkation.
As their name implied, the U.S. Army intended cavalry reconnaissance units to perform the traditional cavalry role of reconnaissance and screening the flanks of heavier units. They were still lightly armed and highly mobile, but were equipped with jeeps, armored cars, and light tanks instead of horses. In actual combat, the cavalry reconnaissance units performed reconnaissance only occasionally (approximately 3% of their missions).
Harry Yeide argued in his book Steeds of Steel: A History of American Mechanized Cavalry in World War II that “The radio was arguably the main weapon of the mechanized cavalry, because with it the cavalryman could set in motion events leading to the destruction of enemy forces they observed.” The role was aptly summarized in a song from Wooleyhan’s unit recounted by Yeide:
Oh, we’re the suicide unit of the fighting 44th
First to sight the enemy and strike with lightning force
With eyes of an eagle, we watch his every move
Report it to the proper ones; the enemy is through.
Knox stated that Wooleyhan was promoted from private to staff sergeant in March 1942. Although it is not possible to confirm that rapid advance with his records at this time, such four grade jumps were not unheard during the U.S. Army’s rapid expansion after entering World War II. Those men who were drafted earlier could find themselves quickly elevated to become noncommissioned officers despite just a few months seniority over newer soldiers. However, it could also be the result of limitations in what Knox knew (or the fact that the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission provided limited space to list promotions). An honor roll on the 11th Armored Cavalry’s Veterans of Vietnam & Cambodia website stated that Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan was in the 44th’s Headquarters & Service Troop.
Combat in the European Theater
Knox stated that Woolehan went overseas with the 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, shipping out from New York in September 1944. That’s consistent with the unit history; the 11th Cavalry Group left the New York Port of Embarkation on September 28, 1944. The unit arrived in Greenock, Scotland on October 10, 1944. The 11th Cavalry Group crossed the English Channel on November 23, 1944, with the 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron disembarking in Rouen, Normandy. The unit moved northeast to the front lines along the Roer River, arriving at Gereonsweiler, Germany on December 12, 1944. Soon afterward, to the south, the German offensive through the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge began. The 11th Cavalry Group’s sector was quiet by comparison, and the troopers primarily performed patrol duties and occasionally conducting raids.
Allied forces began pushing east again in early 1945. The 11th Cavalry Group was assigned to support the Ninth Army crossing of the Roer River known as Operation Grenade. Delayed several weeks when the Germans intentionally flooded the area by releasing water from dams, the operation began on February 23, 1945.
Harry Yeide wrote in his article “Mechanized Cavalry Histories” that the 44th “Operated between Ninth Army and British forces during Roer crossing and drive to Rhine beginning 27 February 1945.” Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan was reported to have been killed in action that same day. Curiously, The Eleventh Cavalry from The Roer to the Elbe 1944–1945 stated that the 44th went back into action the following day, February 28, 1945, providing flank security during the advance. The history stated:
The first day of action cost the 44th Squadron considerable losses. At the break of day in Brachelen the explosion of a large shell or mine resulted in 3 enlisted men killed and 3 officers wounded, not to mention the loss and damage of several vehicles. At Golkrath a small task force under Captain Eldred C. Jones, CO Troop ‘B’, with the mission of establishing a road block, encountered an enemy roadblock, covered by small arms and antitank fire. Captain Jones’ force, due to the heroism of several of its officers and men and its cool vigorous fighting, extricated itself with the loss of only 2 killed and several wounded. 1st Lt Jimmy S. Knight was awarded the Bronze Star Medal […] for gallantry in this action. Lt Knight, who died later from a mortal wound, gallantly continued to direct his platoon until he lost consciousness.
Casualty records suggest that Yeide was correct about the 44th going back into combat on February 27 rather than February 28. Based on the 11th Cavalry Group roll of honor, the 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron suffered three fatalities on February 27, 1945: 1st Lieutenant Knight, Technician 4th Grade Rudolph Zellner and Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan. Only one man from the squadron died on February 28, 1945: Technician 5th Grade Edgar F. Knight. He died of wounds, suggesting he may be have been mortally wounded on February 27. Since Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan was assigned to Headquarters & Service Troop rather than Troop “B,” it would seem likely that he was killed in the explosion in Brachelen, Germany.
After the war, Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan’s body was repatriated to where he grew up, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. After a service at the Templeville Methodist Church on March 27, 1949, he was buried at Sudlersville Cemetery.
Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan’s M.O.S. is unclear. If he was indeed a member of Headquarters & Service Troop, under Table of Organization & Equipment 2-27 dated September 15, 1943, a staff sergeant in a unit like his might have performed the following duties:
- Chief mechanic
- Mess sergeant
- Motor sergeant
- Supply sergeant
- Assistant supply sergeant
Although Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan’s name appears on the official New Castle County, Delaware casualty list because he was living there when he entered the service, his headstone lists his state as Maryland, where he lived most of his life. The headstone paperwork was filled out by his brother, Nathaniel.
Technician 4th Grade Zellner was also a member of Headquarters and Service Troop, 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, and likely died in the explosion along with Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan.
Special thanks to the Newark History Museum for the use of their photo of Staff Sergeant Wooleyhan.
“2 Delawareans On Carriers Die in Action.” Journal-Every Evening, April 7, 1945. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/62815892/homer-b-wooleyhan-44th-cavalry/
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. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421401697_0404-00289, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421406260_0411-01739
“Clara M. Wolleyhand.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/158837864/clara-m-wolleyhand
“Clinton E. Wooleyhan.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119152426/clinton-e.-wooleyhan
Haynes, George L., Jr. and Williams, James C. The Eleventh Cavalry from The Roer to the Elbe 1944–1945. Publisher unknown, 1945. https://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p4013coll8/id/3191/
“Honor Roll.” 11th Armored Cavalry’s Veterans of Vietnam & Cambodia. https://www.11thcavnam.com/fiddlersgreen/WWII%2036%20&%2044%20Recon.html
Knox, Oscar. Homer Burton Wooleyhan Individual Military Service Record, dated April 16, 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/21497/rec/6
Morrison, Neil C. “11th Armored Cavalry Regiment History.” The Blackhorse Association. https://www.blackhorse.org/11th-armored-cavalry-regiment-history/
Rottman, Gordon L. World War II US Cavalry Groups: European Theater. Osprey Publishing, 2012.
Saunders, Robert Cain. Oral history interview conducted by Barbara Belt on July 8, 2005 in Castle Rock, Colorado. Robert Cain Sanders Collection
(AFC/2001/001/65002), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/bib/loc.natlib.afc2001001.65002
“Sgt. H. B. Wooleyhan Reburial Rites Sunday.” Journal-Every Evening, March 25, 1949. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/62828710/obituary-for-h-burton-wooleyhan/
“Sgt Homer Burton Wooleyhan.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54497484/homer-burton-wooleyhan
“Table of Organization and Equipment No. 2-26: Headquarters and Headquarters and Service Troop, Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized.” War Department, Washington, September 15, 1943. Military Research Service website. http://www.militaryresearch.org/2-26%2015Sep43.pdf
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/4301041_00643
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-t0627-00546-00199
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/85963558/homer-b-wooleyhan-wwii-army-enlistment-records
World War II Memorial Volume. Public Archives Commission, State of Delaware. https://archives.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/156/2017/05/WWIIMemorialVolume.pdf
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_04_00010-01349
Yeide, Harry. “Mechanized Cavalry Histories.” http://www.yeide.net/World_War_II_History/Cavalry_Histories.html
Yeide, Harry. Steeds of Steel: A History of American Mechanized Cavalry in World War II. Zenith Press, 2008.
Last updated on May 26, 2021
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