Private George R. Thorn (1908–1945)

George R. Thorn (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareLaborer for Works Progress Administration and tank tester at Bethlehem Steel shipyard
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32485763
TheaterUnit
PacificTroop “B,” 8th Engineer Combat Squadron, 1st Cavalry Division
Campaigns/Battles
Admiralty Islands, Leyte, Luzon

Early Life & Family

George Raymond Thorn was born in Newark, Delaware on February 22, 1908.  He was the son of John William Thorn and Mary I. Thorn (née Sullivan, died in 1943).  He had three older brothers: Charles, Eugene, and William.  Census records indicate the Thorn family moved frequently around New Castle County; his father also changed jobs repeatedly, from laborer in a fiber mill, to machinist helper in a machine shop, to a helper in a fiber mill, to a farmer.

The Thorn family was recorded on the census on April 19, 1910 living in the 8th Representative District in New Castle County, Delaware.  By the time they were recorded on the next census on January 14, 1920, the Thorns had moved to 934 Young Street in the town of New Castle, Delaware.  By April 9, 1930, George and his parents were still living in New Castle but had moved to Gray Street.  George’s occupation was listed as “none” but his industry as “fibre”, perhaps suggesting he had previously worked in a fiber factory. 

There is contradictory data regarding Thorn’s level of education.  His enlistment data stated he had only completed grammar school, while the 1940 census stated that he completed two years of high school.

By the time of the next census on April 23, 1940, Thorn and his parents had moved to the area of Newark (White Clay Creek Hundred).  George was working as a laborer in the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.), a federal program established during the Great Depression to put men to work constructing public buildings and infrastructure.

When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Thorn was living in Newark.  He was described as standing five feet, nine inches tall and weighing 145 lbs., with brown hair and gray eyes, and arm tattoos. 

According to the Individual Military Service Record filled out by his brother Eugene Thorn for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, his prewar occupation was “Tank tester”.  An April 17, 1945 article in Journal-Every Evening stated that “Thorn was employed at the Harlan plant of the Bethlehem Steel Company” (a Wilmington, Delaware shipyard).  His enlistment data card recorded his occupation as “Semiskilled construction occupations” (which seems to match his W.P.A. work more closely rather than what he did at the shipyard).


Military Training

According to the Individual Military Service Record, George served for four years in the Delaware National Guard at some point.  Since he was drafted rather than being federalized, he presumably left the National Guard prior to 1940. 

After Thorn was drafted, he was inducted into the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey on December 22, 1942.  His brother wrote that Private Thorn was initially stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey before training at Camp Carson, Colorado.  Private Thorn joined Troop “B,” 8th Engineer Squadron, presumably at Fort Bliss, Texas.  The unit—known after March 15, 1943 as the 8th Engineer Combat Squadron—was part of the 1st Cavalry Division.  Despite the nomenclature, the 1st Cavalry Division was an infantry division at that point.  Thorn’s brother was unable to provide many details about Private Thorn’s overseas career aside from the fact that he was stationed in Australia, the Admiralty Islands, and finally the Philippines. 

The 8th Engineer Combat Squadron shipped out aboard the U.S.A.T. Maui on in late May 1943.  According to the unit history on the 1st Cavalry Division Association website:

Three weeks later, the Combat Squadron arrived at Brisbane and began a fifteen mile trip to their new temporary home, Camp Strathpine, Queensland, Australia. The division received six months of intense combat jungle warfare training at Camp Strathpine in the wilds of scenic Queensland and amphibious training at nearby Moreton Bay. In January 1944 the division was ordered to leave Australia and sail to Oro Bay, New Guinea. After a period of staging in New Guinea, it was time for the 1st Cavalry Division to receive their first baptism of fire.


Combat in the Pacific Theater

Beginning on February 29, 1944, the division made an amphibious assault in Admiralty Islands, part of the Bismarck Archipelago off the northeast coast of New Guinea.  During the next two and a half months, the 8th Engineer Combat Squadron supported the capture of Los Negros and Manus Islands.  It is unclear what specific actions Private Thorn’s troop participated in during the campaign, but according to a postwar history from the Historical Division, War Department entitled The Admiralties: Operations of the 1st Cavalry Division 29 February – 18 May 1944, during the attack on Manus, “Assault squads from the 8th Engineer Squadron were attached to the 7th Cavalry for use against the enemy bunkers.” 

The 1st Cavalry Division participated in another amphibious operation later that year, landing on Leyte beginning on October 20, 1944.  Though overshadowed by the naval combat offshore (the series of engagements collectively known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf), the invasion of Leyte was the first step in recapturing the Philippine Islands.  Leyte was secure by the end of the year.  On January 27, 1945, Private Thorn’s squadron arrived on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.

According to the unit history on the 1st Cavalry Division Association website, a few days after the division arrived on Luzon:

General [Douglas] MacArthur issued an order “Get to Manila!”. The resulting mission, and the participating units, was dubbed a “flying column” by General [Verne D.] Mudge. The rescue mission, lead [sic] by Brig. General William C. Chase, was divided into three “serials”. The first serial included the 8th Engineers. On 3 February 1945, lead elements of the rescue column crossed the city limits of Manila at 1835 hours, covering the 100 miles of rough terrain in approximately 66 hours.

As it turned out, getting there was the easy part; it took the 1st Cavalry Division and 37th Infantry Divisions one month to capture Manila.  Collateral damage from intense street fighting (combined with atrocities committed by Japanese forces) resulted in massive civilian casualties and reduced much of the city to rubble.

The Philippine Senate, still in ruins two years after the Battle of Manila (Edward Rau Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command)

According to a hospital admission card under his service number, sometime during February 1945, Private Thorn was hospitalized with dysentery at a U.S. military hospital. Despite treatment with penicillin, sepsis set in and Private Thorn died in Manila on March 5, 1945, just after the city was secured.

Private Thorn was initially buried in a temporary cemetery.  After the war, he was reburied at the Fort McKinley U.S. Military Cemetery (now known as the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial).  Thorn Lane in Newark is likely named after him.


Notes

Brother’s Statement

Eugene Thorn wrote that George was inducted in Wilmington, Delaware on December 28, 1942.  However, most World War II draftees were indeed inducted in Camden, so that enlistment record is most likely correct.  He also stated that Private Thorn went overseas on June 1, 1943, whereas the unit history on the 1st Cavalry Division Association website stated that the squadron departed the United States on May 28, 1943.  Curiously, Shelby L. Stanton’s book World War II Order of Battle stated that the unit shipped out on May 24, 1943.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Private Thorn.


Bibliography

“3 Delawareans Reported Dead In Service.”  Journal-Every Evening, April 17, 1945.  Pg. 1 and 9.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/74167643/george-r-thorn-death/

“8 ENG History.”  1st Cavalry Division Association website.  https://1cda.org/history/history-8eng-1/

The Admiralties: Operations of the 1st Cavalry Division 29 February – 18 May 1944.  Historical Division, War Department, 1946.

Headstone Inscription and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942–1949.  Record Group 117, Records of the American Battle Monuments Commission, 1918–c. 1995.  The National Archives at Washington, D.C.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_1521003238_0918-00977

Miranda, Miguel.  Battle of Manila: Nadir of Japanese Barbarism, 3 February–3 March 1945.  Pen and Sword Military, 2019.

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.

Thorn, Eugene.  George Raymond Thorn Individual Military Service Record, April 7, 1946.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Delaware Public Archives.  https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/21135/rec/1

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.   https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7602/images/4119671_00785  

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C.    https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/31111_4327432-00351

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/4295772-00280

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_00293   

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-t0627-00546-00333   

U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942-1954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  https://www.fold3.com/record/704803742/blank-u-s-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954, https://www.fold3.com/record/701083531/blank-u-s-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=32485763&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=3096851

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_09_00010-00943  


Last updated on May 27, 2021

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