Private James R. Wilson (1913–1944)

James R. Wilson (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareMill worker for Continental Diamond Fibre
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32205625
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “B,” 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple Heart (presumed)Normandy

Early Life & Family

James Roland Wilson was born on October 1, 1913 near the town of Lincoln, in Sussex County, Delaware.  He was the second son of Charles Franklin Wilson (a farmer, 1881–1917) and Cassie Sarah Wilson (née Donovan, 1891–1972).  He had an older brother, William Henry Wilson (1910–2004).

On March 8, 1917, when James was only three years old, his father died.  The following year, his mother remarried to George L. Webb, a widower from Lincoln who had four children of his own.  The blended family was recorded on the census on January 7, 1920 living in Sussex County, though it appears the couple divorced during the decade that followed.  According to his enlistment data, James completed only grammar school.  An August 3, 1944 article in The Newark Post stated that he “received his education in the Milford Schools” prior to “moving to Newark” around 1929.

By the next census on April 10, 1930, James’s mother had returned to her previous name (Cassie Wilson) and was running a boarding house on Creek Road in Newark.  The men living there—James, his brother, and four boarders—were all farmhands.  One of their neighbors was a teenager named John Frame, destined to distinguish himself as an infantryman in the 3rd Infantry Division during World War II.

When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Wilson was living in Newark and working for the McMahon Corporation in Claymont.  He was described as standing five feet, eight inches tall and weighing 165 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.  The August 3, 1944 article in The Newark Post stated that before entering the military, Wilson was working at one of Newark’s largest factories, Continental Diamond Fibre.  When he was inducted into the U.S. Army, his occupation was recorded as “Semiskilled machine shop and related occupations, n.e.c.” 


Military Career

Wilson was drafted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He went on active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey on January 29, 1942.  According to the Individual Military Service Record filled out by his mother for the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Private Wilson went to basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. 

According to his mother’s statement, Private Wilson was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia with an unknown unit from roughly mid-April 1942 through December 1943.  She wrote that he joined Company “B,” 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on January 7, 1944 and went overseas to England shortly thereafter.  That is consistent with the summary of the 8th Infantry Regiment’s movements in Shelby L. Stanton’s book World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946.  Stanton wrote that the 8th Infantry Regiment arrived at Fort Jackson on December 1, 1943 and went into staging at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey beginning on January 9, 1944.

The 4th Infantry Division shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on January 18, 1944, arriving in the United Kingdom on January 26.  The division was one of many units training in England for the invasion of France (codenamed Operation Overlord).  The division was earmarked for Utah Beach.  Leading up the invasion, the 8th Infantry Regiment performed a dress rehearsal at Slapton Sands, England known as Exercise Beaver.


The Normandy Campaign

The 8th Infantry Regiment arrived in Normandy aboard the British transport H.M.S. Empire Gauntlet and led the 4th Infantry Division ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day: June 6, 1944.  The division, part of the U.S. VII Corps, moved west and north to secure the Cotentin Peninsula and the major port of Cherbourg, which fell on June 25, 1944.  The Allies had finished mopping up German forces in the vicinity by July 1.  Stanton wrote that the division then advanced south toward Périers on July 6, 1944. 

In his book United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations: Breakout and Pursuit, Martin Blumenson wrote:

From a one-division limited objective attack, the VII Corps effort had become a two-division attack in the Carentan-Périers isthmus. By 8 July the 83d and 4th Divisions had made such small gains, despite strenuous action, that there was still no space to employ the available 9th Division. The narrow zone of operations and the terrain had inhibited maneuver. Numerous streams and marshes and the hedgerows had broken large-scale attacks into small, local engagements. A resourceful enemy—the 6th Parachute Regiment, more and more units of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, and artillery and tank elements of the 2d SS Panzer Division —had felled trees to block the roads, used roaming tanks in mobile defense, and covered crossroads with devastating fire. Though depleted and battered by superior numbers, the Germans had shuffled their units skillfully and continued to make expert use of the terrain. They had revealed no signs of cracking suddenly under the weight of the corps attack.

Blumenson continued:

On the right (western) half of the Carentan-Périers isthmus, General [Raymond O.] Barton was finally able on 8 July to bring all three regiments of his 4th Division into the sector available to him […]

Restricted by inadequate maneuver space, hindered by soft marshland, handicapped by the difficulties of observation, General Barton was unable to concentrate the power of his infantry and supporting arms in a sustained effort. Even the four battalions organic to the division artillery and the additional attached battalion of medium artillery were rarely able to mass their fires effectively. Because of the compartmentalizing effect of the terrain, General Barton attacked with regimental combat teams that pursued quite independent actions. Some measure of co-ordination in the attack could be attempted at the regimental level; more often it was feasible only at the battalion echelon.

While the 22d Infantry [Regiment] fought through the narrowest neck of the isthmus and the 12th [Infantry Regiment] rested in reserve, the 8th [Infantry Regiment] was trying to clear in a slow and methodical operation the small area on the division right rear, the area just north of the corridor and adjacent to the Prairies Marécageuses de Gorges. Four separate attacks since 8 July had failed. But on 10 July the Germans launched a counterattack; with enemy soldiers in the open for the first time, American artillery and mortar fire decimated their ranks. Striking quickly, the 8th Infantry caught the enemy off balance. Infantry and tanks swept the area, collecting 49 prisoners, burying 480 German dead, and incurring 4 casualties in return.  On 11 July the 4th Division was ready to add the 8th Infantry to its effort toward Périers and attempt to blast through the corridor just north of Sainteny. […]  Aided by occasional dive-bombers during the infrequent days of good weather, the division had advanced about two miles below Sainteny by 15 July. At the end of that day, still four miles short of Périers, General Barton received the order to halt.

The 4th Division was to be relieved and sent into reserve. In ten days of combat it had sustained approximately 2,300 casualties, including three battalion commanders and nine rifle company commanders.  Progress at this cost was prohibitive.”

According to his mother, Private Wilson was killed in action in Normandy on July 9, 1944.  That would place his death as occurring during or around the time of one of the four unsuccessful attacks near Prairies Marécageuses de Gorges.  A digitized hospital admission card under his service number stated that he was killed by artillery fragments in July 1944. 

After the war, Private Wilson’s body was returned to the United States.  Following a funeral at the Lincoln Methodist Church on July 18, 1948, he was buried in Lincoln Cemetery, where his father’s body also rests.


Notes

Mother’s Last Name

James’s mother remarried to Benjamin Hendrickson on May 20, 1934 and was subsequently referred to as Cassie Wilson Hendrickson in newspapers and documents.

Hospital Admission Card

Hospital admission cards were filled out even if the soldier did not survive long enough to make it to the hospital.  Since his status was recorded as killed in action (as opposed to died of wounds) and no treatment was recorded, Private Wilson was probably died immediately or soon after he was hit.


Acknowledgments

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


Bibliography

Blumenson, Martin.  United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations: Breakout and Pursuit.  Center of Military History, United States Army, 1961.  https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Breakout/index.html

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

Delaware Birth Records.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1672/images/31297_212270-00250

Delaware Marriages.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1673/images/31297_212337-00542, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12594-38697-11, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1673/images/31297_212366-00377

Henrickson, Cassie.  James Roland Wilson 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/21441/rec/8

“James R. Wilson.”  Wilmington Morning News, July 16, 1948.  Pg. 4.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/73766499/private-james-roland-wilson-funeral/

“Killed in Action.”  The Newark Post, August 3, 1944. Pg. 1.  https://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/18940/np_035_26.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

“Pvt James Roland Wilson.”  Find a Grave.  https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54302265/james-roland-wilson

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. 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_4327434-00086   

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/4295768-00755

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/4531890_00880

Utah Beach to Cherbourg 6 – 27 June 1944.  Historical Division, War Department, 1948.  https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/utah/utah.htm

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/704721230/wilson-james-r-u-s-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954, https://www.fold3.com/record/704721229/wilson-james-r-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://www.fold3.com/record/86073081/james-r-wilson-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_09_00011-01438


Last updated on June 1, 2021

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