Sergeant Harry Fineman (1916–1942)

Harry Fineman (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareSalesman
BranchService Number
U.S. Army6978470
TheaterUnit
PacificBattery “I,” 59th Coast Artillery Regiment
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Silver Star Medal, Purple HeartPhilippine Islands

Early Life & Family

Harry Fineman was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 27, 1916. He was the son of Benjamin and Bertha Fineman, Jewish immigrants from Russia. Benjamin (a grocery store proprietor, 1873–1958) had been born in Lithuania and subsequently emigrated to the United States, where he met Bertha Feitelberg (1882–1956), who had been born in Latvia. The couple married in New York City, settled in Wilmington, and became U.S. citizens. According to newspaper articles, Benjamin Fineman ran a small grocery store at the corner of West 2nd and North Tatnall Streets for four decades.

Harry Fineman had at least seven siblings: two older sisters, three older brothers, a younger sister, and a younger brother. The Fineman family was living at 203 West 2nd Street in Wilmington when Harry was born and was recorded there on the census taken on January 15, 1920. Fineman’s parents bought a house at 803 North Van Buren Street in Wilmington on August 27, 1926. It appears that Fineman lived there for the rest of his life, except for his service in the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) and military. Fineman graduated from Wilmington High School. He was listed as a clerk in the 1934 and 1938 Wilmington city directories. He spent a little over a year (November 1933 through January 1, 1935) doing mosquito control work at Slaughter Beach under the auspices of the C.C.C.

According to a statement by his father to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Fineman was a salesman before entering the military. An April 21, 1942, article in Journal-Every Evening stated that Fineman worked for a leather company, the Allied Kid Company from around 1937 until he joined the Army in 1939. Curiously, his digitized enlistment data card listed “Occupations in production of miscellaneous petroleum and coal products”—though that could have been an error in the process in which the card was encoded, scanned, or digitized.


Military Training

According to his father’s statement, Harry Fineman was in the Delaware National Guard for an unspecified period of time. An October 26, 1934, article in Journal-Every Evening stated that Fineman “has been accepted by Sergeant Stewart, Army recruiter, for service in the Army at Panama. Fineman will be enlisted as soon as he receives his discharge from the CCC.” It is unclear if he indeed went into the Army in 1935. If he did, it would appear he was discharged prior to 1938, when he was listed as a clerk in the Wilmington directory.

Fineman (right) with an unidentified man (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

According to his enlistment data card, Fineman enlisted in the Regular Army on November 30, 1939, while his father stated that his son enlisted in Wilmington in October 1939. According to his father’s statement, Private Fineman began his training at Fort Slocum, New York, where he was stationed until December 1939. He then shipped out to the Philippine Islands, arriving in February 1940.


Defense of the Philippines

In the Philippines, Fineman joined the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment. Originally activated as the 59th Artillery (Coast Artillery Corps) in late 1917, the unit had served in France during World War I. The regiment was transferred to the Philippine Islands in 1921, manning the harbor defenses there, including the heavy artillery at Fort Mills on Corregidor.

Fineman (left) with two unidentified men sitting on the barrel of the 12-inch gun at Battery Hearn at Fort Mills, Corregidor, in 1940 or 1941 (Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware)
Battery Hearn today (Courtesy of Paul F. Whitman)

During World War II, Sergeant Fineman was a member of Battery “I,” 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, though circumstantial evidence suggests that Fineman may have been a member of Battery “A” before “I” was activated. According to a statement composed later in the war by the Battery “I” commanding officer, 1st Lieutenant (later Captain) Stockton D. Bruns:

Battery “I” 59th C.A. was created at Ft. Mills, P.I. on or about June 1, 1941.  The organization of the Battery was as follows; Battery Commander, 1st. Lt. Stockton D. Bruns, Executive Officer 2nd Lt. Robert G. Cooper, 1st. Sgt. George Wilkins.  Cadre from Battery “A” 59th C.A. and enlisted men that had come to the Philippines on the boats Republic and Washington arriving on or about April 22nd, 1941 and May 5, 1941 respectively made up the rest of the battery.

Perhaps not coincidentally—since it appears that he was cadre for the new battery—Fineman was promoted to corporal on June 1, 1941, and to sergeant on July 7, 1941. Soon after, Colonel Paul D. Bunker (1881–1943), commanding officer of the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, sent a letter to Fineman’s parents, quoted in Journal-Every Evening on April 21, 1942:

“He has been chosen for this promotion,” Colonel Bunker wrote, “because he has been outstanding among his fellow soldiers. He has shown his proficiency and capability and he is well qualified to hold a position of trust and leadership. […] As his regimental commander, I offer my sincere congratulations to you on your son’s success, I have a boy of about the same age as yours and I know from experience how glad parents are to hear that their children are making good.  I hope yours will continue a valuable member of this regiment.”

Corregidor in 1944 or 1945 (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)
Map of Corregidor, with Caballo Island at lower right. The positions penned onto the map concern operations to recapture of the Philippines in 1945, rather than the earlier campaign that Sergeant Fineman participated in. (National Archives)

Initially stationed on Corregidor, Battery “I” was soon deployed Fort Hughes. Located on Caballo Island—just south of the larger and better-known Corregidor Island—Fort Hughes was one of a network of fortifications defending Manila Bay. Battery “I” manned Battery Idaho there. As Bruns explained:

On or about October 20, 1941 orders were received changing tactical assignment of Battery “I” to the A.A. Defenses for tactical employment.  The Battery was equipped with four three inch, mobile, M-3, Anti-Aircraft guns; one T8-E3 Director; one T-2 Height Finder and one power Plant.  The new location of Battery “I” was to be on the eastern end of Ft. Hughes and in accordance with this change, one officer and approximately thirty three enlisted men were moved to Ft. Hughes to load gun equipment and prepare gun, height finder and director positions.  On or about November 30, 1941 the rest of the battery and battery equipment were moved to Ft. Hughes.  Guns, director, and height finder positions in the meantime had been surveyed and equipment moved in to these positions, set up, and checked.

Caballo Island seen in March 1945. In Japanese hands by that point, the island had come under heavy air and naval bombardment during the recapture of the Philippines. Note the gun emplacements at center left. (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

The April 21, 1942, Journal-Every Evening article stated that during the fall of 1941, Sergeant Fineman wrote his parents “saying he expected to be transferred to the United States to serve his last year in [his enlistment] at Fort DuPont.” The outbreak of war on December 7, 1941, ended any possibility of that happening. Unable to stop the Japanese invasion of the main island of Luzon, American and Filipino forces withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula. While the Bataan and the Manila harbor defenses held, the vital port was rendered useless to the Japanese.

Even as the situation in the Philippines deteriorated, the Japanese focused most of their attention on American and Filipino forces on the Bataan Peninsula and nearby Corregidor. The men of Battery “I” did their utmost to protect Fort Mills on Corregidor from frequent aerial attack. Remarkably, despite Japanese advances in the Philippines, some of Sergeant Fineman’s letters were able to reach home. The last one to get through, dated January 29, 1942, was quoted at length in an April 21, 1942, Journal-Every Evening article:

“Have just finished lunch, which by the way was pretty good considering the circumstances, and am in a hole in the ground about six feet deep and the same width across.

“An air raid has just sounded.  It was a few Japs.  They won’t be up there long.  We have shot down more Japs than any other AA (anti-aircraft) outfit in the war today…We are sure giving them hell, let me tell you mother and dad.”

Bruns wrote a somewhat more subdued assessment of the unit’s performance during the Philippine campaign, stating that Battery “I” fired approximately 2,500–3,000 shells “with a number of enemy flights broken up and two or more planes downed.”

The situation changed with the surrender of American and Filipino forces on Bataan. The following day, April 10, 1942, Fort Hughes came under direct attack for the first time. Sergeant Fineman performed an act that earned him the Silver Star Medal. His citation read in part:

On that date, a flight of Japanese bombers destroyed the communications between Anti-Aircraft guns and the Battery’s range section. As another flight of bombers approached, Sergeant Fineman left cover and ran across open ground to the guns. He tested the lines, found the breaks, repaired the lines, and restored communication vital to the efficiency of the battery. While doing his duty, Sergeant Fineman was killed by enemy artillery fire.

Although wording at the end of the citation suggests that Sergeant Fineman was killed immediately after performing his act of heroism, Sergeant Fineman was killed in action on April 12, 1942, two days later. Lieutenant Brun wrote:

The battery position was first bombed by the enemy on April 10, 1942 without any casualties or serious materiel damages. The first shelling of the battery positions from the Bataan side by the enemy was on April 12, 1942.  This shelling also brought about the first war casualties within Battery “I”.  Sgt. Harry Fineman and Alfonso lgnacio (Civilian Filipino Barber) were obtaining drinking water from a lister bag and the first shell fired killed them both.  These were the only men of Battery “I” killed by enemy shell fire though the battery area was subjected to frequent artillery fire during the war.

On the morning of April 21, 1942, a telegram arrived at 803 North Van Buren Street, informing Fineman’s parents of their son’s death. Bertha was quoted in Journal-Every Evening that same day:

“Of course, I prayed above all else that Harry would come through it alive, but now that he is gone, I am proud that he died for the United States.

“He was a good boy and always wanted to be in the Army since he was a little fellow.  After what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor, I wanted Harry to stay with the troops until we had victory.”

On April 25, 1942, the Wilmington Civil Memorial Committee held a memorial ceremony in Sergeant Fineman’s honor, which his parents and siblings attended. His mother received a Gold Star Mother’s flag from Sergeant Fineman’s former coworkers at the Allied Kid Company.

Meanwhile, fighting was still raging in the Philippines. Three other men in Battery “I” were killed during Japanese air raids. During the Japanese landings on Corregidor on May 5, 1942, Battery “I” turned their guns landward to attempt to support the hard-pressed Fort Mills, but to no avail. Shortly after Corregidor surrendered, Japanese troops landed on Caballo Island around midnight on the night of May 6–7, 1942, and captured Fort Hughes as well. The remaining men of Battery “I” became prisoners of the Japanese.

Bertha Fineman (right) and May O. Cork represent Gold Star Mothers at the Memorial Day parade in Wilmington on May 31, 1943. Mayor of Wilmington Albert James (left) and Governor of Delaware Walter W. Bacon are standing with them on the platform. See the Notes section for more information on Cork’s son, Dr. Leon H. Cork. (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

The Hall of Valor Project’s transcription of the citation indicates that it was conferred in 1942 per General Orders No. 29, Headquarters, Philippine Coast Artillery Command. However, his parents did not receive the medal for nearly four years. Journal-Every Evening reported on March 11, 1946, that “This award, through the citation accompanying it, is the first definite knowledge received by Mr. and Mrs. Fineman concerning where and how their son was serving when he met his death.”

Fineman was apparently buried on Caballo Island after his death. Then, after the war ended, he was reburied at the U.S. military cemetery at Fort McKinley, what is now known as the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (Plot H, Row 15, Grave 115).

On September 19, 1946, attendees at a meeting establishing Delaware’s first Jewish War Veterans post decided to honor him with the name Harry Fineman Post, No. 525. Fineman’s name is honored at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle and on a memorial for fallen Jewish soldiers at the Jewish Community Cemetery in Wilmington.


Notes

Parents

Benjamin apparently first emigrated from Russia to the United Kingdom.  His obituary stated that during the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the century, he served in the Capetown Highland Regiment. Curiously, both the 1910 and 1920 censuses stated that Fineman immigrated to the United States in 1888, over a decade before the beginning of the Boer War.

Benjamin Fineman told the Delaware Public Archives that he married Bertha Feitelberg in New York City on March 6, 1903. A digitized, text-only entry in the New York City Marriage Index listed a Bertha Feitelberg as marrying on Manhattan on March 7, 1904.

Date of Birth

I consider authoritative the 1916 Wilmington Birth Register listing Fineman’s date of birth as May 27, 1916. Oddly enough, his family name was recorded as Feinman. Variations in spellings on birth records was not particularly uncommon in that period (especially when the child was born to immigrants). That date of birth is supported by the 1920 census, which stated that he was he was 3 years, 7 months old as of January 15, 1920. Curiously, a Journal-Every Evening article printed on April 21, 1942, listed Fineman’s date of birth as May 26, 1917. Archivists at the Delaware Public Archives were unable to locate a full birth certificate for Fineman, and his enlistment data card was digitized with a nonsense entry of “55” for his birth year, something common in the prewar version of the card.

Residence

For unknown reasons, Sergeant Fineman appeared as a resident of Washington, D.C. on the Army’s official World War II casualty list. I can find no indication that he lived in that city nor that he entered the service there.

First Delaware Soldier Killed During World War II

Sergeant Fineman was the first Delawarean serving in the U.S. Army to be killed in action during World War II.  Although some secondary sources accurate describe him as the first soldier from Delaware killed by enemy action during the war, others inaccurately state he was the first serviceman killed. Depending on the definition of Delawarean, as many as four members of the U.S. Navy were killed as well as four members of the U.S. Merchant Marine died prior to Fineman’s death. Two soldiers from Delaware also died of non-combat causes between the attack on Pearl Harbor and April 12, 1942.

Some reports also erroneously gave Sergeant Fineman’s place of death as Corregidor, where he had previously served, rather than at Fort Hughes on Caballo Island.

Brother

Sergeant Fineman’s younger brother, Albert (1921–2005), served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.

Dr. Leon H. Cork

Bertha Fineman and May O. Cork represented Gold Star Mothers at the 1943 Memorial Day parade in Wilmington as seen in the photograph above.

Leon Hudson Cork was born in Wilmington on October 20, 1890, the son of Joseph M. Cork (1861–1918) and May O. Cork (née Shockley, 1870–1952). He graduated from Howard University in 1913 with a Bachelor of Arts and continued his studies there, earning his doctorate in May 1917. Dr. Cork returned to Wilmington to begin his career as a dental surgeon but was drafted shortly thereafter. He joined the U.S. Army on November 18, 1917. The following day, Cork was assigned to Battery “A,” 349th Field Artillery, 92nd Division.

Cork was promoted to corporal on January 2, 1918. Later that month, on January 24, 1918, he was transferred to the Sanitary Detachment of the 349th Field Artillery, which resulted in him being reduced back to the grade of private. He was assigned to the duty of dental assistant (some records list surgical assistant). He was promoted to private 1st class on April 1, 1918.

The sanitary detachment role in combat was somewhat different than the name implies. As Major Jonathan H. Jaffin explained in his thesis, “Medical Support for the American Expeditionary Forces in France During the First World War”:

Medical care started with the individual soldier. He carried a first-aid packet to use on himself or his comrades. The sanitary detachments next came to the aid of the wounded to apply bandages and splints for first aid and administer stimulants. The sanitary personnel carried the wounded to the regimental aid station where they received emergency medical treatment. The regimental aid station provided little more than an collection point for the wounded. The regimental surgeon or other responsible officer performed triage here. This enabled the ambulances to take the patient directly to the appropriate hospital.

Private 1st Class Cork served in France, where he died of pneumonia on December 16, 1918, shortly after the Armistice ending World War I. The U.S. armed forces’ discriminatory policies against black soldiers at the time presumably explain why he served as an enlisted man, rather than as an officer in the U.S. Army Dental Corps. There were a handful of black dental officers during World War I, but slots were limited in segregated units. In his article “African-American Dentists in the U.S. Army: The Origins,” Dr. John M. Hyson, Jr. wrote that “the black dental officers were allowed to professionally treat only black troops, rarely white troops. However, the converse was not true; white dental officers did treat black troops.”

Dr. Leon H. Cork (left) was among the black soldiers from Delaware who died overseas during or immediately after World War I (Delaware Public Archives)

By remarkable coincidence, while researching an article about 2nd Lieutenant George M. Johnson at the Delaware Public Archives on September 21, 2021, I came across a box of World War I era materials including a sheet with a profile of Dr. Cork and three other black soldiers from Delaware who died overseas during World War I. This box had been erroneously filed in Record Group 1800.98 among National Guard Company/Unit Records 1930–1969. I notified archivists of the issue, so the box will likely be refiled in a different record group.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives and the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware for the use of their photos. Thanks also go out to Paul F. Whitman of Corregidor.org as well as to Tony Feredo for their expertise in confirming the location of the photo of Fineman taken at Battery Hearn.


Bibliography

“121 End Service in C. C. C. Camps.” Wilmington Morning News, January 2, 1935. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88587768/harry-fineman-leaves-ccc/

“Albert Sydney Fineman.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/150361206/albert-sydney-fineman

“Benjamin Fineman.” Wilmington Morning News, January 15, 1958. Pg. 28. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88585258/benjamin-fineman-obituary/

Bruns, Stockton D. “‘Idaho’: Battery ‘I’, 59th Coast Artillery.” Corregidor Then and Now website. https://corregidor.org/ca/btty_idaho/i_intro.htm

Card Register of Burials of Deceased American Soldiers, 1917–1922. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/705115320

Clay, Steven E. U.S. Army Order of Battle 1919–1941: Volume 2. The Arms: Cavalry, Field Artillery, and Coast Artillery, 1919–1941.  Combat Studies Institute Press, 2010. https://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16040coll3/id/197/rec/1

“Delaware Boys Who Died Over Seas.” Delaware Public Archives.

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257007-00362

“Delaware Loses Its First Soldier In World War II.” Journal-Every Evening, April 21, 1942. Pg. 1 and 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88803722/harry-fineman-kia-pg-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88803934/harry-fineman-kia-pg-2/

Delaware World War I Servicemen Records. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSYY-G6CY

“Dr. Cork’s Body Here.” Every-Evening, May 23, 1921. Pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89610007/private-1st-class-leon-h-cork/

Fineman, Benjamin. Harry Fineman Individual Military Service Record, April 20, 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/18687/rec/2

“Harbor Defenses of Manila Bay.” American Forts website. https://www.northamericanforts.com/West/pi.html

Harry Fineman Silver Star Medal citation. General Orders No. 29, Headquarters, Philippine Coast Artillery Command, 1942. https://valor.militarytimes.com/hero/25858

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. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_646933_0803-01339

“Jewish Vets Post Named After Harry Fineman.” Journal-Every Evening, September 20, 1946. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89602808/harry-fineman-post/

“Parents Receive Dead Son’s Medal.” Journal-Every Evening, March 11, 1946. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88578111/harry-fineman-silver-star/

Polk’s Wilmington (New Castle County, Del.) City Directory 1934. R. L. Polk & Company Publishers, 1934. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2469/images/16084118

Polk’s Wilmington (New Castle County, Del.) City Directory 1938. R. L. Polk & Company Publishers, 1938. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2469/images/16149984

“Sgt. Harry Fineman.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56775599/harry-fineman

“To Enlist in Army.” Journal-Every Evening, October 26, 1934. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88588757/fineman-panama/

“Tribute Paid At Public Rites To Native Son.” Journal-Every Evening, April 25, 1942. Pg. 22. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/88589289/fineman-tribute/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/31111_4327432-00928   

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/4295769-00583  

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531893_00627

Wilmington Birth Register, 1916. Record Group 1500.205.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

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=06978470&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=300585  


Last updated on December 8, 2021

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