|Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York||Career soldier|
|Mediterranean||Company “C,” 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion|
|Military Occupational Specialty||Campaigns/Battles|
|1222 (tank destroyer unit commander)||Tunisian campaign, Italy (including Cassino and Anzio)|
Author’s note: Delaware’s World War II Fallen occasionally highlights men and women without any known connection to the First State. This article is part of a series on men of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Early Life & Family
Wallace Clifford Forbush, Jr. was born in Santurce (a barrio in San Juan), Puerto Rico, on September 19, 1918, the only child of Wallace C. Forbush, Sr. (1891–1926) and Dorothy E. Forbush (née Wilner, later Day, 1891–1960). Forbush taught agriculture in Puerto Rico before joining the U.S. Army during World War I. Wallace C. Forbush, Sr. was a 2nd lieutenant in Companies “I” and “B” of the 374th Infantry Regiment, a unit raised and stationed in Puerto Rico.
The Forbush family was recorded on 1920 census in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. In October 1920, the Forbush family sailed back to New York City and settled in the elder Forbush’s hometown of Rutland, Massachusetts. Wallace C. Forbush, Sr. reportedly contracted tuberculosis during his military service. He was treated at the veterans hospital in Rutland, but as his condition worsened, in the fall of 1925, the family moved to North Carolina, where he was hospitalized at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in Oteen, near Asheville. In the era before antibiotics, the hospital’s treatments were not effective and he died there on November 15, 1926, aged 35.
When Wallace C. Forbush, Jr. was recorded again on the census on April 7, 1930, he was living with his mother (who was now working as an art teacher) at his maternal grandparents’ home, 164 Woodward Avenue in Buffalo, New York. The following year, in October 1930, his mother remarried to Lorenzo B. Day (1890–1952).
Forbush graduated from Bennett High School in 1937 and went on to study agriculture at Cornell University, where he was a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet and a member of the Pershing Rifles. The next census, in April 1940, recorded Forbush as living with his mother and stepfather at 164 Woodward Avenue—either because it was his permanent address, or because he was home from college when the census was taken.
On January 19, 1942, The Ithaca Journal announced that Forbush was engaged to Jessie Margaret Rankin (1918–2010), an employee at Cornell. He graduated from college soon after.
Marriage & Overseas Service
Forbush was commissioned as an 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry and went on active duty on May 15, 1942. Two days later, on May 17, 1942, he married Jessie M. Rankin in Interlaken, New York. A July 5, 1944, article in The Ithaca Journal stated that “Going overseas in August, 1942, Forbush was stationed for a time in England and then participated in the North African campaign before going to Italy.” He was probably already a member of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion when it shipped out for from the New York Port of Embarkation on August 6, 1942, bound for Liverpool.
The 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion shipped out again from Liverpool on January 8, 1943, arriving in Algeria on January 16 or 17, 1943. The unit’s baptism by far was on February 20, 1943, during the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Shortly thereafter, on March 1, 1943, 2nd Lieutenant Forbush was assigned to Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion under the command of Baker D. Newton (1918–1961). Newton later described Forbush as “a wonderful guy, and one of the bravest men I have ever known.”
After the conclusion of the Tunisian campaign, Forbush was promoted to 1st lieutenant effective June 29, 1943. That summer, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion converted from M3 Gun Motor Carriage to the 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 at the Fifth Army Tank Destroyer Training Center near Sebdou, Algeria. 2nd Lieutenant Forbush was hospitalized with an illness at the 32nd Station Hospital in nearby Tlemcen, Algeria, from June 18, 1943, to July 4, 1943.
From September 24–27, 1943, Lieutenant Forbush joined two other officers and 90 enlisted men on a recreation trip to Ain el-Turck. The day after he returned, he was hospitalized at the 32nd Station Hospital again. He returned to duty on October 3, 1943. Six days later, the unit went into staging near Oran in preparation to ship out for Italy.
Various detachments of Company “C” arrived in the Naples area in late October and early November 1943. The unit served in the capacity of military police in Naples and then returned to combat near Cassino, acting as self-propelled artillery. But it wasn’t until the 894th was shipped to the Anzio beachhead in late January 1944 that they would finally face enemy tanks.
In early February 1944, Lieutenant Forbush was commanding a platoon in Company “C” at the Anzio beachhead. On the night of February 3–4, 1944, the Germans launched an attack against the Campoleone salient, where Company “C” was supporting the British 1st Infantry Division. Forbush’s final engagement began near Aprilia (nicknamed “The Factory”) early on the morning of February 4, 1944. In a June 18, 1944, letter to Forbush’s wife that was quoted at length in The Ithaca Journal on July 5, 1944, his company commander, Captain Newton wrote:
Wally took his platoon of M-10 tank destroyers to assist another platoon which was very hard pressed and practically surrounded during a German counterattack. He immediately led his platoon toward three German tanks, which were attacking our right flank. Just before coming into their sight, Wally left the protection of his own vehicle and went to the top of a small hill to locate the enemy tanks.
He saw them and ran back and warned his crew; then jumped on to the outside of another M-10 and was giving instruction to his sergeant when the fight started. Wally’s leading tank was hit and the blast of the explosion knocked him unconscious off the second M-10.
After all the enemy tanks were destroyed, the sergeant worked his way back to Wally and looked him over. He said that there appeared to be not one mark on him; but it was impossible to get him out because a dash of several yards had to be made across open ground under machine-gun fire to get to and from the little draw where Wally was. Within a few minutes the Germans had taken that ground and our units were pushed back.
Forbush was also mentioned in one version of a February 5, 1944, article by Daniel De Luce (1911–2002) of the Associated Press, which was printed in papers nationwide the following day. Although the unit wasn’t mentioned due to operation security, the article focused on the exploits of Company “C” and De Luce interviewed Captain Newton at length. Most versions of the article omitted it, but The Times-Picayune in New Orleans included a passage which must have referred to Forbush:
Newton’s command mourned the loss of a heroic officer in yesterday’s engagement. Scouting on foot in advance the officer saw a Tiger climbing a ridge and directed the fire by Sergeant Holsonback’s vehicle which destroyed it when within ten yards. The officer was killed by return fire from another Tiger which had approached at an angle.
This version of the incident is slightly different from Newton’s account, suggesting that Forbush was giving instructions to Sergeant Eugene K. Holsonback (1918–2004) and was killed when Holsonback’s M10 was hit, not another tank destroyer.
Another Associated Press story, published in the Fort Lauderdale Daily News on March 8, 1944, omitted any mention of Forbush but confirms that Sergeant Holsonback’s M10 was knocked out and his entire crew wounded seconds after destroying the first Tiger. The story, which gave the engagement distance as 50 yards rather than ten, quoted Holsonback’s gunner, Private 1st Class Paul O. Elder (1918–1991), at length:
We knew the German tank had to come into an exposed position on the top of the hill, and we just sat there waiting for him.
He never had a chance to use his own guns. I fired one round and hit him right in the front. The tank seemed to shudder and stop. The crew made no effort to leave the tank, and we concluded that they were all killed by concussion.
Just at that moment, a tank which followed the Mark VI up the hill caught us in its sights and we were knocked out. The shell hit us right in front, and the concussion was pretty bad. Shrapnel was flying around inside the tank destroyer and fire broke out. Everybody in the crew but myself got burns, but I had my face in the sights and wore gloves, and I guess that saved me.
An entry in the Journal of Headquarters 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, recorded at 1022 hours on February 4, 1944, stated that a message had been received from Company “C”: “2nd Plat[oon] Co C 4 casualties, 2 fatal (Lt Forbush and one gun commander) 2 serious 2 babies [M-10s] knocked out.”
However, despite that, the February 8, 1944, Company “C” morning report listed Forbush as missing in action following the February 4 battle. The reasons for the change are unclear—possibly due to the lack of a body, perhaps combined with the eyewitness account which described him as merely unconscious. In retrospect, it appears the original entry in the journal was correct: Lieutenant Forbush was probably either killed outright or mortally wounded by the Tiger’s fire. The War Department sent a telegram to Jessie Forbush on March 3, 1944, informing her that her husband was missing in action.
Although Captain Newton was transferred to the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion in April 1944, later, after the breakout from Anzio, he returned to the scene of the February 4 engagement. Unable to find any grave in the vicinity after looking for two days, he wrote that he hoped it meant that Forbush had been taken prisoner.
The agony of Forbush’s family during the year that followed his disappearance can only be imagined. Even after a finding of death was issued on February 5, 1945—a year and a day after his disappearance, as directed by law in cases when it was deemed that a servicemember could not have survived—Forbush’s mother was convinced that her son was alive. A March 7, 1945, article in the Buffalo Evening News (Overseas Edition) credulously stated that “The practiced eye of an artist-mother has revealed to her that her soldier-son—missing since Anzio Beachhead and presumed by the War Department to be dead—was instead taken prisoner.” The article added that Forbush’s mother,
an art teacher in Buffalo public schools, has examined through a magnifying glass an Associated Press wire-photo reproduction of a German newspaper picture showing American prisoners marching past the Colosseum in Rome. She is convinced from the contours of the head and face, his carriage and other mannerisms that he is her son, Lieut. Wallace C. Forbush. Artist friends have scrutinized the picture and agree with her.
In fact, it appears that Lieutenant Forbush’s body was located shortly after he was declared dead. The circumstances of the recovery were not disclosed in his Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F.) aside from the position (F880-364), which would be 41° 37’ 23” North, 12° 39’ 20” East. That location is north of Aprilia, along the main road (Via Nettunense) about ⅔ of the way between Aprilia and Campoleone Station.
Lieutenant Forbush was buried at the U.S. Military Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy (Plot 2T, Row 84, Grave 6333) on February 9, 1945. By February 13, 1945, he had been identified based on a dog tag found on his body, confirmed by dental records and the lieutenant bars on his uniform. His family was notified by April 26, 1945, when the sad news appeared in The Ithaca Journal.
After the war, in 1947, Lieutenant Forbush’s wife requested that Lieutenant Forbush’s body be cremated, and his ashes returned for burial in a private cemetery. His remains were disinterred on May 4, 1948, and returned to the New York Port of Embarkation that fall aboard the U.S.A.T. Lawrence Victory. His ashes were reburied at the Rutland Rural Cemetery in Massachusetts, where his father had been buried. His mother was also buried there after her death. Lieutenant Forbush’s name is honored at the Tompkins County World War II memorial at DeWitt Park in Ithaca.
Jessie Forbush’s great-niece recalled that “Aunt Jessie never remarried, considering Wally the love of her life.” She died in 2010, aged 92, still wearing her wedding ring. Another relative wrote that Mrs. Forbush was buried holding Lieutenant Forbush’s “dog tags, and a small book of poems he had written to her.”
Wallace C. Forbush, Sr.’s obituary stated that after graduating from Amherst College, “He was sent to Porto [sic] Rico by the U. S. government as a teacher[.]” The 1920 census, recorded in Puerto Rico in Spanish, stated he was a “profesor colegio de agricultra” but did not reveal the name of the school he taught at. Profesor could mean either teacher or professor. Similarly, colegio translates as a school of any level.
Newspaper articles state that Forbush was scheduled to graduate and be commissioned on either January 31, 1942 or February 5, 1942. Regardless, he did not go on active duty for another three months.
32nd Station Hospital
The author’s grandfather was serving in the hospital where Lieutenant Forbush was treated after taking ill in Algeria in 1943. The 32nd Station Hospital’s officers socialized with 32nd Station Hospital officers (the nurses at least!). Learning about the connection when I digitized nurse Alice Griffin’s letters led to a line of research which resulted in me profiling Lieutenant Forbush and other members of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Report from Company “C” in the Battalion Journal
One curious aspect of the report recorded in the 894th’s journal is that in addition to Forbush, another fatality (an unnamed “gun commander”) was mentioned. The unit’s morning reports recorded five wounded (Holsonback’s crew) and seven missing. Aside from Lieutenant Forbush, the only other man killed in action that day was Private 1st Class Horace S. Millsaps, with the other five captured. Millsaps’s duty was vehicle driver as of September 4, 1943. Though he potentially could have changed duty—it wasn’t always recorded in the company morning reports—usually a gun commander would have been a sergeant.
Of course, there are several possibilities, among them:
- A gun commander whose M10 was knocked out could have erroneously been reported as killed.
- The report could refer to Millsaps but recorded his duty incorrectly.
- Millsaps could have been a gun commander despite being a private 1st class.
Daniel De Luce Article
De Luce’s article about Company “C,” 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was distributed by the Associated Press and printed in many newspapers. The Times-Picayune version of the article includes three paragraphs that I could not find in any other paper, perhaps because the article focused on Captain Baker D. Newton, a Louisianian. De Luce was awarded the Pulitzer Prize later in 1944 for his work reporting about Yugoslavian partisans.
Photograph of Prisoners
I have not been able to identify the article which gave Lieutenant Forbush’s mother false hope that her son was alive. However, there is a photograph commonly printed in history books of American prisoners—who had been captured at Anzio—marching with the Colosseum visible in the background. The three prisoners in front are all wearing uniforms commonly issued to armored vehicle crewmen (two in winter combat overalls and one in a tanker’s jacket), although these items were highly sought after by infantrymen as well. Indeed, some sources state that the men in the photograph were Rangers captured during the disaster at Cisterna, which occurred a few days before Lieutenant Forbush was killed.
The soldier on the right resembles Forbush, though his tanker’s jacket has N.C.O. stripes on it. In my experience, people crave that recognition. I’ve come across several stories from World War II of families spotting a loved one serving overseas in a newspaper photograph. In each case the identification was either readily disprovable or highly suspect.
There is also film that was apparently taken at the same time, which shows the prisoners being unloaded from trucks before being made to march for German propaganda cameras.
Two photos in this article were digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage. This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution (in this case because the original prints were not sharp). I believe this to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photographs. A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photos can be viewed below.
Special thanks to the Rankin family for contributing photos and their memories of Lieutenant Forbush’s widow, Jessie Forbush. Thanks also go out to the Newton and Uhler families for the use of their photos.
Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 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_2421402106_0386-02575
“Artist Identifies Son, Thought Dead, in Picture of Prisoners.” Buffalo Evening News (Overseas Edition), March 7, 1945. Originally published in the Buffalo Evening News on February 21, 1945. Courtesy of the Newton family.
“Captain Thinks Ithacan Is Prisoner.” The Ithaca Journal, July 5, 1944. Pg. 5. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/40274647/wallace-c-forbush-baker-d-newton/
Chase, Patrick J. Seek, Strike, Destroyer: The History of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion in World War II. Gateway Press, 1995.
Company morning reports for Company “C,” 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion. December 1942–June 1944. National Personnel Records Center.
“Cornell Man Gives Life In Action.” The Ithaca Journal, April 26, 1945. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92378773/forbush-kia/
De Luce, Daniel. “Nazis Repulsed by Louisianian.” The Times-Picayune, February 6, 1944. Pg. 18.
“Elder War Hero.” Fort Lauderdale Daily News, March 8, 1944. Pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/44408103/paul-elder-894th-tank-destroyer/
“Journal of Headquarters 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion From 0910A, 4 February 1944 To 1215A, 4 February 1944.” World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
“Miss Jessie Rankin Engaged to Wed.” The Ithaca Journal, January 19, 1942. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/92378925/forbush-rankin-engagement/
“Miss Jessie Rankin Weds Lieutenant.” The Ithaca Journal, May 18, 1942. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/43469676/marriage-of-wallace-c-forbush-jr/
North Carolina Death Certificates. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60090/images/004216657_01943
Registro Civil, 1836–2001. Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9100/images/004493130_00247
“Roster of Co. ‘B’ 374th. Infantry. At Midnight September 30th., 1918.” U.S. Army Enlisted and Officer Rosters, July 1, 1918 – December 31, 1939. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QHV-D3CH-H8BS
“Roster Company ‘I’ 374th Infantry. At Midnight Sept. 30, 1918.” U.S. Army Enlisted and Officer Rosters, July 1, 1918 – December 31, 1939. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QHV-D3CH-HGGN
“Rutland Man Dies in North Carolina.” Worcester Evening Gazette, November 16, 1926. Pg. 6.
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/4442167_00423
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/4661100_00020
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-t0627-02836-00756
Wallace C. Forbush, Jr. Individual Deceased Personnel File. National Personnel Records Center.
“Wallace C. Forbush To Wed Miss Rankin.” Buffalo Evening News, January 23, 1942. Pg. 10. https://fultonhistory.com/
World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6482/images/005216159_02698
Last updated on January 12, 2022
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