Private 1st Class John S. Greenfield (1914–1944)

John S. Greenfield (Courtesy of the Greenfield family)
HometownCivilian Occupation
Talleyville, DelawarePlumber helper or foreman
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32267552
TheaterUnit
EuropeanHeadquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartNormandy

Early Life & Family

John Samuel Greenfield was born in Talleyville, north of downtown Wilmington, Delaware, on April 23, 1914. He was the son of John Wesley Greenfield (a butcher, 1862–1937) and Ella May Greenfield (née Palmer, 1870–1950). He was the youngest of 16 children. He had five older brothers and 10 older sisters. Three sisters and two brothers died prior to his birth.

Greenfield as a child (Courtesy of the Greenfield family)

Greenfield was recorded on the census on January 22, 1920, living with his parents and five siblings on Concord Pike. Census records indicate that he dropped out of school after completing 8th grade.

Greenfield was recorded again on the next census on April 19, 1930, living with his parents and four siblings at the family home on Concord Pike. At the time, he was working as a farmhand. At the time the next census was recorded, on April 5, 1940, he was living with his brother-in-law, Elmer A. Faber, his sister Ruth, and two nephews on Woodrow Avenue in McDaniel Heights, Brandywine Hundred. His occupation was recorded as plumber helper. His mother’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission also gave that occupation. On the other hand, his enlistment data card recorded his occupation as a construction foreman.

Greenfield grew up in a home on Concord Pike. Concord Pike, seen here in 1923, is now a six-lane divided highway. (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Greenfield was working for Paul E. Middleton at 1317 Washington Street in Wilmington. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, seven inches tall and weighing 160 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes.

Greenfield was a volunteer fireman in the Talleyville Fire Company.


Military Training

Greenfield was drafted. He was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on May 13, 1942. Private Greenfield was initially assigned to Company “I,” 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. On October 5, 1942, he shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation aboard the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth, arriving in the United Kingdom six days later. Around October 28, 1942, he transferred to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment.

Private Greenfield (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

Newspaper articles described him as a machine gunner. The tables of organization and equipment for an infantry battalion headquarters company did not include any machine gunners per se, though the company was equipped with nine machine guns, so it is certainly possible that he manned one. It is also possible that he was a machine gunner while he was in Company “I,” but held a different role after his transfer to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion. A private 1st class assigned to a battalion headquarters company could have been assigned to many jobs such as ammunition bearer, cannoneer (in the antitank platoon), cook’s helper, lineman, messenger, telephone switchboard operator, or scout. Unfortunately, Greenfield’s Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was not mentioned in available records.

Greenfield was promoted to private 1st class on an unknown date prior to June 1, 1944.

In England, the division continued to train, eventually participating in a series of exercises including simulated landings at Slapton Sands in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. Greenfield’s company departed England aboard LCI-606.


Combat in Normandy

At H-Hour on D-Day, 0630 hours on June 6, 1944, another regiment, the 116th Infantry, led the 29th Infantry Division in the landings on Omaha. The 116th sustained devastating casualties in the process. Private 1st Class Greenfield’s 115th Infantry Regiment landed about four hours later. German forces occupying the village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer held out against elements of the 115th and 116th Infantry Regiments on the afternoon of D-Day, but the following morning, an attack by Greenfield’s 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry finally overwhelmed the defenders.

Even with the beachhead secured, the grueling Normandy campaign was only beginning. The Germans fortified the thick hedgerows that surrounded Norman fields. This terrain partially neutralized the Allied advantages in naval, artillery, and aerial firepower as well as the superior mechanization and mobility of their forces. Dislodging them was a painstaking process.

An American machine gun team dashes across a field in Normandy (Courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

On D+3, June 9, 1944, the 115th Infantry advanced into the Aure valley, with 3rd Battalion taking Colombières. That night, 2nd Battalion was badly mauled in a chance encounter at Le Carrefour, ironically by a German force that was withdrawing. As a result, 1st and 3rd Battalions would lead the 115th Infantry’s next attack on D+6: June 12, 1944.

Early that morning, American artillery began bombarding the far side of the river Elle. However, as Joseph Balkoski explained in his book, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy:

The powerful barrage accomplished surprisingly little. For two days, the enemy had dug furiously into the hedgerows bordering the Elle, and their deep slit trenches and dugouts were nearly impervious to fire. […] Most German infantrymen were dispersed behind the front, where they dug secondary lines of entrenchments. Here German reserves could form for a surprise counterattack in the event of an American breakthrough.

The battalion journal recorded that at 0500 that day:

The Bn. Attacked strong enemy positions on the South bank of Elle River in vicinity of St. Jean-de Savigny (577719).  “K” Co. on left flank of Bn. Came under heavy artillery fire on L.D. [Line of Departure] suffering heavy casualties and became disorganized.  Bn. crossed river in two groups, one consisted of one plat. of “L” Co. and one plat. of “I” Co. and Command group.  No. 2 group consisted of remainder of Bn.

The journal continued in an entry at 0930: “Crossing completed.  Very heavy enemy resistance along entire front.  Attempt made to reorganize Bn. by flanking enemy that was pinning down group no. 1.  In doing so group no. 2 came under heavy enemy fire[.]”

That evening, running low on ammunition and with no response to requests for reinforcements, those elements of 3rd Battalion that had managed to cross the river withdrew. Though the 115th Infantry was exhausted, the Germans were too. The 29th Infantry Division commanding officer, Major General Charles H. Gerhardt (1895–1976), ordered the 116th Infantry Regiment into the fray, finally breaking the German lines. The following morning, June 13, 1944, Private 1st Class Greenfield’s battalion crossed the Elle again, moved to the area of Couvains, and set up defensive positions.

On June 16, 1944, the 29th Infantry Division began another advance, with 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment moving west to Les Foulons. Balkoski wrote in Beyond the Beachhead:

The afternoon of June 16 was a nightmare for the 3rd Battalion of the 115th. Just as the outfit was crossing the St. Lô highway at Les Foulons, the Germans ambushed it and sent it reeling to the rear. For the second time in five days, the 3rd Battalion yielded its gains and retreated a mile back to its line of departure, pursued closely by the enemy. About seventy men were lost, a particularly demoralizing statistic in light of the battalion’s failure to gain any ground.

According to a digitized hospital admission card under his service number, Private 1st Class Greenfield was struck in the thorax by a bullet or other projectile and killed. Although a card was filled out, as was customary even if a man did not survive to reach the hospital, it appears that he died immediately or at least prior to reaching medical treatment.

The Wilmington Morning News reported on July 31, 1944, that

Mrs. Elmer Faber of 203 Woodrow Avenue, McDaniel Heights, sister of Private Greenfield, with whom he made his home before entering the service, was informed of her brother’s death when a gift package of cigarettes which she had sent to him was returned with “deceased” written across his name. A week later she received the official notification from the War Department of her brother’s death in France on June 16.

There was a memorial service at Grace Episcopal Church on August 6, 1944. Journal Every-Every Evening reported that “Opening the service was a silent processional of members of the Talleyville Fire Company of which Private Greenfield had been an active member.”

Greenfield was buried at the 29th Infantry Division’s temporary cemetery at La Cambe, France. After the war, he was reburied in a permanent military cemetery at Saint-Laurent (Colleville-sur-Mer, France), now known as the Normandy American Cemetery (Section J, Row 20, Grave 14).

Greenfield’s name is honored on a plaque dedicated to the two Talleyville Fire Company members killed in World War II that was unveiled on October 23, 1948. He is also honored at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Greenfield family and the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.


Bibliography

“3rd Bn Journal 115th Inf.” June 1944. World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Balkoski, Joseph. Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2005.

“Four From State Killed Overseas; Brothers Injured.” Wilmington Morning News, July 31, 1944. Pg. 1 and 9. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/94131408/greenfield-kia-pg-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/94131495/greenfield-kia-pg-2/

Greenfield, Ella. John Samuel Greenfield Individual Military Service Record, April 23, 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/18907/rec/1

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_1521003238_0914-00001

John Samuel Greenfield birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-D4VQ-NR8

“John Wesley Greenfield.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56923431/john-wesley-greenfield

“Memorial Honors John S. Greenfield.” Wilmington Morning News, August 7, 1944. Pg. 20. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/94130903/greenfield-talleyville-fire-company/

“Memorial Service Held For Pfc. J. S. Greenfield.” Journal-Every Evening, August 7, 1944. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/94140823/greenfield-memorial/

Morning reports for Company “I,” 115th Infantry Regiment. October 1942. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Morning reports for Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment. October 1942. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Morning reports for Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment. June 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

“Table of Organization and Equipment No. 7-16: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Infantry Battalion.” War Department, February 26, 1944. Military Research Service website. http://www.militaryresearch.org/7-16%2026Feb44.pdf

“Talleyville Firemen Sponsor ‘Open House’.” Wilmington Morning News, October 25, 1948. Pg. 5. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/94140974/greenfield-plaque/

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/4295771-00841

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/4531891_00059

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-t0627-00545-00308

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/704741065/greenfield-john-s-us-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=32267552&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=2907564

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. 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_00004-00182


Last updated on September 3, 2022

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