Private James N. Foley (1921–1944)

Private James N. Foley (Courtesy of Mena Foley Hughes)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Delaware, PennsylvaniaFactory or shipyard worker
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32076715
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “I,” 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
Military Occupational SpecialtyCampaigns/Battles
653 (assistant squad leader or squad leader)Normandy

Author’s note: This article incorporates some text from my article about Sergeant William I. Smith, another member of the 29th Infantry Division.

Early Life & Family

Norwood James Tully was born at 2204 La Mott (Lamotte) Street in Wilmington, Delaware, early on the morning of July 25, 1921. He was the son of Kathryn May Tully (at the time, a cigar maker, 1903–1969) and Samuel (Salvatore) Niglio (a barber who had immigrated to Wilmington from Italy, 1893–1961). After his mother married Stephen Foley (a mechanist and later metal worker, 1896–1837) in Wilmington on October 15, 1924, the young boy was renamed Norwood Foley and eventually James Norwood Foley, though his family called him Norrie. He had two younger half-brothers: Thomas Francis Foley (1925–2010), who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, and Stephen Foley, Jr. (1926–1927), who died very young.

The family had moved to Eddystone, Pennsylvania, by the time they were recorded on the census on April 14, 1930. Census records indicate that they were living in Chester, Pennsylvania, as of April 1, 1935. The family was living at 828 Elsinore in Chester when Stephen Foley died on the night of March 2, 1937. By October 1, 1939, when Foley’s mother remarried to Herman A. Rosch (1904–1973), the family had returned to Wilmington and was residing at 62 East 22nd Street.

Details of Foley’s education are contradictory. Journal-Every Evening reported that Foley graduated from Smedley High School in Chester. However, the 1940 census, which was taken after he had already moved back to Wilmington, listed him as completing only grammar school. Finally, his enlistment data card stated that Foley had completed two years of high school.

Journal-Every Evening stated that Foley was in the Delaware National Guard for one year before the war.

When Foley registered for the draft on February 16, 1942, he was unemployed and living at 62 East 22nd Street. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, six inches tall and weighing 154 lbs., with brown hair and eyes. His enlistment data card stated he worked as a semiskilled worker producing rubber goods. Journal-Every Evening stated that Foley “was once employed at the Harlan and Hollingsworth Plant before going into the Army.”


Military Career

After he was drafted, Foley was inducted into the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on July 23, 1942. Newspaper articles indicate that he went on active duty the following month. Journal-Every Evening summarized his career:

He served with the paratroops at Fort Benning but was unable to complete his training because of faulty sight.  He then went into the airborne troops and was stationed at Camp McCoy, Wis., and Fort Benning, Ga., before going overseas in June [1944].

Parsing the information in the article is a bit challenging. Presumably, the first sentence indicates that he trained to become a paratrooper. It is unclear what eyesight issue would have precluded him from becoming a paratrooper but not an infantryman, so that detail may not be accurate. Both Journal-Every Evening and the Wilmington Morning News stated that Foley served in a glider unit, which may be what the article meant by him going “into the airborne troops” after failing to complete parachute training.

In a photograph of Private Foley above, he is wearing the distinctive unit insignia for the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment. Curiously, the regiment was stationed in North Carolina, South Dakota, and Nebraska, none of which are mentioned in newspaper articles about Private Foley’s service. Exactly when he joined and departed that unit is unknown, but Foley apparently went overseas as a replacement. By July 1944 he was in the 92nd Replacement Battalion—the 88th Glider Infantry Regiment would not be overseas until the following year.

On July 19, 1944, Private Foley was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Charles H. Gerhardt (1895–1976). The division had sustained very heavy casualties during the first six weeks of the Normandy campaign. In his book, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, Joseph Balkoski wrote that “The old-timers sarcastically referred to Gerhardt as a corps commander rather than a division commander. ‘He has a division in the field, a division in the hospital, and a division in the cemetery,’ the men used to say.”

Foley joined Company “I,” 115th Infantry Regiment on July 20, 1944, immediately following the conclusion of the costly Battle of Saint-Lô. The company had arrived in Normandy with 214 men on D-Day, June 6, 1944. After 43 days of combat, Company “I” had been reduced to just 100 men. Fortunately, the 29th Infantry Division was pulled out of the line to rest, maintain equipment, and orient replacements to their new units.

Men of the 115th Infantry watching dancers give a performance near Saint-Lô on July 24, 1944, during their brief respite from combat (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-192038-A, courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

In the meantime, the U.S. First Army was preparing to launch Operation Cobra. On July 25, 1944, more than a thousand heavy bombers carpet-bombed German lines and American forces surged forward. The stage was set for a breakout that would see Paris liberated one month later and German forces in headlong retreat. But there was a great deal of fighting left before the Allied armies’ triumphant march down the Champs-Élysées.

Unit morning reports recorded Private Foley’s Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) as 653 (assistant squad leader or squad leader). This was a curious detail, since under the table of organization for an infantry rifle company, assistant squad leaders were supposed to be sergeants and squad leaders were staff sergeants. In correspondence with the author about the discrepancy, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

I believe that Foley, despite his official rank of private and his recent arrival with Company I 115th Infantry, was indeed appointed a squad leader as an emergency measure.

Company I had been very roughly handled in late July and early August 1944. It was under 50% of its authorized strength and was commanded by a 2nd lieutenant, Dwight Gentry, who I knew well.

There was such a shortage of NCOs [noncommissioned officers] in Company [I] in this period that astonishing steps were taken to create functional squads, and I’m sure it was common that a PFC or even a private took command of a squad. I believe this is what happened to Foley.

It is also possible that Foley was an assistant squad leader, which shared the same M.O.S. number.

Balkoski wrote in another of his books, From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944:

Appalling rates of attrition among 29th Division infantry companies had shoved those men into leadership roles, whether they liked it or not, and on occasion, when a nineteen-year-old private first class with no combat experience suddenly found himself a squad leader, the consequences were usually regrettable.

American soldiers in Normandy, these from the 79th Infantry Division on July 18, 1944 (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-209013, courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

In Beyond the Beachhead, Balkoski wrote that after eight days of rest,

First Army threw the 29th Division into the breach on July 28 with orders to cross to the west side of the Vire River at St. Lô and follow a 2nd Armored Division column pushing south against an enemy that seemed on the verge of collapse. [Lieutenant General Omar] Bradley and his staff examined their operations maps and noted the bulge that was rapidly expanding deep into enemy territory. It would be the 29th’s job to cover the eastern face of that bulge to ensure that the Germans did not take advantage of the fluid situation and launch one of their customary counterattacks into First Army’s vulnerable left flank.

The 29th Infantry Division headed south into the Norman hills by truck on July 28, 1944. The following day, the division began an advance on the town of Percy. Like Saint-Lô, Percy was a crossroads, which gave it strategic significance, especially in a place like Normandy where thick hedgerows hampered cross-country movement. The American advance ground to a halt in the face of staunch German resistance. Despite the costly fighting, Balkoski explained that the Americans did achieve one important strategic objective:

Neither side managed to achieve any appreciable gains during this period, but the 29th Division had blunted the enemy’s armored thrusts into the eastern face of the bulge created by First Army’s Cobra offensive. This success enabled the Americans to maintain their devastating blitzkrieg in western Normandy without interruption, which would soon shatter the enemy front completely. 

Beginning on August 2, 1944, the Germans began retreating in good order toward Vire, with the Americans in hot pursuit. The advance was rapid in comparison with the first eight weeks of fighting in Normandy, but as Balkoski wrote:

While their main body retired to Vire, the Germans left behind delaying teams who slowed the Americans at farmhouses and road junctions with a tenacity that commonly left the GIs with the mistaken idea that they had stumbled into a major line of resistance. When the 29ers inevitably overcame this opposition by fire and maneuver, another German resistance nest would appear a few hundred yards ahead just as the GIs were starting to make good progress.

American soldiers in Tessy-sur-Vire, Normandy, on August 3, 1944 (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-192224, courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

Private Foley went missing in action on August 3, 1944, likely the victim of one of these small-scale actions. That day, Balkoski wrote, “the division managed to achieve its most rapid advance of the campaign, pushing ahead six miles toward Vire.”

The 115th Infantry Regiment after action report stated of the day’s events:

The regiment was assigned to mission of capturing and organizing the area in the vicinity of LA VALEE astride the road form LANDELLES ET COUPIANY to ST SEVER CALVADOS.  The 3rd Battalion was assigned the left half of the regimental zone of advance, the 2nd Battalion the right.

3rd Battalion, including Private Foley’s company, launched its attack at 0530 hours that morning. The regimental after action report continued:

The 3rd Battalion reported at 0605 hrs that advance elements had passed through ST VIGOR DES MONTS; by 1400 hrs the attack had progressed well beyond MORIGNY.  The advance elements of the 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion early in the evening 3 August captured their objectives at LA VALEE and prepared to hold at that point for the night.

By August 11, 1944, Foley’s company had been notified that he had in fact been killed in action on August 3, 1944.

Morning report listing the death of Private Foley (National Personnel Records Center, courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

In correspondence with the author, Balkoski suggested that Private Foley was one of the victims of an event recounted to him by Dwight Gentry, which Balkoski summarized in his book, From Brittany to the Reich:

In one terrible incident in August, when Company I had struggled to push ahead against fierce opposition south of Vire near the village of St. Germain de Tallevende, a young squad leader who had just arrived as a replacement and was thrust into a leadership role because no qualified sergeants were available ordered his equally inexperienced squad members to climb over a hedgerow and advance upright in single file into an open pasture. No Germans were visible, but anyone who had faced enemy bullets in the past would have known immediately that such a maneuver was unwise. Nearby 29ers watched in horror as the men progressed halfway into the field and were felled by a sudden crossfire of German machine guns. The enemy gunners were coldly efficient, and within seconds, every squad member—twelve in number, according to Gentry—was dead, falling in a perfect line as if they had been marching in a parade.

In correspondence with the author, Balkoski added that “This incident triggered the establishment of the 29th Division Training Center, a fantastic organization that made the 29ID’s tactical proficiency much higher.”

With the passage of decades, Gentry did not recall the name of the squad leader by the time he recounted the story to Balkoski. Of course, it is impossible to confirm with absolute certainty that Foley’s squad was the one involved in the incident. Company “I” morning reports recorded nine men missing in action on August 3, 1944. Six were riflemen and all nine were at the grade of private or private 1st class.

All nine men were eventually found deceased. Curiously, six of the men (including Foley) had hospital admission cards attributing their deaths wounds to the stomach (five of them from gunshots and the sixth unknown). The other three men were listed as killed by an artillery shell. These cards were filled out even when a soldier died prior to reaching medical care. Since it seems unlikely that six of the men were shot in the exact same place during the machine gun burst, it may suggest the individual(s) filling out the cards postmortem was not particularly attentive to doing so accurately. It is unclear if Gentry was mistaken about the entire squad being wiped out or whether the squad was understrength to begin with. It is also impossible to confirm that all nine men were killed at the same time, and indeed the hospital admission cards, if they can be trusted, would tend to indicate no more than six men were killed by gunfire. If one burst of machine gun fire felled all nine, then the company did not sustain any other fatalities for the rest of the day.

Private Foley’s headstone at the Brittany American Cemetery (Mena Foley Hughes)

Private Foley was buried in a temporary military cemetery at Marigny, near Saint-Lô, France. After the war, he was reburied in St. James, France, at what is now known as the Brittany American Cemetery (Plot I, Row 1, Gave 9). Private Foley is honored at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware, and on the Foley headstone at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Chester.


Notes

Mother’s Name

Private Foley’s mother’s first name is listed as Catherine, Katherine, and Kathryn in various records. Foley’s niece advised that Catherine was her legal name but that Kathryn was the spelling she preferred.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Private Foley’s niece, Mena Foley Hughes, for information and the use of her photos, and to Joseph Balkoski for his assistance with the mystery of Private Foley’s M.O.S.


Bibliography

“2 City Soldiers Die, 3 Wounded.” Wilmington Morning News, September 1, 1944. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103974379/foley-kia/

“2 Wilmington Soldiers Die; Third Missing.” Journal-Every Evening, August 31, 1944. Pg. 1 and 22. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103975034/james-foley-kia-1/,  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103975150/james-foley-kia-2/

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

Balkoski, Joseph. Email correspondence, August 21, 2022.

Balkoski, Joseph. From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944. Stackpole Books, 2010.

“Deaths.” The Morning News, November 21, 1969. Pg. 58. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103984423/catherine-foley-obit/

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1673/images/31297_212286-00446, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12408-45880-21, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12383-23093-19

Catherine Tully birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1672/images/31297_212244-00205

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_0803-02076

“Journal HQ. 3rd BN. 115th INF. APO 29 From: 1155 3 August 1944. To: 2001 4 August 1944.” Maryland Museum of Military History.

Norwood James Tully birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D14Q-P2Z

“Samuel J. Niglio.” Wilmington Morning News, March 9, 1961. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103974319/obituary-for-samuel-j-niglio/

Silverman, Lowell. “Sergeant William I. Smith (1925–1944).” Delaware’s World War II Fallen website, August 10, 2022. Updated August 18, 2022. https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2022/08/10/sergeant-william-i-smith/

Smith, Louis G. “After Action Report For Month of August 1944.” September 4, 1944. Maryland Museum of Military History.

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.

“Steven Foley.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/81800505/steven-foley

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/4639361_01096

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-t0627-00551-00658

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/704690124/foley-james-n-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=32076715&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=2745826

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_05_00002-00439


Last updated on August 25, 2022

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