Private 1st Class Irving De Shong (1917–1945)

Irving De Shong (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Maryland, DelawareTruck driver
BranchService Number
U.S. Army6719356
TheaterUnit
EuropeanAntitank Company, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
Military Occupational SpecialtyCampaigns/Battles
776 (radio operator, low speed)Battle of Brest, Rhineland campaign

Early Life & Family

Irving De Shong was born in Chestertown, Maryland, on April 28, 1917. He was the son of Thomas Oscar De Shong (1890–1949) and Julia De Shong (née Capel). He had an older brother and several younger half siblings.

The family was recorded on the 1920 census living at 407 Cannon Street in Chestertown. At some point—likely by 1930 but no later than 1935—De Shong moved to Wilmington, Delaware. He is likely the Irving deShong mentioned in a newspaper article as a student in the Thomas F. Bayard School in Wilmington who performed in an operetta on May 22, 1930. Census records stated that he dropped out of school after completing the 7th grade, while his World War II enlistment data card stated that he completed two years of high school.

Journal-Every Evening reported on June 3, 1935, that “Irving DeShong, 18, 303 West street, was this morning enlisted for service with the Infantry, in Panama, by Sergeant Stewart.”

After arriving in the Panama Canal Zone, Private De Shong joined Company “D,” 14th Infantry, stationed at Fort William D. Davis, on July 14, 1935. He was promoted to private 1st class on August 8, 1936. He was reduced back to private on December 7, 1936. Private De Shong departed Panama on July 21, 1937, aboard the St. Mihiel, bound for Brooklyn for reassignment, though he apparently was discharged shortly thereafter.

Martin Eisenman, another Delaware soldier who lost his life during World War II, seen here at the Panama Canal in the mid-1930s. Eisenman also served in the 14th Infantry at Fort Davis at the same time as De Shong (Courtesy of the Eisenman family)

De Shong worked as a truck driver after leaving the military. A newspaper article stated that “Private deShong was employed by the Associated Transportation Company in Baltimore.” He may have married a woman from Chestertown, Gertude Downey (later Harrington, c. 1917–1969). She gave birth to twins on June 16, 1938: a daughter, Irene De Shong (later known as Irene Harrington and eventually Irene Sparks, 1938–1991), and a son, Irving De Shong, Jr. (1938–1940). He suffered from several health problems, eventually dying at Wilmington General Hospital on March 8, 1940. The couple apparently had a third child, Thomas (later known as Thomas Harrington, 1939–1992).

De Shong was recorded on the census on April 6, 1940, living with Gertrude and their daughter at 502 West 5th Street in Wilmington. De Shong and Gertrude apparently separated that year, since when he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, De Shong was living with and working for his father at 719 New Castle Avenue in Wilmington. The registrar described him as standing five feet, seven inches tall and weighing 154 lbs., with dark brown hair and gray eyes.

De Shong was living at 620 South Heald Street when he married Mary Synczyszyn (who lived next door at 622 South Heald Street) in Wilmington, Delaware, on the afternoon of November 22, 1941. The couple had one daughter, Shirley Ann De Shong (later Gifford, 1943–2019).

Mary and Shirley De Shong in Wilmington, 1944 (Courtesy of Thomas Wade)

World War II

De Shong was drafted back into the U.S. Army during the fall of 1943. He was inducted in Camden, New Jersey, on October 19, 1943. A statement by an unknown member of his family (likely his widow) to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission indicated that Private De Shong went on active duty on November 9, 1943, at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The statement indicated that he was stationed at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, from December 10, 1943, through July 14, 1944. He was promoted to private 1st class on an unknown date.

In his book, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

The 29ers usually had little use for their antitank companies in combat since they rarely encountered German tanks. One member of the 116th Infantry’s antitank company recalled that from June 1944 to May 1945 he never saw an enemy tank. This was fortunate for the 29ers, for tank technology had advanced so rapidly from 1939 to 1944 that the nine 57mm guns in each American antitank company were no more effective than peashooters against most German tanks in 1944.

Company morning reports indicate that on August 31, 1944, Private 1st Class De Shong joined Antitank Company, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, transferring in from the 48th Replacement Battalion. His Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was 776 (radio operator, low speed).

At the time he joined the 29th Infantry Division, the unit was engaging German forces around the important port of Brest. On September 17, 1944, the antitank crews were called upon to attack some fortifications which even heavy artillery had barely dented. In another book, From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August – September 1944, Balkoski wrote:

[Major Glover] Johns eventually moved up three high-velocity 57mm guns from his anti- tank platoon, under the command of 1st Lt. Sorrel Abramson, and ordered their crews to open fire with armor-piercing ammunition on one of the pillboxes at nearly point-blank range. Johns recalled that the 57s did some “pretty good shooting,” and managed to put a few shells directly into one of the pillbox’s deep apertures. The only appreciable result of those bull’s-eyes, however, was to render the sliding steel door cover of the firing-port inoperable.

A German pillbox at Brest which shrugged off multiple armor-piercing shells from tank destroyers and 57 mm antitank guns (Collection of Glover Johns, courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

The following day, the members of the German garrison began surrendering en masse. The Battle of Brest was a Pyrrhic victory for the Americans, sine the Germans held out long enough to demolish Brest’s port facilities. General Dwight Eisenhower made the difficult decision not to devote scarce resources to repairing Brest. With the capture of other ports during the siege (particularly Marseille, France, and Antwerp, Belgium), the Allies managed to successfully supply their armies without the Breton ports.

The men of the 29th Infantry Division had little time to rest in Brittany. Orders came down for the division to move across France to join forces at the front lines in the Netherlands, a move that began on September 24, 1944. Though the Germans had been routed in France following the breakout from Normandy, the Allied pursuit slowed as their supply lines lengthened and the Germans consolidated their positions closer to the German border.

De Shong remained with the 29th Infantry Division during further grueling combat during the Rhineland campaign. October 1944 saw some limited but costly engagements, followed by an all-out offensive beginning on November 16, 1944.

A 57 mm antitank gun deployed in Kleinblittersdorf, Germany, on February 21, 1945 (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo by Jacob Harris, National Archives via Signal Corps Archive)

Antitank guns had limitations even on rare occasions when enemy armor was encountered. They were defensive weapons which had to be towed into position and dug in prior to use. During the campaigns in Europe in 1944–1945, the Allies were almost always on the offensive.

An incident that Balkoski recounted in another of his books, Our Tortured Souls: The 29th Infantry Division in the Rhineland, November – December 1944, illustrates the problem. On the morning of November 19, 1944, 2nd Battalion of the 115th Infantry attacked Dürboslar, Germany. Two companies easily overran the village but, following their standard tactical doctrine, the Germans immediately launched a counterattack that included 12 assault guns.

The battalion commander, Major Victor Gillespie, committed reinforcements including a platoon of antitank guns. When four assault guns pushed into town, the American infantrymen destroyed two with bazooka fire before the antitank guns even arrived (and likely before they even received orders to move out). Even after the antitank guns arrived, it proved impossible to bring them to bear against the remaining 10 assault guns, which Balkoski wrote “continued to blast Dürboslar for the rest of the afternoon from fields on the town’s periphery.”

The Rhineland town of Koslar fell to the 29th Infantry Division’s 116th Infantry Regiment around Thanksgiving 1944. The 116th narrowly held against strong German counterattacks, and the town was secured on November 28, 1944. 12 days of fighting had brought American forces close to banks of the Roer, though the offensive would continue for another 12.

Koslar, Germany (Collection of Carleton Fisher, courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

In his book, The Last Roll Call: The 29th Infantry Division Victorious, 1945, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

On December 9, Ninth Army had shut down a 29th Division offensive that had endured for twenty-four grueling days at a cost of 2,600 combat and another 1,100 non-combat casualties—over one-quarter of the division’s personnel as of its November 16 start date. Those staggering losses had bought a paltry terrain gain of little more than six miles, a distance a fit soldier could jog in an hour. During that offensive the 29th Division had lost a man every nine minutes—gaining on average three yards for each man lost.

One week later, the Germans launched a counteroffensive in the Ardennes. The 29th Infantry Division was not involved in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge but had to take over the sectors of the front held by neighboring divisions rushed south to contain the German breakthrough. Major actions along the Roer were unthinkable for the next two months. In February 1944, after defeating the German counterattack, the Allies prepared to resume the offensive across the Roer with Operation Grenade. However, the Germans intentionally created flooded the Roer by releasing water from dams upriver, delaying the new offensive for weeks.

During this static period, on February 21, 1945, Private 1st Class De Shong was seriously wounded on February 21, 1945, and died of his wounds the same day. Balkoski wrote of the incident in The Last Roll Call:

That impalpable attribute known as luck determined your fate, they said; there was no way to tell who had it and who didn’t, so why worry? How many times had jinxed GIs died from a direct hit on an ostensibly safe foxhole, while others standing in the open during enemy bombardments were untouched? A tragedy suffered by the 29th Division after dark on February 21 did not help to dispel that irrational notion. A platoon of the 115th Infantry’s Antitank Company, bivouacked well over a mile behind the front, was resting amid the relatively luxurious comfort of a decrepit Koslar row house cellar when a Luftwaffe bomber came over and dropped two 500-pound bombs on the village. One scored a direct hit on the edifice occupied by the platoon, instantly killing four members and wounding eleven more—roughly 10 percent of the company. The four unlucky ones were T/5 Glenn Bridges, PFC Robert Arrington, PFC Dayton Davis, and PFC Irving De Shong. Their numbers had come up, and they would be sorely missed—but as every 29er well understood, the Army would hold no wakes for those poor unfortunate souls.

Private 1st Class De Shong was buried at the American military cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands. After the war, he was reburied in a permanent military cemetery at the same location, now known as the Netherlands American Cemetery (Plot J, Row 20, Grave 7).


Notes

Prewar Life

Telling the story of De Shong’s early life is complicated by confusing documentation. “Gertrude De Shong” was listed as his wife on the 1940 census. However, his marriage to Mary Synczyszyn was described as his first on their marriage certificate, suggesting that he was never legally married to Gertrude Downey. His first family was not mentioned in his obituary at all.

Enlistment Data Card

De Shong’s enlistment data card had an error in his service number, made either during encoding in 1943 or when the card was digitized decades later, listing it as 66719356 rather than 6719356.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks Private 1st Class De Shong’s nephew, Thomas Wade, and to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.


Bibliography

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

Balkoski, Joseph. From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August – September 1944. Stackpole Books, 2008.

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

Balkoski, Joseph. The Last Roll Call: The 29th Infantry Division Victorious, 1945. Stackpole Books, 2015.

Balkoski, Joseph. Our Tortured Souls: The 29th Infantry Division in the Rhineland, November – December 1944. Stackpole Books, 2013.

Irving De Shong Individual Military Service Record, c. 1946. 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/18408/rec/1

Delaware Death Records. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSMP-TSV1-H

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12692-77165-58

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_1521003239_0888-00634

Lists of Outgoing Passengers, 1917–1938. Record Group, 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61174/images/44509_3421606189_0302-00479

“Mary Synczyszyn DeShong.” The News Journal, November 6, 2005. Pg. B4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93697464/irving-deshong-widow-obit/

“Mrs. Gertrude D. Harrington.” The Tampa Tribune-Times, April 13, 1969. Pg. 17-A. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93829700/gertrude-harrington-obit/

Morning Reports for Antitank Company, 115th Infantry Regiment. August 1944 – February 1945. U.S. Army Morning Reports, c. 1912–1946. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Morning Reports for Company “D,” 14th Infantry. July 1935 – December 1936. U.S. Army Morning Reports, c. 1912–1946. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.fold3.com/image/706913285 (July 1935), https://www.fold3.com/image/706913489 (August 1936), https://www.fold3.com/image/706913550 (December 1936)

“Operetta Tonight at Bayard School.” The Evening Journal, May 22, 1930. Pg. 7. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93830740/bayard-operetta/

“Table of Organization and Equipment No. 7-19: Infantry Antitank Company, 57-mm Gun.” War Department, February 26, 1944. Military Research Service website. http://www.militaryresearch.org/7-19%2026Feb44.pdf

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/4301040_00085

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-t0627-00549-00252

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:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3HF-RSR9-5 (July 1935), https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3HF-R33R-7 (September 1936), https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3HF-RSPJ-D (December 1936), https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3HF-RS2J-X (July 1937)

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/700989923/blank-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954

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/005152018_01817

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=66719356&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=230489

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_02_00002-00967

“Youth Joins Army.” Journal-Every Evening, June 3, 1935. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/93697714/irving-deshong-enters-army-1935/


Last updated on September 9, 2022

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