|Sussex County, Delaware||Truck driver|
|European||Company “G,” 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division|
|Military Occupational Specialty||Campaigns/Battles|
|745 (rifleman)||Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland|
Early Life & Family
Gilbert Burton Bryan was born in Lewes, Delaware, on the morning of February 25, 1925. He was the son of William Hazzard Bryan and Lillian Mae Bryan (née Burton). His parents were listed as laborers on his birth certificate, but were farmers by 1930. He had at least five siblings: three older brothers, an older sister, and a younger sister. Two of his brothers served in the U.S. Army in the European Theater during World War II.
The Bryan family was recorded on the census on May 2, 1930, living on a farm on Robinsonville Road in unincorporated Sussex County outside Lewes. By the time of the 1940 census, the family had moved a short distance north to a home on Road 269 in unincorporated Sussex County outside Lewes. Bryan was 15 years old at the time and was listed as having completed the 6th grade. His father was described as a laborer in a grain mill.
When he registered for the draft on his 18th birthday, February 25, 1943, Bryan was living in Lewes and working on John Houston’s farm there. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 130 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes.
The Wilmington Morning News reported that Bryan attended Lewes High School. Bryan’s enlistment data card stated he was a driver who had completed one year of high school. Likewise, his family’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission stated that Bryan was a truck driver prior to entering the service.
Bryan was drafted in mid-1944 by Board No. 1, Sussex County. He joined the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on June 23, 1944. His family’s statement indicated that Private Bryan attended basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, graduating around November 8, 1943. Bryan’s Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was 745, rifleman. After a brief furlough home, he reported to Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, on November 18, 1944, presumably assigned to the Army Ground Forces Replacement Depot there. His family wrote that after a week at Fort Meade, Private Bryan went overseas.
On December 31, 1944, Private Bryan joined Company “G,” 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division, transferring in from the 14th Replacement Depot. At the time, two weeks into the Battle of the Bulge, his company was in defensive positions north of Feulen, Luxembourg. The weather was cold but the area was quiet enough to give Private Bryan time to acclimate. Although the company conducted regular patrols, enemy action was limited to sporadic sniper, mortar, and artillery fire.
On January 10, 1945, Company “G” moved a short distance over icy roads to Heiderschied, Luxembourg. Private Bryan was recorded as being slightly injured in the line of duty on January 13, 1945. It is likely but not confirmed that he sustained a cold weather injury. He was treated at the 104th Evacuation Hospital.
After recovering from his injury, Private Bryan rejoined Company “G” on February 10, 1945, via the 48th Replacement Depot. His company had spent recent days training in Diekirch, Luxembourg, but moved that morning to nearby Beaufort. The following day, his company crossed the river Sauer (Sûre) near Dillingen, Luxembourg, then moved to nearby Bollendorf, Germany. The company advanced a short distance each day during February 14–15, 1945, as 2nd Battalion gradually continued north towards Nusbaum. Most likely, the first assault that Private Bryan participated in took place on the evening of February 16, 1945, when Company “G” attacked Schwarzenbruch, capturing over 50 prisoners in the process.
The regimental after action report stated that the next day, February 17, 1945, “Co G repulsed enemy Counterattack consisting of 4 enemy tanks.” The company morning report mentioned only “Receiving occasional artillery fire” that day, but the February 18 morning report stated “Co was fired upon by enemy tanks[.] Co laid mines to strengthen road blocks[.] Received enemy artillery & small arms fire[.]”
2nd Battalion of 317th Infantry continued the advance on the Nusbaum area during subsequent days. Company “G” morning reports stated that on the morning of February 19, 1945, the men “encountered stiff resistance fr[om] enemy small arms artillery & direct fire weapons” but captured 40 prisoners, taking the hamlet of Freilingerhöhe. That evening, two platoons attacked nearby Freilingen, capturing 20 more prisoners. During the following days, the company performed several more minor operations, mopping up the area and helping to clear Mettendorf. Private Bryan was promoted to private 1st class on February 27, 1945, two days after his 20th birthday.
At the beginning of March 1945, Company “G” moved to Schleid, Germany. An anticipated counterattack never materialized and the next few days were quiet except for some artillery and mortar shelling. The morning report on March 4, 1945, noted “Troops in billets” (that is in buildings rather than tents or foxholes) and “Hot food three meals a day[.]” A few days of training were capped off with a real treat for infantrymen in the field: “Men all had hot showers” on March 7, 1945. Three days later, Company “G” boarded trucks and moved south through Luxembourg to Gandren, France.
On March 11, 1945, Company “G” moved back east into Germany, stopping for the night in Irsch, and moving to Oberzerf the next day. Early on the morning of March 13, 1945, the 80th Infantry Division launched an attack. 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 317th Infantry crossed the river Zerf and advanced on the high ground nearby. Bryan’s 2nd Battalion, the regimental reserve, followed the other two battalions east. The regiment spent the next day mopping up pockets of bypassed Germans and an unknown number of infiltrators that moved into the area under cover of darkness. During subsequent days, the 80th Infantry Division began to move with dizzying speed as the German army west of the Rhine showed signs of collapse.
The 80th Infantry Division operational history stated: “The Division in four days, from 18 to 21 March 1945, inclusive, covered by motor and foot marches approximately one hundred and fifteen miles (115) forward. Five thousand and eighty four (5084) prisoners of war were taken.”
March 27, 1945, saw the 317th Infantry near Mainz, on the west bank of a river that the Allies had been trying to get across for over six months: the Rhine. The Rhine was a formidable barrier as well as a potent symbol for the German nation, albeit one that had already been breached in several locations beginning with the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen on March 7. Even so, the Germans fiercely defended the east bank of the Rhine in the 80th Infantry Division’s sector.
Private 1st Class Bryan’s 2nd Battalion led the 317th Infantry across the river. The Company “G” morning report stated that the company left Mainz at 2230 hours, arriving at the assembly area for the river assault at 2340. The company “set out on assault boats at 0100 hrs” on March 28, 1945.
The regimental history for the month stated:
Enemy resisted our crossing of the RHINE River by placing heavy artillery direct fire weapons, AA [antiaircraft], mortar, and small arms fire on our bridge sites, as well as on the city of MAINZ. After our troops were firmly established on east bank of the RHINE, the enemy infiltrated small groups out of the sector.
The history added that after 2nd Battalion was across the Rhine, “Company G repulsed two enemy counterattacks South of KASTEL[.] Company E repulsed enemy counterattack consisting of undermined number of infantry and tanks in vicinity KASTEL.” The Company “G” morning report estimated that the company took about 150 prisoners that day.
Private 1st Class Bryan went missing in action sometime during March 28, 1945. In fact, he had been killed. A hospital admission card (which was filled out even when a soldier died prior to reaching medical care) stated that Bryan suffered a fatal wound from penetrating trauma to his face inflicted by an unknown weapon. Nazi Germany capitulated less than six weeks after his death.
After the war, Private 1st Class Bryan’s family requested that his body be repatriated to the United States. Journal-Every Evening reported that following his funeral at the Melson Funeral Home in Lewes on August 25, 1949, Bryan was buried at “the White’s Chapel Cemetery, with members of Lewes Post, 17, American Legion, serving as pallbearers.”
Based on the 1940 census enumeration district maps, Road 269 appears to be modern day Old Orchard Road.
Injury on January 13, 1945
Private Bryan was listed on a morning report as lightly injured in action. It appears clear that the injury was unrelated to enemy action. A morning report recorded only that Company “G” spent the day “reorganizing and reequipping” and if Bryan had been wounded, the classification would have been listed as “LWA” instead of “LIA.” Some men listed as lightly injured in action had cold weather injuries like frostbite, although there is no extant hospital admission card for Private Bryan’s January hospitalization that would confirm that.
Bryan was drafted at the same time as another future member of the 80th Infantry Division, Private Charles M. Brittingham (albeit by different Sussex County draft boards). Brittingham and Bryan joined the U.S. Army on the same day at Fort Dix. In fact, their service numbers were only 55 digits apart. Brittingham was killed in action serving with Company “F,” 319th Infantry on January 23, 1945.
Individual Military Service Record
The worksheet in the Delaware Public Archives does not list the author or date it was filled out, but the file has a note from William H. Bryan dated September 17, 1946, stating that he intended to send information about his son soon. Presumably Bryan’s parents filled the worksheet out shortly thereafter.
The painting at the top of this page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage. Although usually used on photographs, it also worked on a photorealistic painting, correcting issues caused by age and the fact that the painting had to be photographed behind glass. I did additional retouching work to remove the reflections caused by the glass covering the painting. A comparison of the original and enhanced versions can be viewed below.
Special thanks to the Bryan family for providing an image of the painting depicting Private 1st Class Bryan and to Andy Adkins, historian and webmaster of the 80th Division Veterans Association website, who digitized records that were invaluable in telling this story.
“4 Delaware Men Reported Dead, 3 Others Wounded.” Wilmington Morning News, April 13, 1945. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110690523/bryan-kia/
Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531895_00753
Ford, Howard R. “After Action Report (S-3). Headquarters 317th Infantry, March 1, 1945. World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/AfterActionReports/80thAAR_317th-S3_FEB45.pdf
Gilbert Burton Bryan 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/17885/rec/1
Gilbert Bryan birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YQM-QHPP
Hayes, James H. “After Action Report (S-3).” Headquarters 317th Infantry, February 2, 1945. World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/AfterActionReports/80thAAR_317th-S3_JAN45.pdf
“History 80th Infantry Division February 1945.” Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/80th-OperationalHistory/80thOperHist-Feb45_Pt1.pdf
“History 80th Infantry Division January 1945.” Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/80th-OperationalHistory/80thOperHist-Jan45_Pt1.pdf
“History 80th Infantry Division March 1945.” Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/80th-OperationalHistory/80thOperHist-Mar45_Pt1.pdf
Morning Reports for Company “G,” 317th Infantry Regiment. December 1944 – April 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. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/DEC44/MR317G_DEC44.pdf, https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/JAN45/MR317G_JAN45.pdf, https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/FEB45/MR317G_FEB45.pdf, https://www.80thdivision.com/MorningReports/MAR45/MR317G_MAR45.pdf
“Private Gilbert Bryan Rites Held in Lewes.” Journal-Every Evening, August 25, 1949. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110690652/bryan-funeral/
Radek, Joe F. “Regimental History. Period from 1 March 1945 to 31 March 1945 inclusive.” Headquarters 317th Infantry, April 5, 1945. World War II Operations Reports, 1940–48. Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website. https://www.80thdivision.com/UnitHistories/317thInfReg_UnitHistory_MAR45-partial.pdf
Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00548-00682
“Two Professional Ball Players Included in Latest Inductees.” Journal-Every Evening, July 7, 1944. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110690920/bryan-drafted/
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/703272311/bryan-gilbert-b-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=42145884&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=8352970
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_08_00001-01534
Last updated on December 2, 2022
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