Private First Class
Harvey Eugene Wilson, Jr.
87th Infantry Division, 347th Infantry Regiment, Company A
Before the War
On January 31, 1921 Harvey Eugene Wilson, Jr. was born to Harvey Wilson, Sr. and Agnes (Jermier) Wilson in rural Chickasaw County, Iowa. He was the third child of five and the only boy. The Wilsons were tenant farmers on land located about six miles east of Nashua. Harvey, Jr., known as Gene to his family and friends, attended the Grant Country School located a mile from his home.
Like many farm boys during the time, Wilson stopped attending high school after only one year to help his dad farm. According to his niece, Audrey Lechtenberg, Gene originally received an exemption from the military because he was the only son and his labor on the farm was needed to help support the family. However, during the winter months, he occasionally went into town and picked up a little work to make extra money. At some point during the war, the government became aware of this extra work and determined he was no longer a full time farmer. Wilson, suddenly, became eligible for the draft.
“You’re in the Army now, you’re not behind a plow…”
Wilson was 22 years old and single on July 5, 1943 when he reported to Camp Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa for induction to the U.S. Army. After receiving rifleman training at Camp Callen in California, he went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he was assigned to the 87th Infantry Division, 347th Infantry Regiment, Company A, as part of the weapons platoon that used light machine guns and mortars.
After the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, the men of the regiment knew they would see combat soon. On October 9, 1944 they left Fort Jackson for New York and shortly thereafter sailed for Scotland on the Queen Elizabeth, arriving on October 22. Upon arrival, they traveled to England, where they were billeted in private homes and experienced the sights and nightlife of England similar to civilians, except under U.S. Army supervision.
Fast Forward From Fun and Frivolity to Fighting
The 347th Infantry Regiment remained in England for over a month before receiving orders and sailing across the English Channel to Le Havre, France on November 27, 1944. The regiment joined forces with General George Patton’s Third Army. According to a letter written by Wilson’s friend and fellow soldier, Sergeant Rex Demo, Company A saw their first action at Metz, France.
Later, in early December 1944, they moved to a position in the Saar Valley, a few miles from the German border, where they relieved elements of the 26th Infantry Division until Christmas 1944. The troops lacked experience and the Germans knew the area well. The 347th Infantry Regiment lost many men before they had the opportunity to fire their weapons.
Battle of the Bulge Brings Tragedy
When the Germans made a breakthrough during the Battle of the Bulge, the 347th Infantry Regiment moved to a location about 10-20 miles from Bastogne, Belgium, in the Bulge area, where their job was to attack day after day. In the final letter to his family, written on January 5, 1945, Wilson shared that the brutal weather conditions he endured at his undisclosed European location were far worse than the coldest and snowiest day at home in Iowa, where sub-zero temperatures were commonplace. Unfortunately for Wilson, the extreme weather conditions were only a prelude to the brutal battlefield encounter that took his life.
On January 6, 1945, Wilson and Company A attacked the small town of Tillet, near Jenneville, Belgium, a Nazi stronghold. German troops remained intent on keeping the town because it served as a key transportation route back east. As a result, when Company A encountered a large German force in the woods just outside of town, a very intense artillery and small arms fight ensued. German artillery fire and shells rained down on Company A’s lightly protected foxhole position on ground covered by over three feet of snow.
Wilson, part of Company A’s heavy weapons platoon, fed ammunition into a machine gun during this violent engagement. According to correspondence received by Wilson’s family from the 347th Infantry Regiment’s Commander, Second Lieutenant Rollison H. Baxter, “[Wilson] was acting in his capacity as a rifleman. The Company was attacking when it was halted by fire from enemy tanks. During this barrage of tank fire, your son was struct [sic] by shell shrapnel and fatally wounded. Death was instantaneous.” In fact, four men in the squadron were killed during this four-day exchange, including Wilson, and three others were badly wounded.
Harvey Eugene Wilson, age 23, was initially buried in a temporary grave near the town of Grand-Failly, France, approximately ten miles north of Verdun, France. In 1947, Wilson’s parents elected to have his remains permanently interred at the Luxembourg American Cemetery rather than repatriated to U.S. soil. Wilson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for sacrificing his life in defense of his country.
While Harvey Eugene Wilson’s time on earth was short, his service and sacrifice loomed large. Like millions of other American servicemen, he put his country before himself by making the ultimate sacrifice to ensure victory and the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
87th Infantry Division; World War II Operations Reports, 1904-1948, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407 (Boxes 10825-10826); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
87th Infantry Division; World War II Operations Reports, 1904-1948, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407 (Box 10830); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
87th Infantry Division; World War II Operations Reports, 1904-1948, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407 (Box 10835); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
An Historical and Pictorial Record of the 87th Infantry Division in World War II: U.S. Army Military History Inst. 1942-1945. U.S. Army. 1946.
Foy, John D. “Speech on WWII.” July 17 2000.
Foy, John. "Uncle?" E-mail to Audrey Lechtenberg. November 11, 2017.
Harvey E. Wilson, Jr. WWII Army Enlistment Records, 1850-2010. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.
Harvey E. Wilson, VA Master Index Card and Hospital Admission Cards, Department of the Army. National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis.
Iowa, State Census Collection. 1940 State Census. Digital Images. http://ancestry.com.
Nashua Reporter. “These Young Men From Nashua and Surrounding Community Gave their Lives in the Service of our Country in World War II.” May 29, 1946.
Official Call of Duty® channel. “ WWII - Sacrifice,” YouTube Video, 1:14, November 11, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwEw3HjcT60&feature=youtu.be
Rex C. Demo to Harvey and Agnes Wilson. February 15, 1945. Wilson Family Collection, Courtesy of Audrey Lechtenberg.
Wilson Family Letter Collection. 1943-1945. Courtesy of the Wilson Family (Audrey Lechtenberg).
Wilson Family Photographs. 1921-1945. Courtesy of the Wilson Family (Audrey Lechtenberg).
Wilson Military Documents. 1943-1945. Courtesy of the Wilson Family (Audrey Lechtenberg).
World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel, 1946, National Archives. Digital Images. http://www.fold3.