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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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William Keith Hickman
1928-1945

"United in this determination and with unshakable faith in the cause for which we fight, we will, with God’s help, go forward to our greatest victory."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

William Keith Hickman was born April 9, 1926, to Mary and Stanley Hickman. Federal Census records of 1930 show that he and his sister, Anna Lee, along with his parents, were living with William and Anna Lee’s maternal grandparents, George and Dora Shoemaker, in Barbour County. George was a farmer, and Stanley was a weighmaster in the mines.

By 1940, again according to census records, George, without Dora, was no longer living on the farm, but next door. He was then a road worker. Stanley Hickman was listed as head of household and living on the farm, but he was a bus driver. Census data indicates that they’d most likely been living in these homes 1935. William and Anna Lee were joined by a new brother and sister, Marshall and Eloise.

The next time that William Keith Hickman appears in recoverable records (U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946), he had gone to Huntington and joined the Army in September of 1944. At that time he stated he had only a year of high school and was without dependents. He was not assigned to a branch at that time.

By the time he joined the fighting in the Rhineland Campaign, Pvt. Hickman was assigned to G Company, 114th Infantry Regiment, 7th Army, according to his family’s application for a military headstone. His Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was infantryman. The 114th Infantry Regiment was a member of the 44th Infantry Division.

No details of Pvt. Hickman’s service were discovered, but there are histories and stories of the service of the 114th Infantry Regiment, 7th Army, and the 44th Infantry Division. The winter of 1944-1945 was marked by cold, snow, and famine (Hoek van de Nude en de Costerweg, “The Hunger Winter,” Liberation Route Europe, accessed 27 October 2016, https://liberationroute.com/the-netherlands/historical-location/the-hunger-winter.) General Eisenhower had hoped to end the war before 1945 in Europe, but resistance and counter-offenses to the Allied efforts proved too much to conquer all at once. The slow advance of Allied operations from September through December showed that the Germans had recovered from their defeats of the previous summer. Eisenhower and his command dug in for a long, brutal winter, keeping the pressure on the enemy throughout.

According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History,

As the Allies continued their campaign in the Ardennes and Alsace regions, they also reached consensus on a plan to drive into Germany. In January 1945, they had 71 divisions available and anticipated having 85 divisions by the spring: 61 U.S., 16 British, and 8 French. Eisenhower envisioned employing these forces in a three-phased operation. Initially, the Allies would destroy the remaining German forces west of the Rhine and close along the river throughout its length. In the second phase, they would seize bridgeheads over the Rhine between Emmerich and Wesel in the North and between Mainz and Karlsruhe in the South. In the final phase, the Allies would advance from the lower Rhine into the plains of northern Germany and from the Mainz-Karlsruhe area to Frankfurt and Kassel. In addition to capturing the Ruhr, Eisenhower’s plan yielded the prize of the industrialized Saar basin and the major airfields around Frankfurt and Giessen. (Rhineland Campaign, accessed 27 October 2016, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/rhineland/rhineland.htm.)

The dual effort was a controversial one that was not fully endorsed by the Allies, but Eisenhower had his way. The dual effort in Germany and in the Ardennes and Alsace regions, an extraordinarily cold winter, and the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge left the Allies severely short of infantry by December. Cpl. William Regan, writing in Yank magazine, explained that anyone who could be was reclassified as infantry. Replacement troops were a priority, but there were many concerns and complaints about the adequacy of training, which lasted from 17 to 21 weeks and which many complained was inadequate to learn the use and maintenance of the weapons used by infantry as well as prepare for the climate and learn one’s role. (“Bull Session on Replacements,” 23 March 1945, accessed 27 October 2016, http://www.unz.org/Pub/Yank-1945mar23-00008.)

February saw initial success for the Allies, but the forces were soon stymied by floods and continuing severe weather. Milestones of advancements often featured rivers as borders and bridges that crossed them. Slow advancements in removing dams, as well as coping with German forces destroying bridges, slowed progress further, and the fighting stretched into March. The Center of Military History’s Rhineland Campaign continues:

As German defenses crumbled, the Seventh Army gained momentum and broke through the West Wall defenses on 20 March and was beginning to overrun the Saar-Palatinate triangle. The next day, Seventh Army and Third Army units met. Their pincer movement had destroyed the German Seventh Army, and left the First Army, the only German force west of the Rhine, in desperate straits. Moreover, Patton reported that all three of his corps had reached the Rhine.

On 21 March a massive Allied ground force thus lay poised along the Rhine from Arnhem to Switzerland. Eisenhower’s awesome armies, containing some 4.5 million personnel, included ninety divisions that anxiously awaited the final drive into the heart of the Nazi Reich. The Rhineland Campaign had ended; the final campaign for Central Europe was about to begin.

It’s not clear when Pvt. Hickman joined the effort, but, as noted above, training of replacements lasted 17 to 21 weeks. An enlistment in September meant that Pvt. Hickman might have finished training and been taking part in the Rhineland Campaign by the end of January or early February. In two months, Pvt. Hickman would be dead, in Bensheim, Germany, on April 19, 1945.

Bensheim was bombed in March and occupied by American troops. Bensheim-Auerbach was the location of a concentration camp, and, later, a camp for displaced persons. No records were discovered that explain Pvt. Hickman’s role in Bensheim, but he died there, due to hostile action. In only a few more weeks, Mussolini would be killed, Hitler would have committed suicide, and the war would be over in Germany.

William Keith Hickman’s name is listed on the Barbour County War Memorial among those who gave their lives during World War II. His remains were recovered and returned home. A headstone stands in Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Barbour County, where he is buried.
gravestone

Gravestone for Pvt. William Keith Hickman in Mt. Vernon Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
October 2016

Honor...

William Keith Hickman

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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