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Basil Clair Sharp

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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Basil Clair Sharp
1914-1944

"Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it."

Pericles

Basil Clair Sharp was an honorable man who sacrificed his life to serve his country. He was born in the small community of Frost in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and later lived in Marlinton. He left his family and his home behind and helped to protect the world from the Nazi threat in Germany. Sharp served from his enlistment in February 1944 until he was killed in action (KIA) in December of that year during the Battle of the Bulge.

Sharp’s parents were Ernest Gilmore Sharp and Mary Daphne Jordan Sharp, and he had three siblings: Rex, Lyle, and Blair. He married his high school sweetheart Jane Stobo Price, who went to the same college as he did. They had three children: Basil Price Sharp, John Calvin Sharp, and Jane Rutledge Sharp.

Basil received his education from Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, where he went for four years and graduated. He then went on to become a coach and teacher at Hillsboro High School—back in his home county.

Pocahontas County is among the largest counties in West Virginia in size but also notoriously low in population; the time period before World War II was the most populous era for the county. According to the 1920 through 1940 censuses, the population decreased by seven and a half percent over a twenty-year period. In this time period, Pocahontas County was known for timbering. In the 1920s, numerous small railroading towns were established by European immigrants. These railroads primarily served the purpose of moving around and selling timber for profit. The Great Depression brought the Civilian Conservation Corps, referred to as the CCC, to assist with reforestation. The CCC was the first of New Deal legislation programs created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to address economic problems during the time of the Great Depression, and one of those problems was deforestation. (Sources: Pocahontas County, “County History,” accessed 13 May 2016, http://www.pocahontascountywv.com/; William P. McNeel, “Pocahontas County,” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 7 May 2015, accessed 8 June 2016, http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1876.)

West Virginia was an important production state for basic necessities and armaments during World War II. West Virginia plants producing war materials included the U.S. Naval Ordnance Plant, Morgantown Ordnance Works, Marietta Manufacturing Company, and the West Virginia Ordnance Works. The movement of war materials to the army was a collective effort of every citizen in the state. West Virginia’s economy was dominated by textiles, apples, cattle, lumber, sheep, power, farming, chemicals, and steel. Coal was an important power source to be utilized within the state and country, as well as in the war. Moving coal around the state and getting it to the army was an industry in itself. During this time period, West Virginia also had vital natural gas that was for use in the state’s factories as well as other states to maximize production for the war. Steel was also an extremely important industry as it was used in not only common items, such as household goods, but also in large scale shipbuilding. This West Virginia industry helped to produce ships and other items at quick rates. Highway improvements during this time became a high priority to accommodate the transportation of goods for the war effort. Altogether West Virginia in the 1940s was an important production center for the war with the strategically built highway system as well as the materials provided by the state. (Source: West Virginia State Archives, “From Every Mountainside [early 1942 film made by the West Virginia State Road Commission to show West Virginia's part in the war effort],” 31 July 2015, accessed 8 June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/.)

Private First Class Basil Clair Sharp joined the military on February 28, 1944, in Fort Thomas Newport, Kentucky; the fact that he joined the military while being employed as a teacher and caring for his three children shows his commitment to serve his country. His term required him to enlist for the entirety of the war or other emergency, signifying his sacrifice for the sake of the country. He joined as a private in the 180th Infantry, 45th Division, 7th Army which trained in Fort Pickett, Virginia, and Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. This unit had already played a prominent role in World War II during the intense fighting in the invasion of Sicily and the attack on Salerno in the 1943 Italian Campaign. As they advanced through Italy, they fought in Anzio and in Monte Cassino, before joining the drive into Germany that ended the war in Europe.

Basil Sharp was deployed almost immediately after his enlistment. In December of 1944, Germany launched their last-effort offensive in the Battle of the Bulge in the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium. The Germans were initially successful in their advancement. The Allied forces launched a counterattack and began to halt the German offensive on December 23, the same day Sharp died at Niederschlettenbach, Germany. Some historians believe this battle was the most significant of the war as the Allied Forces were able to thwart the German attack, but not without a cost. This was the most deadly battle of the war for the U.S. during World War II as the army suffered 100,000 casualties. Sharp contributed to the battle that saw the end to Hitler’s mass offensives in the west, and his ten months of service in the war contributed to the eventual downfall of the German army and victory in the war in Europe. (For further reading about the Battle of the Bulge, see U.S. Army Center of Military History, “The Battle of the Bulge: December 1944 – January 1945,” accessed 13 May 2016, https://www.army.mil/botb/; HistoryNet, “Battle of the Bulge,” accessed 11 May 2016, http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-bulge.)

It is likely that Pfc. Basil Sharp was originally buried in an American military cemetery in Europe, but in 1948 his widow applied for a military headstone so that he could eventually be interred at the Mountain View Cemetery in Marlinton. Pfc. Sharp died a hero and will always be remembered for his actions.
cemetery

Mountain View Cemetery, Pocahontas County, where Basil and Jane Sharp are buried. Courtesy Martha Neighbors, Find A Grave

Jane Price Sharp

Jane Price Sharp. Courtesy Pocahontas Times

Basil’s wife, Jane, went on to raise their three children as a single mother while maintaining a career with her local newspaper, the Pocahontas Times. Jane was a dominant force in Pocahontas County. A 1970s photo shows her at her workplace, with the caption: “Jane Price Sharp was always dressed for work, except Sundays when she could be found on the second row at Marlinton Presbyterian Church. Pictured in 1970, she was happy and at home in The Pocahontas Times office.” Jane Price Sharp died on September 27, 2015. (Source: Suzanne Stewart, “Jane Price Sharp – A Selfless Life,” Pocahontas Times, 30 Sept. 2015, accessed 8 June 2016, http://pocahontastimes.com/jane-price-sharp-a-selfless-life/.)

Jane Rutledge Sharp, daughter of Basil Clair and Jane Price Sharp, assisted in the preparation of this article.

Article prepared by Kareem Shaamaa, Haadi Malik, and Ahmed Mohamed, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2016

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Basil Clair Sharp

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