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James Elwood Wickline

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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James Elwood Wickline
1923-1944

"I can say that I live in a world of freedom, something that James fought for. I am very thankful for that. I admire the strength of what one person can accomplish in this big world. It inspires me and others. It produces new possibilities for growth and progress, and it is important that we should never forget where we came from: we shouldn’t take freedom for granted."

Maarten Vossen

Two remarkable young men. Two men who never met. Two men whose destinies are inextricably twined as much as if they were from the same place, the same time. Ageless friends.

Army Private First Class James Elwood Wickline was born in Crellin, Maryland, on January 10, 1923, the only child of Melvin Beniah Wickline (1890-1971) and Myra E. Reed Wickline (1892-1970). Melvin and Myra were married on November 6, 1918, in Galesburg, Illinois. The 1930 U.S. Federal Census indicates that Melvin was a loader in the coal mines, and in 1940 he was listed as a machine man; he retired as a mine foreman. Maxine Wickline, a relative, notes that Myra Wickline worked as a registered nurse. “Jimmie” would spend his formative years on Bethel Road in the historic Scotts Run area of Monongalia County.
James Wickline

James E. Wickline, early photo

Wickline parents

Melvin and Myra Wickline

University Hill Hilltoppers

University High Hilltoppers, James Wickline in center of front row

James attended Osage Junior High School in Monongalia County and University Demonstration High School in Morgantown. Although U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, state that he had a grammar school education, other sources indicate he graduated from the university high school in 1942. His attendance at the school is further documented by a newspaper photo (source unknown, but most likely the Dominion News or Post Chronicle) of the era showing Jimmy to be a member of the Hilltoppers 1941-1942 basketball team. An active student, he joined the drama club and contributed to the school newspaper. On April 9, 1940, James completed all requirements to become a First Class Boy Scout.

According to his enlistment record, James registered for the U.S. Army at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, on March 16, 1943, at which time he stated that his civilian occupation was that of machine shop operator. Maarten Vossen confirms James’ machine shop experience, indicating he began work for the Fafnir Bearing Company, headquartered in New Britain, Connecticut, in November 1942, having been trained at the Arthurdale War Production and Training Project from September through November.
James Wickline and mother

James Wickline with his mother

However, he soon joined training at Camp Butner, North Carolina, and was promoted to private first class. Assigned to Company I, 309th Infantry, later he was transferred to HQ Company, 3rd Battalion, 309th Infantry at Camp Pickett, Virginia. Eventually he would become a member of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. As such, he was stationed at Wollaton Park, England.

Men in parachutes are a legendary part of Operation Market-Garden. Such movies as A Bridge Too Far captured popular attention, but a documented account of this action in the European Theater can be read, among others, in Chapter VI of Charles B. MacDonald’s Siegfried Line Campaign (part of the United States Army in World War II series [Stetson Conn, General Editor] of the United States Army Center of Military History, 1963, 1990, Web, accessed 1 July 2015).

On September 17, 1944, Pfc. James E. Wickline left England with plane 42-101073 heading toward Groesbeek [Nijmegen], Holland. On this, the first day of Operation Market-Garden, he was killed when his parachute failed to open. Originally he was listed as missing in action. In his early research Maarten Vossen located a letter from Myra Wickline asking American authorities for any information about her son.

Netherlands American Cemetery

Reflecting Pool at Netherlands American Cemetery (Margraten). Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission. Pfc. James Wickline is buried in Plot I, Row 17, Grave 21.

Buried first in a temporary grave near the Wylerbaan in Groesbeek, James’ remains were dug up in 1946 on the order of the mayor to “dig up the corpses as soon as possible.” He was then interred in the American Military Cemetery (Netherlands American Cemetery) in Margraten. This much decorated soldier would eventually garner a Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Honorable Service Lapel-WWII insignia.

Growing up on farms or in coal-mining families, West Virginia World War II enlistees often had multiple siblings. Myra and Melvin Wickline had only one son. Myra was a small but determined woman who adored her only child. In the late 1940s, she travelled by boat to visit the grave of her son. Myra and Melvin would live on until 1970 and 1971, respectively, at which time they were buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Dailey, Randolph County, West Virginia.
Myra Wickline

Myra Wickline

Maarten Vossen

Maarten Vossen at the grave of James Wickline

Fast forward to 2015. Maarten Vossen, from the Netherlands, comes to West Virginia with filmmaker Marijn Poels to make a documentary about the life of James Wickline. Maarten was just thirteen years old when he adopted the grave of James Wickline in the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten. As with other adopters of American graves in European military cemeteries, Vossen does not take his responsibilities lightly. Thus began his research; thanks to him, much is known of the life of James Wickline, and more is being uncovered as he and the filmmaker retrace Wickline’s early life. Scheduled for release in early 2016, Ageless Friends will cement the bonds between those Americans who gave their lives for the freedom of their European allies and the people of the Netherlands who honor them.

At the request of Vossen and the Monongalia County Commission, in 2015 the West Virginia Legislature passed a resolution naming a bridge in Wickline’s honor. Henceforth the bridge on U.S. Route 19 crossing Scotts Run, locally known as the Osage Bridge, will be known as the “U.S. Army Air Corps PFC James Elwood Wickline Memorial Bridge.”

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who graciously acknowledges the assistance of Maarten Vossen, who supplied much of the information and all photos (obtained from James’ family and friends) in this biography.
July 2015

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James Elwood Wickline

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