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Charles Frederick Wilson
Fairmont Times

West Virginia
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Charles Frederick Wilson
1915-1944

"There is nothing that fear and hope does not permit men to do."

Marquis de Vauvenargues

Army Corporal Charles Frederick Wilson and his twin brother Richard H. were born December 17, 1915, in Mannington, Marion County, West Virginia, to Henry Lee and Elah M. Shanks Wilson. Henry Lee Wilson (c. 1886-1944) stated on his World War I draft registration that he was a carpenter, employed by the South Farm Oil Company. Federal Census records (1920 and 1930) and a death notice for Charles in the October 15, 1944, Clarksburg, W. Va., Sunday Exponent-Telegram indicate the marriage produced eight children: [James] Edward (“Turk”), William C., Richard H., Charles Frederick, F. Jean, Donald S., Patricia M., and B. Franklin (“Frank”). The Find A Grave Web site lists Henry Lee Wilson’s death date as 1944 and notes he is buried in Bee Gum Cemetery in Mannington (Source: Judy Mayfield, “Henry Lee Wilson,” Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com [accessed June 22, 2012].) In Charles’ death notice, his mother is referred to as “Mrs. Jesse Roberts.”

Somewhere along the line, Charles (also know by his middle name, Frederick) acquired the nickname “Fake.” Although the origin of this name is unknown, most likely it was the product of a happy, carefree childhood in middle America. He graduated from Mannington High School, where he was a star of the football team. His army enlistment record does not mention post-high school it appears likely that he spent some time in college.

Of the six Wilson brothers, at least four signed up for service. U.S. Army World War II Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, show that Charles registered on February 10, 1942, at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio. His registration indicates he had four years of high school, with no mention of his college career, and was single, without dependents. A “James E. Wilson” of Marion County, born in 1912, also enlisted at Fort Hayes on February 11; it seems likely that this was Charles’ brother Edward, who was three years older. James Edward’s enlistment record notes that he had completed three years of college, was single at the time of registration, and was in civilian life a “semiskilled mechanic or repairman.” Charles’ twin brother Richard, who was married, did not enlist until December 15, 1942, when he registered for the Army at Clarksburg, West Virginia. Richard too stated that he had four years of high school and his civilian occupation was as a “semiskilled driller, extraction of minerals and construction”; given where the family lived, it seems valid to speculate he was employed in the coal mines. Edward and Charles would end up stationed in Belgium, with Richard in England. Only Donald served in the Navy, and, of the four brothers, only he was sent to the Pacific Theater.

Wilson brothers
Four Wilson brothers in service: Donald, James, Charles and Richard
Fairmont Times

By 1944, Cpl. Wilson was stationed in Belgium, a member of the 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division. The Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram death notice reports that he died of wounds received on September 19 in Germany. Considering that his Division was engaged in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest on that date, most likely that is where he met his death. A precursor to the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, like the Bulge, was a prolonged, bloody conflict.

Densely wooded and approximately fifty square miles in area, Hürtgen Forest provided a possible corridor for the Allies to gain a foothold in Germany. Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges’ First Army saw the advance becoming a standstill, however, as the American material advantages were taken away by the fierce shelling from well-defended German positions. According to one account, General Dwight Eisenhower said: “The enemy had all the advantages of strong defensive country, and the attacking Americans had to depend almost exclusive upon infantry weapons because of the thickness of the forest.”

Pushing only a few miles into the forest, the Americans had suffered 4,500 casualties [one of which, quite possibly, was Cpl. Charles F. Wilson] after nearly a month of fighting. Any further advance could have brought about the Germans’ opening nearby dams and flooding the entire forest. In the meantime, Hodges’ forces laid siege to the city Aachen, north of the forest. It became the first German city of significance to fall under Allied control (October 21, 1944). Instead of surrounding Hürtgen Forest and moving the preponderance of his forces eastward into Germany, Hodges decided to eliminate the German forces in the forest to secure his southern flank.

Suffering 33,000 casualties (9,000 of which were attributed to non-battle causes such as illness and friendly fire), American forces endured at Hürtgen Forest the longest battle they had fought in the history of the United States military. “One way or another, they got you. You froze to death or you got sick or you got blown to bits,” said Leonard Lomell, an Army lieutenant and survivor of Hürtgen. (German forces suffered more than 12,000 deaths and 28,000 casualties overall.) Hürtgen Forest was seen as one of the most controversial battles of the war, with some historians believing the forest was of little strategic value. While the American troops fought the extended battle, dams on the Roer River remained under German control. (Source: C. Peter Chen, “Battle of Hürtgen Forest: 19 Sep 1944 – 10 Feb 1945,” World War II Database, http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=117 [accessed May 9, 2012].)

For his service, Charles Frederick Wilson received the Purple Heart. Like so many of his comrades in arms, he lies in the American Cemetery Henri-Chapelle in Belgium, where he occupies Plot H, Row 10, Grave 2.
Henri-Chapelle Cemetery

American Cemetery Henri-Chapelle,
Belgium. Courtesy
American Battle Monuments Commission

Article by Patricia Richards McClure.

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