The hedgerows of the Normandy countryside can be beautiful, but during the days that Wilbur R. Bailey (1921-1944) spent among them in July 1944 they proved fatal. According to one newspaper account reporting his death, Wilbur was the only World War Two casualty from within the limits of Mineral City.
Wilbur R. Bailey was born in Mineral City on September 25, 1921 and was the only son of Wilbur J. Bailey (1891-1943) and Treva M. Williams (1896-1984). While he was the only son, Wilbur grew up with the company of two younger sisters. The elder Wilbur worked as a motorman in one of the local clay mines to support the family.
The younger Wilbur worked a variety of jobs before he began his military service. He labored in the clay mines as a young man, worked as a general laborer at the Federal Refractories facility in Mineral City, and lastly with the Hercules Motor Corporation of Canton. He registered for the draft in February 1942, and would enter the service with the United States Army in November 1942.
Wilbur was assigned to Company B of the 331st Infantry Regiment and underwent training in Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. Wilbur was training in Indiana when he learned of his father’s death in May 1943. Already promoted to Corporal, Wilbur was able to return home to visit his family in early September 1943, just before the 331st was sent for further training at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. The regiment trained there until being ordered overseas in March 1944 to prepare for the invasion of France.
The 331st, sent to New York for embarkation, boarded the troop transport ship George Washington on April 5, 1944. The regiment arrived in England later that month and continued to train and prepare for their role in the upcoming battle for France. While the 331st was not going to be one of the first units to invade, they did not have to wait long to be committed to the battle. The entire regiment came ashore at battle-scarred Omaha Beach on June 23, 1944.
Shortly after arriving in France, the 331st was ordered to relieve the 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division in the vicinity of Auvers, France. The unit took up defensive positions there and awaited orders to continue the offensive. The 331st sent out regular, aggressive, night patrols to probe the enemy positions and capture prisoners. Meanwhile, German artillery and mortar fire was a constant threat to soldiers of the unit.
The 331st was ordered on July 4, 1944 to resume the offensive. The regiment would move forward, through terrain broken up by hedgerows and heavy foliage, only to be met with heavy machine gun, artillery, and mortar fire. Wilbur’s regiment suffered significant casualties during the next few days that forced it to return to the safety of their previous line. While it is not clear when Corporal Wilbur R. Bailey received his promotion(s), it likely occurred during the last two weeks of his life as the 331st Infantry Regiment incurred heavy casualties and needed more seasoned soldiers to lead replacement troops.
During the next 6 days, the 331st regiment attacked and was attacked, with Wilbur’s battalion being completely cut-off from the rest of the regiment at one point. Among the German forces that Wilbur and his comrades faced off against that week were the 6th Parachute Regiment, 2nd SS Panzer Division, 37th and 38th Panzer Grenadier Regiments. An examination of the 331st Infantry Regiment’s after-action reports make it difficult to determine the exact cause and time of now Staff Sergeant Wilbur R. Bailey’s death. B Company’s morning report for July 12, 1944 recorded his death as “KIA as of 10 July 44.”
Staff Sergeant Wilbur R. Bailey’s body was eventually returned to the United States, and his family, in 1948. He is buried in the East Sparta Cemetery in Stark County.
Primary source documents regarding the 331st Infantry Regiment’s activities can be found here: https://83rdinfdivdocs.org/units/331st-ir
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.