Biography of Edward G. "Buddy" Wilbeck
Lt., Hvy Mrtr Pltn, Hvy Wpns Co, 112th Regt, 28th Inf Div, USA
He played baseball, very good baseball.In 1937 he was selected 1st team tri-county high school shortstop.He was also a speed skater but base ball was his real passion. And there was Ann. They were high school sweathearts who eloped together a year after graduation. A few years later, after learning about his skills from his former coach, the coach of John Marshall College, a business and law school in Jersey City, N.J., recruited him to play in return for a full scholarship. Buddy set out to be a lawyer while leading Marshall to the best baseball record in its history.
Buddy was a leader. With the war on he was not about to let others do the fighting for him so when the school year ended in 1942 he enlisted in the Army. There was Fort Dix, McClelland, Shelby and on to Benning where he earned his Liutenant bar. At Benning he reaffirmed his superior athletic ability by breaking the obstacle course record after it had been run by literaly thousands of other prospective officers. He accomplished this because he practiced it over and over before the day of the official timed running. That was Buddy, focused hard working and determined to give his best at whatever he tried.
His caring and loving side show clearly in the letters he wrote to Ann nearly every day. In spite of his absence he sent home all the pay he could to assure Ann was not wanting. His letters were full of news about everything he was doing in the course of his training. They also offered assurances that he was doing well and did not need anyone to be concerned for his welfare.
The day before he was to leave Fort Meade to depart for England, he skipped out early to say his goodbyes to his parents and Ann. It was April,1944. The troop ship Joseph Goethals departed New York harbor and slipped gracefully past the Statue of Liberty. Faceing West on the rail, Buddy could see his home. I can only imagine what he might have been thinking as he looked out at the places he had spent all 25 years of his life. As the crowded ship passed through the Veranzanno channel and headed out to sea, Buddy could see his beloved Jersey shore which held so many fond memories of carefree summers past.
Like many thousands of others England meant more training and preparation for the event that all were sure would soon bring the European war to a conclusion. The rigors of field exercises couldn't bring Buddy down but the weather did. A case of pneumonia put him in the hospital. At this time he was trying to get a transfer to the Rangers. Naturaly this upset the folks back home who felt that being with such a specialized unit would place Buddy in more risky circumstances. This was not how he saw it. In a letter to Ann that she was to share with his parents he explained that in the Rangers he would be with the best of the best where each man could take care of himself. By comparison, his current position made it necessary for him to have to play nursemaid to a number of other men and that this would put him in greater jeopardy. The arguement was for naught, events were happening very quickly and his reassignment request was never answered.
When he was hospitalized, Buddy was placed in an excess officers pool from where he was assigned to a heavey weapons company of the 112th regiment of the 28th Division. While he was sorry that he wasn't returned to the unit he had been training with he soon learned to accept his new position. He made friends easily. Not being a smoker or drinker helped as this left him ration coupons to dispense with.
After seeing D-day come and go the men of the Red Keystone Division waited anxiously for their turn to enter the fight. There turn finally came when they landed at Omaha Beach on July 24th. They saw limited action but the destruction and carnage around them left no doubt that they were finally in the war.On the 31st, after being transported to an area SW of the recently captured city of St Lo, the 28th engaged the enemy at a place called Hill 210 above the little town of Percy in lower Normany. Just before daybreak on Aug. 1st Buddy, Lt. Edward G. Wilbeck, was returning to his heavy morter section with Sgt. Robert S. Barnes. They were alone, walking uphill after a meeting with their CO, Capt. Peter Dilts, when shots were heard. Sgt. Barnes was wounded but would recover, return to the 28th and survive until the end of the war. Buddy Wilbeck would never learn that he became the father of a son two days later.
This is my unembelished WWII story. I have all of my fathers letters. My mother saved everything, even a copy of the menue and captains greeting from theGoethels. Historically, its great reading. I have a couple of favorites. One describes the record breaking obstacle course race where he was paired against an Army Ranger in a close back and forth race. Another he wrote to his parents from the wheel house of a liberty ship just before disembarking for the beach. This letter took on a more serious tone than all of his previous letters as he described a seen of barrage balloons and ships all around and generally a scene that left no doubt that he was in the war.
These letters gave me a connection to my father that never existed before. I was over forty years old before my mother, Ann, gave them to me. I had never mournd my father, after all, I didn't know him. All the stories I had heard never measured up to reading his own words. Shortly after reading the letters I became a father myself and something deep and spiritual within me began stir.The tender wonderful moments I shared with my daughter taught me what I missed in not having Buddy come home to us. I soon found that I had to learn as much as I could about my father particularly what happened to him in Normandy. Our family was told almost nothing about what happened to him. I needed to know for myself and for future generations of our family. I owed him that.
In the summer of 1994, when Normandy was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its liberation I went solo and unannounced to Percy to find the place where we lost Buddy. I was hoping for a miracle. On the night of August 1st just before daybreak I made my long overdue connection with my father.
I wish I could say it all ends here but there is one more piece of the puzzle I need to find. I will never be completely satisfied that I did all I could to find out about my father until I find Sgt. Barnes. I would be profoundly gratefull for any help I can get in my search.
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