Just over a year ago, myself and a number of my classmates visited the Florence American Cemetery on our way back from a day trip to Sienna, a cemetery reserved for those American soldiers who died or served in Italy during WWII. Because this cemetery is in Italy, those buried there to not often have family or friends coming to see them. In an effort to remember those resting overseas, staff will give each visitor the name of a fallen soldier and ask them to remember him.
On February 19, 2016 I was asked to remember Corporal Roy William Wilkerson USAAF. After doing some research to fin what I could about Cpl. Wilkerson, his family, crew, and death, I am sharing his life today so he can be remembered and continue to have his story told.
Cpl. Roy W. Wilkerson was born on September 25, 1921 in Monroe, Ohio to Daniel Levy Wilkerson and Grace McDaniel. His parents were born and married (March 27, 1909) in Loudon County, Tennessee. Sometime after they married, they moved to a farm in Monroe and had Roy, their first son in 1921. When Roy was 12, his last of 5 younger siblings was born, Eva following Clarence, Wilma, Betty, and James. When Eva was just 7 years old and Roy 21, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Cincinnati on January 8, 1943.
As a member of the 485th Bomb Group and the 828th Bomber Squadron, Cpl. Wilkerson was in training of over a year. At the end of March, 72 air crews were deployed, flying to Brazil, stopping in Northern Africa, and lastly Oudna Tunisia. Upon arrival in Tunisia, the air crews began flying practice missions before finally leaving for a camp in Venosa, Italy.
On the 141st mission of the 485th Bomb Group, Cpl. Wilkerson and the rest of his crew were on a mission in what at the time was Pola, IT (current day western Croatia and Slovenia) targeting harbors in region. Cpl. Wilkerson served on a B-24J as a Left-Wing Gunner and radio operator alongside 1st Lt. Thomas J. McKeon, F/Os Harry B. Christenson and John P. Mulvihill Jr., 2nd Lt. Jerome O. Feldman, S/Sgt. Charles C. Lusk, and Cpls. Elroy C. Meyer, Charles A. Spettel, Thomas L. Barr, and Albert S. Teeven Jr. All but 2nd Lt. Feldman were killed when their aircraft whend own new a very small island of Croatia in the Adriatic Sea on February 19, 1945 at 1405.
Cpl. Wilkerson was awarded the American Campaign Medal, World War II Visotry Medal, Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. His body was never recovered so his place in the cemetery is on the Wall of the Missing, with hundreds of other American soldiers lost in combat.
During my research, I found no pictures of Cpl. Wilkerson, his crew, or his family. I have no idea what he or his life was like before he enlisted in the Army. I have no ability to talk about who he was, who his family thought he was, why his family loved him, nothing. The only details of his life I can give are the final moments he lived. But today, we must remember what we can about Cpl. Wilkerson and all the other men and women who gave their lives to our country and protecting our freedoms.
If you want to learn more about the 485th Bomb Group or the 828th Bomber Squadron, you can click here to visit their website. There is information about specific crews, the history of the 485th, images, and published works telling some of the stories these men left Italy with.
To read a much more profound and eloquent post about my grandfather, Maj. Bruce Shore USMC, my brother’s Memorial Day blog post, titled 600,000 Burning Libraries is definitely worth the read.
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