An Uncle My Wife Never Knew

James F. Robinson is the name of my wife’s uncle. Like the uncle I did not know my wife did not know her uncle either.

James died September, 19th, 1944 at the age of 24. He is buried At Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium. His service record indicates a bronze star and purple heart. He held the rank of Private, First Class (PFC).

American Cemetery, Belgium

We do not know much about James. He was my mother-in-law’s half-brother and they all lived in the Oshkosh, Wisconsin area. There had been a divorce and the result was two blended families that didn’t necessarily have much contact. My mother-in-law remembered him though. She was in the Army herself being trained as a WAC (women’s army corp) around the time of James’ death. She told me many years ago that the Army told the family James was killed by a sniper in the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg and was a Combat Engineer.

Judging by the date of James’ death he would not have been killed in the Battle of  the Bulge. The German Ardennes Offensive did not start until December, 1944 and James was killed in September, 1944.

I did verify that James was a Combat Engineer. He served in the 254th Engineer Combat Battalion. What follows below is a hint of where James may have died:

The 254th participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy by supporting the initial landings of the 29th Infantry Division. After the landings, the 254th cleared mines and booby traps, repaired damaged roads, and built bridges. The battalion’s efforts greatly facilitated the link up of the Utah and Omaha beachheads.

The 254th played an active role as the Allies raced across France. The battalion was one of the first units to enter Paris. It built numerous bridges, removed obstacles and mines, and helped restore mobility to stalled infantry and armor units. On 11 September 1944, while accompanying the 5th Armored Division, the 254th became one of the first American Units to reach German soil. During the assaults on the Siegfried Line, the 254th destroyed fifty-two fortified positions.

It is likely that James was with the 254th Engineer Combat Battalion for the Normandy invasion which took place three months before his death (June 6th, 1944). According to the above, the 254th was attached to the 5th Armored Division and on September 11th, 1944 became one of the first American units to enter Germany. Given the fact that James was killed 8 days later it’s easy to speculate he was killed in Germany, very possibly by a sniper.

As I researched the records I learned there were quite a few American cemeteries in Europe. Henri-Chappelle in Belgium is only one of many and is located only seven miles from the German border-a fact that tends to verify that James was killed in Germany as the Siegfried Line was breached.  Almost 8,000 American soldiers are buried at Henri-Chapelle. There is also a monument to 450 soldiers who are missing which probably means their remains were never found.

James was single. I think only one of James’ siblings remains alive today, my wife’s elderly aunt.

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2 comments on “An Uncle My Wife Never Knew

  1. My father was also in the 254th,thank you for the article

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