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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Robert Russell Clingerman Jr.

"Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost."

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert Russell Clingerman Jr. was born on May 24, 1925, in Randolph County, West Virginia. To Robert Clingerman Sr. and Carrie Tenney Clingerman were born five children, including Robert Jr., and his siblings Rebecca, Eugene, Donald, and Evangeline. During the 1930 and 1940 census-takings, the family was found near Elkins. Mr. Clingerman was a laborer in a tannery. In 1940, the household included, in addition to members of the immediate family, Mr. Clingerman's sister and her five children. Mr. Clingerman's sister, Mrs. Elsie Triplett, was working as a housekeeper for a family. Her husband, Mr. George Triplett, was living with a brother and working in a mine. He would also serve during World War II and received the Bronze Star medal.

Robert Clingerman Jr. registered for military service on May 24, 1943. At the time, he was working for the Western Maryland Railroad Company. He was an apprentice machinist and lived in Elkins. On July 21, 1943, Robert Clingerman Jr. married Virginia Burkey. The couple had a son. Robert Clingerman Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 27, 1944, at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, and there attended basic training. His enlistment records indicate that he had a grammar school education and was engaged in an unskilled miscellaneous occupation.

Robert Clingerman Jr. was on an army transport train on July 6, 1944, when the train crashed. Railroad officials, Army intelligence, and the FBI investigated the accident to determine the cause and whether sabotage was involved. In August, the results of the accident investigation were summarized and published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The train had entered a curve at a speed 10 mph over the speed limit and jumped the track at a location where the track gauge was wider than it should have been. ("Track Too Wide, Too Much Speed Held Wreck Cause," Knoxville News-Sentinel, 26 August 1944.) The wreck was thought to be the second largest military stateside disaster of World War II. It was front page news in Tennessee the day after it happened, and stories continued to be posted of the heroic efforts of local people and the remaining soldiers on the train to rescue those who were on cars that went over the bank and cliffs and 50 feet into the ravine below the train track. The men died of traumatic injuries, burns from the steam of the engine, and drowning, since some people were trapped in the engine which was crushed and underwater in the river below. Thirty-five people died, including another West Virginia soldier named James Buchanan, who was also from Randolph County. Ninety-five were injured. Photos of the tragedy can be seen on a website, called TroopTrain, established to honor the veterans and railroad employees who were aboard, as well as record accounts from those who survived the accident. ("WWII Troop Train Wreck of July 6, 1944,", accessed 25 January 2021, A book entitled She Jumped the Tracks: America's Tragic Stateside 20th Century Military Disaster, by John P. Ascher (Farragut, TN: M.J.A., 1994), provides a detailed account of the events surrounding the wreck and rescue operation. This out-of-print book is summarized and quoted on the TroopTrain site.

Robert Clingerman Jr. died of a broken neck, according to a death certificate issued by Tennessee. He was transported back to West Virginia, where he was buried in Elkins Memorial Gardens, or, as it also known, the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) Cemetery. His headstone notes his name and dates of birth and death, and the sentiment, "Gone But Not Forgotten." His parents, Robert Sr. and Carrie Clingerman, were laid to rest near their son.
Headstone for Pvt. Robert Clingerman Jr. in Elkins Memorial Gardens. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens
Headstone for Robert Sr. and Carrie Clingerman in Elkins Memorial Gardens. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Headstones for Pvt. Robert Clingerman Jr., Robert Sr., and Carrie Clingerman in Elkins Memorial Gardens. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
February 2021


Robert Russell Clingerman Jr.

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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