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Ralph Gerald Henretty

Wilmington News Journal
[Deleware], February 29, 1944

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


Ralph Gerald Henretty

"In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will."

�Winston Churchill

Ralph Gerald Henretty was born on February 14, 1925, to Marshall and Beulah Snyder Henretty of Duffields, Jefferson County, West Virginia.

The 1920 Federal Census indicates that Marshall Henretty was living with his brother in Pennsylvania and working as a laborer for an electric company. In 1930, the census taker found the family in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charles Town. Marshall Henretty was then living with his wife Beulah and their two children, Marshall Jr. and Ralph Gerald Henretty. The family lived with Marshall's parents. Marshall was a lineman for a telegraph company. In 1940, the family still lived in the Charles Town District of Jefferson County. Marshall was still a lineman for the telegraph company. Mr. and Mrs. Henretty were living with their children, Marshall Jr., Ralph, Paul, Lyle, Joy Lee, and Wayne and Mr. Henretty's mother.

There was another daughter, Doris, who lived and died in 1929. Joy also died young, aged 11, of rheumatic heart disease.

The family moved to Delaware sometime between 1940, the year of the last census in which Ralph is listed, and 1942, when a Wilmington city directory listed Ralph Henretty as a leather worker for J. E. Rhoads & Sons in Marshallton.

Ralph Henretty's name is recorded next on a military registration card. On February 15, 1943, when he registered for the draft, he lived in Marshallton and worked for the Delaware Coach Company, an operator of trackless trolleys and buses, as a repairman. On May 19, 1943, Ralph Henretty enlisted in the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, and was inducted in June. His enlistment record shows he was single without dependents, had two years of a high school education at Conrad High School in Delaware, and had listed as a civilian occupation category as plumbers, gas fitters, and steam fitters. He trained in Fort Wheeler, Georgia, and in Fort Meade, Maryland. He was placed with the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division, 5th Army. ("Rites To Be Wednesday for Private Henretty," Wilmington News Journal [Delaware], 27 September 1948; "Killed in Action," Spirit of Jefferson [Charles Town, WV], 8 March 1944.)

Over the next few months, Private Henretty trained for his new role and then visited his home in October 1943. He became engaged to Jean Sturgis. With the 5th Army, he traveled to North Africa that December and then it was on to Italy in January. He wrote to his father that the 5th Army was "a good man's outfit" in a letter received shortly before his death was announced. ("4 Casualties Listed in State," Wilmington News Journal [Delaware], 29 February 1944.)

The U. S. Army North History site gives a short overview of the battle history of the Fifth Army:

On 12 December 1942, the new Fifth Army was assigned to the multi-national Allied Force North Africa, and Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark was designated its commanding general. At General Clark's direction, at one minute after midnight, Zulu Time, 5 January 1943, the Fifth Army became an active unit.

In North Africa, Fifth Army helped civilian authorities maintain law and order in French Morocco and western Algeria, and organized, equipped and trained French forces in the area, no longer under Fascist control.

However, Fifth Army's primary mission was to prepare itself for the amphibious invasion of Italy. On 9 September 1943, Fifth Army landed an invasion force on a 20-mile stretch of beach south of Salerno, Italy, becoming the first American force to invade mainland Europe. At the time of the invasion, Fifth Army included the British X Corps, and the U.S. 36th, 45th and 82nd Divisions. This baptism by fire is celebrated as Fifth Army's Unit Day.

With the objective of capturing Rome, Fifth Army pushed northward from Salerno through Naples to the German line anchored on the town of Cassino. The French Expeditionary Corps, including Moroccan and Algerian divisions, joined Fifth Army, doubling its strength. After four costly assaults known as the Battles of Monte Cassino, the Fifth Army continued onward toward Rome, linking up on the way with other Fifth Army units that had fought their way out of the coastal town of Anzio. ("History: World War II: Baptism by Fire," U.S. Army North, accessed 3 June 2020,

The Battles of Cassino were waged in early February, mid-February, and March 1944. The goal with each was to break the Gustav Line. The Gustav Line ran from the Adriatic Sea to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Monte Cassino was the anchor point. The line ran through treacherous, steep mountain passes and spurs. All three efforts failed. It wasn't until May that the Gustav Line was broken, when the Allies switched strategies from front assault to essentially mountain guerrilla warfare. ("Battles of Monte Cassino,", 29 October 2009, updated 21 August 2018, accessed 3 June 2020,; Douglas Porch, "Breaking the Gustav Line," HistoryNet, Spring 2016, accessed 3 June 2020,

By that time, Private Henretty was killed in action on the front on February 4, 1944. The document "The 135th in the Present War: Cassino," offers this insight to the fighting on February 3 and 4:

A counter-attack was launched in strength against the 2nd Battalion on 3 February and Captain Alden S. Lance, commanding Company F, exposed himself to heavy machine-gun fire to direct the elements of his Company. The German attack increased in intensity, enemy hand grenades forced the men back about 200 yards, but Captain Lance rallied his troops as well as a platoon from another company and directed such a furious attack that ground was immediately retaken with great loss to the enemy. During the entire attack Captain Lance kept in constant telephone communication with the Battalion and Regimental Commanders, moving his telephone around the area, and relaying a description [of] the action. His inspiring action brought the award of the Distinguished Service Cross.

After the 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry completed its relief, fighting south along the Castellone feature, the 3rd Battalion, 135th, drove southward through the precipitous mountains against strong but determined enemy opposition. The Germans consistently counter-attacked, but failed each time. The 1st Battalion continued to mop up a stubborn enemy on the left flank of the Regiment where they succeeded in taking many prisoners from the German 44th Division. By the end of 4 February the 2nd Battalion erroneously reported that they had penetrated to Hill 593. The 1st Battalion was advancing slowly on Hill 445. By this time the strength of the rifle companies was depleted as a result of the incessant fighting since re-entering the lines at S. Pietro. The 3rd Battalion alone had suffered 165 casualties in the first four days of this action. This was an all-time high for so short a period. With the strength cut approximately 50 per cent, the men fought with tenacious fury and succeeded in repelling every German counter-attack. During one of these counter-attacks Technical Sergeant Sylvester Singlestad was cut off from Company F. In the hand-to-hand struggle which followed, Sergeant Singlestad fought his way free by using hand grenades and firing his rifle until his ammunition was exhausted. Then, moving behind the Germans and using his rifle as a club, he fought his way through to his commanding officers and provided valuable information on the enemy's strength and dispositions. This information enabled the direction of artillery and mortar fire with deadly effect, and also made it possible to use the reserves in a manner which successfully repulsed the enemy. Sergeant Singlestad returned to his platoon under machine-gun and rifle fire, reorganized the unit, and returned to the fire fight. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (A Partial History of the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, accessed 3 June 2020,

Ralph Henretty's family was notified of his death by a telegram that they received on March 4, 1944. ("Memorial Service Planned for Soldier," Wilmington News Journal [Delaware], 4 March 1944.)

Private Henretty's remains were returned the United States in 1948. He was interred in Edge Hill Cemetery in Charles Town, West Virginia. He is remembered well in his Delaware community. Numerous newspaper articles in the years after his death continued to list his name among those who died during World War II. A plaque was dedicated honoring the war dead, and memorial church services and fund-raisers, prayers, and remembrances columns all featured his name.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
August 2020


Ralph Gerald Henretty

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