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Woodrow Carmen Radcliffe

"Without ships, we cannot live."

Winston Churchill

Woodrow Carmen Radcliffe was born to Warren and Barbara Radcliffe on July 8, 1911. According to his military registration record, Woodrow was born in Barbour County, but his marriage certificate indicates he was born at Flemington in Taylor County.

His father was, according to the 1920 Federal Census, a blacksmith, with a shop on the family farm. Woodrow had a sister, Virginia. In 1940, the family was joined by Woodrow Radcliffe's grandfather, Asbury Pritt, who was a farmer. According to the census of that year, Woodrow Radcliffe was a lawyer in a private practice. Warren Radcliffe was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) foreman.

The Glenville Mercury, a weekly published by Glenville State College, notes that Woodrow Radcliffe attended the college for two years between 1931 and 1935. The memorial edition, published on May 29, 1945 (Vol. 16, No. 29), notes that Lt. Radcliffe was the assistant superintendent of Barbour County schools before entering service.

On October 16, 1940, at the age of 29, Woodrow Radcliffe registered for military service as a resident of Brownton, West Virginia, at the Philippi courthouse. He listed his mother as the person who would always know his address.

On October 17, 1942, Woodrow Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Plymale were in Norfolk, Virginia, to be wed. A certificate of marriage was issued on that day. He was 31 and she was 25. His occupation was listed as lieutenant, junior grade, with the United States Navy. Mary Elizabeth was a school teacher from Kenova, West Virginia. A listing of Navy and Reserve Officers, Cadets, and Midshipmen issued on January 1, 1943, shows Woodrow Radcliffe as having obtained his rank on August 14, 1942.

The Philippi Republican ran an announcement on May 20, 1943, reporting that Woodrow Radcliffe was missing in action. The article said that his wife resided in Wayne County and that his sister, Virginia, was a teacher in Barbour County schools. The article said that Woodrow was a member of the Barbour County bar.

Woodrow Radcliffe was missing on May 4, 1943, according to the inscription on a cenotaph headstone placed in Mount Vernon Cemetery, a few miles outside of Philippi, West Virginia. According to the webpage "World War 2 - United States Navy at War: United States Navy Casualties: Part 1 - By Name 1941-1945, RAAFLAUB - RZYMSKI" (accessed 15 February 2019,, Woodrow Radcliffe was aboard the Oneida, a merchant marine ship, in the Atlantic Ocean, North American Waters, at the time. He was declared missing on May 4, 1943, and declared dead one year and a day later, on May 5, 1944.

Research to discover the disposition of the Oneida revealed several ships named Oneida. On his website, nautical author and historian Eric Wiberg writes of a ship named Oneida that sank near Cuba, but on a date not consistent with the loss of Woodrow Radcliffe. At the end of the article, Wiberg mentions that the other ship named Oneida, lost off the Virginia capes, was overcome by weather on May 4, 1943. ("SS Oneida Sunk off NE Cuba by U-166 under Hans-Gunther Kuhlmann 13 July 1942," accessed 15 February 2019,

This was likely the ship on which Woodrow Radcliffe sailed. World War II Sea War, Vol. 9: Wolfpacks Unmuzzled by Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, and Donald A. Bertke also lists the Oneida as having foundered in Atlantic waters on that date. Samuel Eliot Morison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: The Atlantic describes the confusion over the sinking of the Oneida. The boat is described as an Army transport that foundered in heavy seas off Cape Charles off the coast of Virginia and resulted in the loss of 31 seamen. The loss was thought at first to have been due to a German submarine attack, but there was, later stated, no proof that a German U-boat was in the area. The American Merchant Marine website ("U.S. Ships Sunk or Damaged on Eastcoast of U.S., and Gulf of Mexico During World War II," accessed 2 December 2018, is dedicated to mariners who died in service. Its east gulf page lists ships that were damaged or sunk during war. The Oneida is listed there as a freighter operated as a U. S. Army transport by Agwilines. The freighter foundered and sank off the east coast. Twenty-three crew and six armed guards perished.

Several memorials honor Woodrow Carmen Radcliffe. Cenotaphs were erected in Mount Vernon Cemetery, Barbour County, and in Lebanon National Cemetery in Kentucky. He is also memorialized on the East Coast Memorial, Tablets of the Missing, Manhattan, New York. The first lists the date that the Oneida sank and Woodrow Radcliffe was lost. The latter two list the date that he was declared dead.

Cenotaph for Woodrow Carmen Radcliffe, Mount Vernon Cemetery. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
December 2018


Woodrow Carmen Radcliffe

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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