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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Oliver Franklin Wilfong

"Move him into the sun�
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know."

from �Futility,� by Wilfred Owen

Oliver Franklin Wilfong was born on September 23, 1891, at Hendricks in Tucker County, West Virginia. His parents, who were married on January 26, 1889, in Pendleton County, West Virginia, were John Smithy Wilfong and Malissie Sue Butcher.

Hendricks is a small town located where the confluence of the Blackwater and the Dry Fork Rivers forms the Black Fork River. Before settlers came to the Black Fork area, it served as part of the hunting grounds for the Massawomee Indians. Early records indicate that all of the land between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Ohio River was held by the Massawomees. By the early 1800s, white settlers were known to have inhabited the land that is now Hendricks. The town was named in honor of Thomas A. Hendricks, Vice-President to Grover Cleveland. When the Dry Fork Railway came to Hendricks, it created rapid growth of the town, which was incorporated in June 13, 1894, with a population of 158. Like other boom towns of that era, most residents were directly or in some way dependent on the lumbering industry.

John Smithy Wilfong and his wife Malissie raised their large family in the Black Fork district of Tucker County. Their children were Oliver Franklin, Delpha J. (married names-Williams, Lipscomb), Ethel "Snowdy" (Mrs. Gordon D. Boyers), Gordon Alvin ("Sherlock"), Sadie (died young), Iva (Bennear), Grace (Mrs. Clarence A. Barr), Blennice Blair, and Melvina Ruth (Mrs Clarence William Shahan). John Wilfong died sometime after 1910, and Malissie was remarried in 1915 to Leroy Soult.

World War I, the "War to End All Wars," began in 1914 when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. Following the sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines and an attempt by Germany to engage in a military alliance with Mexico, the United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917. The call for volunteers failed to produce the needed one million troops to support the war effort, so the Selective Service instituted a draft, with the first registration on June 5, 1917, for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

Oliver Franklin Wilfong registered for the draft at Parsons, West Virginia, on June 5, 1917. He was described as being of medium height with a slender build and having brown eyes and dark brown hair. He was employed by the Western Maryland Railway Company as a laborer in a section crew. He was single and living in Parsons, and he claimed no disabilities or exemptions from the draft.

Wilfong Draft Registration Card

World War I draft registration card for Oliver Franklin Wilfong. National Archives and Records Administration

Pvt. Oliver Wilfong enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 32nd Division, 63rd Infantry Brigade, 126th Infantry Regiment, Company E. The last units of the 32nd Division arrived in France in March 1918. The division was ordered to the 10th Training area at Prauthoy, Haute-Marne. On May 15, 1918, the status of the 32nd Division was changed from a replacement unit to a combat unit, and they took over a front-line sector in Alsace near Belfort. On July 21, the 32nd was ordered to the Ourcq where on July 30 it relieved the 3rd Division in the Aisne-Marne offensive. On August 28, along with the French 10th Army, it entered the front line northeast of Soissons, where it outflanked the Germans at Chemin-des-Dames. The 32nd Division captured the strong German position on the Juvigny plateau. The French were so impressed with the ability of the 32nd Division to rout the Germans they nicknamed them "Les Terribles" and awarded them the Croix de Guerre.

Victory Medal

World War I Victory Medal

Purple Heart

Purple Heart

It was there that Pvt. Oliver F. Wilfong was killed and was buried in the American Cemetery at Juvigny, France. Pvt. Wilfong was awarded the World War I Victory Medal and the Purple Heart.

In World War I, the remains of some soldiers were buried several times-first in battlefield graves, then in U.S. cemeteries in Europe, and finally in the United States. At the conclusion of the war, France banned the removal of bodies for reburial. However, in 1920, the French capitulated to pressure from American families to repatriate the bodies of American soldiers to the United States for reburial. The remains of 46,000 war dead were returned to the U.S. at a cost of over $30 million.

On December 30, 1920, the body of Pvt. Oliver F. Wilfong was brought back to the United States and was reburied in the European Sector (18), plot 734, of Arlington National Cemetery.
grave marker

Headstone for Pvt. Oliver F. Wilfong. Courtesy Arlington National Cemetery

Article prepared by Leon Armentrout
November 2018


Oliver Franklin Wilfong

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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