Memorial to be dedicated to Leyden soldier killed in WWII
LEYDEN — Veterans Day is Monday, but in Leyden, it will be a bit more like Memorial Day.
The town will dedicate a memorial plaque and stone to Harry “Bud” Wilder, killed in action in World War II, with a ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday on the town common.
Seventy years ago this month, Wilder was among the 1,138 crew and passengers, including 1,015 American troops, who lost their lives when a British troop ship was sunk by the Germans.
Wilder, of the Army’s 31st Signal Construction Battalion, was aboard the H.M.T. Rohna when it was struck by a guided bomb on Nov. 26, 1943 in the Mediterranean Sea. It was one of the first ships to be struck by the technology, though the method of attack remained classified for decades.
During his service, Wilder wrote home to friends and family often, and at length.
Perhaps some of the most touching letters are those that he sent to his little sister, June. She was about 4 years old when her big brother joined the Army.
Though letters to his older family members were usually in cursive or typewritten, letters to June were usually spelled out in simple language in large, block print, so she might be able to read along.
“Dear June,” he wrote from Camp Atterbury, Ind., on Aug. 21, 1942. “Buddy is sorry he didn’t come home to see you, but Uncle Sam says he’s got to stay here. You be a good girl, and I’ll come home someday.”
He enclosed a few pennies for his little sister to spend as she pleased.
Pfc.Wilder wrote about his day-to-day duties, learning to drive a four-wheel-drive jeep in the woods at Fort Monmouth, N.H., or his leave-time outings with the guys.
“I’m always a good boy until I go to town and celebrate, then I really have fun,” he wrote from Camp Atterbury. “I still don’t smoke though.”
He’d also give his younger brother some advice about farm work and tell him to study hard in school, and wrote a lot about all the planes constantly flying overhead. It must have been quite the sight for a country boy back then.
He was constantly asking questions about home, too.
“Those little bits of information that don’t interest you really mean a lot to me,” he told his brother, Jack. “Keep writing those long letters.”
Wilder would inquire about his sibling’s schooling, small-town happenings, or his big sister Dorothy’s new arrival.
“How do you like Billy? What does Billy look like?” he asked his kid sister June.
Billy, better known today as long-time Selectman William Glabach, said he met his uncle as a toddler, when he came home to visit on leave, though Glabach doesn’t remember “Buddy” firsthand.
He did, however, get to know Wilder through family stories, and the letters, now in Glabach’s possession.
In one letter dated Sept. 17, 1943, Wilder chided his high-school-aged brother, Jack, for thinking he was a year older than he actually was.
“You said I was 21,” he wrote from Camp Atterbury. “Don’t make me grow up any faster than I have to. I’m only 20, thank goodness.”
“I was 20 last April,” he continued. “This coming April I will be a man. Me, a man, impossible, I’ll always be a boy.”
Wilder would never see 21, or become a man in his own eyes.
He died a 20-year-old boy. A boy who signed up to serve his country, went to boot camp, was handed a uniform, mess kit and rifle, and was put aboard an ill-fated ship.
Forty years after Wilder’s death, his sister, June (Wilder) Corbett, received a letter from one of his shipmates.
John Paskowski of Somerset told June that he and Wilder were above-decks when the bomb hit, and told to jump ship.
“We were sucked into the hole in the ship, which was on fire,” he wrote. “I was lucky, your brother wasn’t, as he hit the edge of the hole and was ripped apart. I don’t think he felt anything, though, it happened so fast.”
Paskowski was among 606 survivors rescued by the USS Pioneer, an American minesweeper that risked its crew to save the Rohna’s survivors during the ongoing attack. He said he was in the water for five hours before being saved.
His letter went on, and said that he doesn’t like writing, but he did it so Corbett could finally have closure.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279