Delbert Wilson: Submarine Attack Teacher

The summer of 1944, Delbert Wilson (from Dallas County, Iowa) became a father. Little Leora (named after Delbert’s mother) was born while he was finishing Electrical Communications School classes in Washington, DC. What next? He’d applied for submarine school and was accepted, so would be moving to New London, Connecticut.

Film was scarce during the war, making pictures doubly precious. Delbert had looked all over for some film to take little Leora ‘s picture to send his folks, who still lived near Minburn, but couldn’t find any anywhere.

“Gee, Mom,” his wife Evelyn wrote, “I sure wish you all could see Little Leora. We both feel as if she is just the most wonderful and beautiful baby in the world. She looks exactly like Del (her eyes have brown flecks in them) and Del looks like you, so I guess ‘Little Leora’ looks like her Grandma Wilson, too.”

They’d gotten a letter from Delbert’s younger Danny, and sure would have liked to get to see him before he left for combat. Evelyn had even dreamed about Dale, the brother who was missing in action in New Guinea, that they’d gotten a letter from him but she didn’t get to finish reading it.

Delbert went on ahead to New London to find a place for them to live. He learned that they wanted Electrical Interior Communication men to set up mechanical and electrical problems for the “boots,” he applied for the job of running an “Attack Teacher,” which would mean a year of shore duty. Evelyn’s sister helped her and the baby move. 

Evelyn hoped that by the time Delbert’s time was over at the submarine school, the worst of the war would be over. And they hoped that Danny wouldn’t even have to go to combat, and that they would hear something about Dale.

Delbert had put up a drying line for Evelyn in the New London kitchen, handy for the baby’s things. Otherwise, their clothesline was on the roof. Evelyn had just washed sheets and towels and had them all hung on the line one day, when the big pole broke and down they went. It nearly threw Evelyn off the roof.

Delbert spent evenings studying to set up problems for the Attack Teacher, a device developed by the British that simulated battle problems. Delbert, as the instructor-operator, would move targets as on an ocean for the students submarine officers.

An instructor moving the targets for the students to solve combat situations.
A cutaway view of an Attack Teacher–a three-story building at the Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut. Delbert set up problems on it for submarine students to practice maneuvers.

When Evelyn opened her mother-in-law’s letter the next March with the news that Danny was missing in action in Europe, Delbert was at work. She waited until he got home to tell him.

“Oh, Mom and Dad, it seems to me you have had more than your share of bad news.” Even though she hadn’t met any of them yet, she said those boys were as dear to her as her own brothers.

Evelyn told them that Delbert had had another horrible dream about Dale. “He woke me crying in his sleep. I don’t know how he will take this.”

She hoped and prayed that Danny and Dale were both with friends and safe.
The war in Germany would be over soon, she thought, and more were being rescued in the Pacific. “So we will just have to hope and pray to God that they will soon be home. What a strain and tension to have to live under.”

When Delbert got home about 10:00 that night, Evelyn told him about Danny. “Can’t describe how I felt,” he wrote, “no use–we all know.” He said he had to fight his imagination all the time and always be doing something. “At times I feel like a heel, being on this soft job here in the States, with those kids out there.”

As the war wound down, Delbert’s Attack Teacher job was also over, and he prepared as a crew member on a submarine. But running the Attack Teacher had given him precious months of shore duty with his wife and daughter.

They were able to find some film so they could send home a picture of Leora and Evelyn with the wagon that Delbert had built for his little daughter.

The Wilson family story is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.


    • I am so thankful I could discover what he meant about running an attack teacher. When I first read the letters–about 1988 or so–we didn’t have internet like we do now.

  1. I have read the letters from Mom and Dad again. They sure loved each other a lot and did not want to be a part. I think my Dad did not get over his brothers deaths during the war.
    Just look at my Mom. She was the most beautiful lady I ever met. I sure miss both of them.

    • Your mom was such a delight. I can still hear her wonderful laugh. Your folks stopped by when we lived in Denver. Your dad was so sweet to her, warming up the car and driving it closer to make things more comfortable for her. Very dear people.

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