Dallas County Wilson Family Lost 3 Sons During WWII

Dexter (1923-1939)

Clabe and Leora Wilson, with six small children, moved from Stuart to Dexter, Iowa, for tenant farming. Junior was born there in 1925. As the Great Depression set in and jobs disappeared, the family lived in several houses in and around Dexter. Another set of twins was born in 1929, but they were only a few weeks old when they succumbed to whooping cough–which all nine children caught. Wilsons lost another baby a couple of years later.

Oldest sons Delbert and Donald joined the US Navy after high school. Clabe worked WPA and other jobs, including at the Dexter Canning Factory (as did daughter Doris). Delbert, Donald, Doris, and twins Dale and Darlene all graduated from Dexter High School.

The Wilson family–to send to their “Navy boys.” Back: Dale, Leora, Darlene. Middle: Clabe, Doris. Front: Junior, Danny. Apr. 14, 1935, Dexter, Iowa.

Minburn (1939-1944)

Clabe Wilson was hired as a tenant farmer SW of Minburn, just south of Minburn Road on what is now Lexington Lane, across from North Raccoon River Wildlife Area. Their sons were also paid for their work. Danny and Junior finished high school at Washington Township School–Danny in 1941, Junior in 1942. Darlene married an Earlham farmer. Doris waitresses in Perry at McDonalds Drug, which had a restaurant area and soda fountain.

The only picture of the entire family was taken in November 1941 when Donald jumped ship, knowing that war was imminent.

Seated: Clabe and Leora. Standing: Danny, Darlene, Donald, Junior, Delbert, Doris, Dale. Taken in Perry, Iowa, November 1941.

The next spring he survived the Battle of Coral Sea and the sinking of his carrier, USS Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway. One by one, his brothers joined the service. Delbert’s tanker USS Maumee (AO-2) served in the Atlantic–Casablanca and Aruba. Dale and Danny became pilots. Dale left for combat in New Guinea. The Missing in Action telegram about him arrived on his mother’s 53rd birthday. Danny left for combat in Italy, and Donald was again in combat in the Pacific aboard the carrier USS Hancock (CV-19). After Junior joined the Army Air Force, Clabe could no longer handle that much land and livestock alone.

Brothers (2)
Top: Delbert and Donald. Bottom: Dale, Danny, Junior.

Perry (from October 1944)

Clabe and Leora bought their own acreage on the corner south of Forest Park Museum.  By the time Junior had earned his pilot’s wings, Danny was also Missing in Action. Doris, who’d married a farmer-become-pilot, moved to Perry from Texas when her husband got combat orders.

On August 9, 1945, Perry postman Oscar Daniels brought a telegram to the acreage. Doris went to the door, expecting news of Dale or Dan. But it said that Junior, age 20, had been killed in a training accident in Texas. Junior was the first family member buried in Violet Hill Cemetery.

Aloe (2)

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A Declaration of Death (DOD) date was set for Dale (age 22 when lost) in early 1946. Dan’s grave in Austria had been located; his status was changed to Killed in Action. Dan was 21. Their father died that fall, of a stroke–and a broken heart.


Leora had a memorial stone made for sons Dale and Dan. For decades the family took homegrown flowers to the Perry cemetery every Decoration Day, to remember. 

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Since 1987, Leora is also buried there.

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See also: WW2 Wrecks.


 Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II was published in 2019, with an audio version on Audible in 2020. 


    • I don’t know about those in New Guinea, but the people in Europe who were liberated are still so thankful to the Americans who saved them from the Nazi cruelty.

  1. This seemed familiar to me, I remember the pictures had you fleshed it out with more info? regardless – beautifully written, beautiful tribute for 3 brave men, a family that endured such tragedy and sadness.

    • Someone needed an overview to send to a couple of people. I realized I’d told the story through so many lenses (a recent one was about the photographer), but not just a direct version. I didn’t mean to post two on the same day, but at least now this one is available.

  2. Joy, this is tragic and yet a wonderful memorial to the greatest generation. You are a very skilled writer and I’m grateful to have met you on the Internet. You come from good people. God bless them for their service and sacrifice.

    • Thank you, Kathy! I was to make sure they’re never forgotten. The three who were lost weren’t married, so no descendants to remember. Dale’s twin, Darlene, will be 98 next month. She’s the last one left.

  3. We need to always remember that freedom isn’t free. A salute and thank you to all the veterans we will honor in a few days and an extra thanks to those who gave their lives for us.

  4. Students for the past 20 years in general know very little of the national sacrifices given by their grandparents or great-grandparents. The term Gold Star is unknown. It is sad. This family gave all and then some.

    • I’m learning that as I give programs and have book signings–not to take for granted what readers and an audience probably don’t know, to at least whet their appetite for more information.

  5. We are forever grateful for their great sacrifice for this great nation. I thank God for men such as these yet it makes me very sad to see what is taking place in our country today. May God forgive and touch hearts helping us all to realize how precious freedom is and what prices have been paid to preserve it.

    • Thank you, Lou. Since that was written, I finally got the book finished about the family during the war. It’s also been made into an audiobook and both are available through Amazon. Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. Leora was their mother, and my delightful grandmother.

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