Fifty-two years after their brother was Killed in Action, Danny Wilson’s sisters visited his grave for the first time.
Just twenty-one, Dan Wilson was a P-38 Lightning pilot based in Italy. His plane was lost in Austria on his nineteenth mission.
Darlene, who at age 76, had peripheral neuropathy (numbing in her legs), wanted to see the spot where her younger brother Danny was buried before she became unable to make the trip. Doris, her older sister by three years, had had a hip replaced, and prayed their plane across the ocean.
That devastating telegram had arrived at the Wilson’s small home near Perry, Iowa, on a Saturday in 1945: THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON SECOND LIEUTENANT DANIEL S WILSON HAS BEEN REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION SINCE NINETEENTH FEBRUARY OVER AUSTRIA. . . .
Doris and Darlene, both widows of Iowa farmers and carrying their very first passports, first floated down the Seine River in Paris, gazed out over Omaha Beach at Normandy, and visited Versailles. But a grave in eastern France was the sole reason for their trip.
How can you be sure your brother is even buried there? someone had asked.
The dead American “Flying Lieutenant,” found in the wreck in Schwanberg, Austria, was identified by his tags as Daniel S. Wilson. Wehrmacht soldiers kept the tags but turned the body over to village officials.
How could they be sure that the grave in France where the sisters stood in the rain and sang the words to “Taps” was really where their brother was buried?
On February 22, 1945, the Wehrmacht reported at the air base headquarters in Graz, Austria, that Daniel S. Wilson, a member of an enemy air force had been killed, recording the place, date, serial number, name, and stating that two ID tags had been found on the American flyer.
This document, captured and translated after the war, began the search for Doris and Darlene’s missing brother, although no one knew it for months after he was lost. A British Graves Registration Team reported to the Americans that Daniel Wilson was buried in a cemetery at Schwanberg, Austria.
In January of 1946, nearly a year after Danny was declared Missing in Action, his parents, Clabe and Leora Wilson, were notified that there was sufficient evidence to establish the fact of his death.
That August, the remains of Lt. Wilson were disinterred from the Schwanberg cemetery, to be evacuated to France for reburial. His remains became “Unknown X-7341” because there were no identification tags with them.
A document from his 293 or casualty file shows that X-7341, BTB (believed to be) Lt. Daniel Wilson, was reburied at a new temporary American cemetery near St. Avold, France, September 9, 1946, at 1500 hours, in temporary plot KKKK, Row 3, Grave 64.
Another American Graves Registration Command questionnaire documented the care given to identifying this one young American:
- The laundry mark “W-0058,” found on cotton underwear, agreed with Lt. Wilson’s initial and last four digits of his military number.
- The date and place of death for X-7341 agreed with data on the Missing Aircraft Report for the plane Dan was flying.
- The German Dulag record stated that Lt. Wilson was buried in the civilian cemetery from which X-7341 was disinterred.
- The cross over the grave from which X-7341 was disinterred had been marked with his name and date of death.
- A civilian had stated that identification tags had been present in order to mark the cross.
- Lt. Wilson was the only American buried in the civilian cemetery from which X-7341 was disinterred.
Danny Wilson’s mother had kept a clipping about veterans insisting that men lost in war would want to be buried where they fell. Another son, Dale Wilson, had been declared dead after his B-25 was shot down on a mission and never found.
Leora Wilson had already buried her youngest son, Junior, age twenty, a pilot who’d been killed at the end of the war in a training accident. And in late 1946, Clabe died after having a stroke. Leora just couldn’t face another devastating funeral, so she signed the documents requesting Dan’s permanent overseas burial.
On December 21, 1948, Lt. Daniel S. Wilson, previously known as X-7341, was buried for the third and final time at the new and permanent Lorraine American Cemetery, just north of the temporary one. At their brother’s white cross–Plot D, Row 5, Grave 7–his sisters Doris and Darlene held their own service for him, assured that this is indeed where their brother is buried.
A French travel booklet says that “No American should visit Lorraine without seeing the American cemetery at St. Avold, the largest World War II cemetery in Europe, with 10,489 white marble crosses and stars of David that sweep into a sorrowful distance across immaculately maintained lawns.”
10,489 young Americans. One of them, Danny Wilson, remembered by his sisters who carried his sacrifice the rest of their long lives.
Sand was rubbed into his name on the marble cross so it would show up on their pictures: DANIEL S. WILSON 2LT 37 FTR SQ 14 FTR GP IOWA FEB 19 1945.
I was amazed at the care given by the Graves Registration Teams to do their best to make positive identifications of America’s fallen sons. Later I read a book, Crosses in the Wind: Graves Registration Service in the Second World War by Joseph Shomon, which detailed the steps they took to guarantee each one.
Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II is the story of the family during WWII. It’s also the story behind the five brothers on the Dallas County Freedom Rock. All five served. Only two came home.