US Senator Richard Blumenthal presented the flag, that had been flown over the nation’s capitol, during a ceremony which also was attended by State Rep. Charles Ferraro and West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien.
“A flag that is a token of our recognition and honor to the Gilbert family, and a flag that will grace this museum,” Blumenthal said.
This all came about due to the persistence of a nephew that Lt. James W. Gilbert never met.
Terrance Gilbert, 70, who once lived in Orange, came across some boxes in the basement of his West Haven home and as he carefully went through all of the contents, became acquainted with his uncle, about whom his family never really discussed because their hearts were broken by the way they lost him decades ago.
After 9 months of digging, research, phone calls and working with the Veteran’s Museum and his grandson, also Terrance, Terrance had a binder filled with photographs, documents, letters, telegrams, copies of pages from James’ military school yearbook and so much more.
James was inducted into the Pennsylvania Military College in 1940, where, it appears, he made excellent grades, was a member of the football team and was a bit of a cut-up. He was a member of the final graduating class in 1943.
Terrance and his Uncle Kevin, of Orange — he runs the Memorial Day Parade with passion every year — learned that James had applied to West Point in 1942 and was accepted without condition, but before he was able to attend, the war in Europe was heating up and he graduated Officer Candidate Class, 1st Co., Third Student Training Regiment Infantry School in Fort Benning, GA, as a Second Lieutenant on Sept. 5, 1944.
In the box of treasures from the basement was a letter from Everett Scranton, one of the men in James’ platoon, to Mrs. Gilbert, giving an account of what happened to James during a battle with the Germans.
James was the only officer in the foxhole with his men. When the Germans started coming at them the men began to retreat and James stood up and called them back, which is when he was shot. The men tried to fix him up with a tourniquet and he ended up in a hospital in France.
Terrance has documentation, some written in German, some in French, that the government attempted to find him, but the Hospital that James was in, was bombed and nothing of his, not even his dog tags, were ever found.
James was blonde with blue eyes and he spoke fluent German. For some reason, he was wearing German boots when he was pulled out of the trenches. Because of this, the Gilbert Family held onto the hope that the Germans would have thought he was one of theirs and had brought him with them to the other side and someday James would walk through the door after the war, but sadly, that never happened.
Aside from getting to know his uncle through his research, there is one thing in particular that ties the two men together. James was declared MIA on Feb. 8, 1946. Terrance was born on Feb. 8, 1947.
Terrance donated his binder to the West Haven Veteran’s Museum along with James’ medals, which he compiled with Blumenthal’s assistance: the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, American Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.
Upon request, the PMC Museum sent a uniform like the one James would have worn in the 1940s, to West Haven for the presentation. At a future date, the Museum in Pennsylvania will similarly honor Lt. James W. Gilbert.
A Brother Remembers
Over the years, Kevin Gilbert has dedicated his time to bringing the town of Orange a meaningful Memorial Day Event with a Ceremony at the Gazebo, then the Parade, concluding with a service at the Orange Center Cemetery.
Last year, he said he was retiring from the leadership position, but this year, he was back.
So after reading this story, you now know that Kevin lost a brother during WWII. He was just a kid when it happened so his emotions run deep when it comes to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those whose fate is unknown.
Kevin has vivid memories of his childhood, and some stand out more than others at times like this.
He recalls what happened to many of his neighbors during war times. A man on his street was taken away and sent to a concentration camp for several years because he was Japanese.
In Kevin’s West Haven neighborhood Armstrong Rubber was the hub of the community and one day, all the men were gone, they all joined the service. Women joined the workforce and took over where the men left off.
“I was young, I didn’t realize what was happening,” he said.
At 10-years-old Kevin was home when the Western Union man delivered the telegram informing his mother that James was MIA and again when the military presented his mother with two Gold Stars, one for the window, and another that was a pin she could wear. These memories are still raw in his mind.
His brothers Jimmy and Terry were born three years apart and they were older than him, so they “didn’t grow up together,” but he’s lived with the angst of never knowing what became of James.