Nobody knew — on that eighth day of May, 1921 — where the roads of life would lead the boy born in Wilmington, and who would later live for six years in Highland County.
No one could have imagined he would serve in the uniform of the United States — through two wars — or that he would see action in six countries, on two continents, halfway around the world from the house on Fife Avenue he would later call home for 72 years.
Wilbert Wollary Ward joined the U.S. Army in August 1942 and later served in the Army National Guard; he racked up a total of 33 years of service to his country.
Ward could not have known that after Boot Camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, some advanced training at Fort Gordon, Georgia and Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, he would take a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Casablanca in North Africa. He would not see the country for which he was fighting for the next two years, nine months and five days.
In North Africa, after receiving his assignment as a Jeep driver, he joined a reconnaissance unit at a defensive position just outside the capital of French Morocco, and then was half of a two-man occupation force, occupying a small town in Sicily.
Another ship from Italy to Scotland and a train to Tidworth Barracks, England, Ward, still a Jeep driver, embarked on a hard-fought journey to Berlin with the 2nd Armored Division, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels.”
Ward recalls the time he and a buddy drove his Jeep right up to the front line, without being told, to take some food and other supplies to the tank crews.
“When we got back to our ‘rear position’, the platoon leader asked us where we had been. When I told him, he started chewing me out.” Wilbert went on to explain, “I thought we were in trouble for putting ourselves in unnecessary danger, but boy was I wrong.”
He laughed and continued: “We actually were in trouble for putting an ‘almost-impossible-to-replace Jeep’ in danger.”
Ward was later reassigned and made the assistant driver of an M-4 Sherman tank.
Commencing with a breakthrough at St. Lo, France, Ward’s drive to Berlin took him to the Siegfried Line and the Battle of the Bulge.
Sadly, along the way a round from a German Panzerfaust struck the tank he was in, killing the driver. Ward was immediately promoted to that position and remained the driver for the balance of the war.
His bold pronouncement to his buddies: “I will drive into Berlin” was not to be.
Just outside the city, after waiting two days for the Russians at the Elbe River, his tank broke down and he had to be towed the last few kilometers into Berlin.
Ward retired from the National Guard as a master sergeant in 1981, and from Airmatic-Allied in 1986.
After retiring, he joined the Wilmington Veterans Post 49, American Legion, Memorial Squad, and served faithfully until he moved to Rocky Fork Lake in 1998. During his six years there, he served on the Highland County Veterans Honor Guard.
He returned to Wilmington and the Post 49 Squad in 2004. He was an active member of the unit until, at the age of 92, he decided to become an associate member following the Memorial Day service in 2012.
Ward now welcomes visitors to his Wilmington Commons home, where he proudly displays pictures from his service and more recent memories, with News Journal clippings of the Post 49 Squad and pictures of his “adopted” family that includes three children and six grandchildren.
Paul Butler is a Wilmington resident, U.S. Navy veteran, and a class of 2020 inductee of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.