What happened to Middletown’s World War II Honor Roll?
D-Day, which would see the largest amphibious military operation in history as 155,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in France to break through the German lines and push inland, was still more than six weeks away when Middletown leaders announced plans for a World War II Honor Roll.
According to historical researcher George Contant, it was April of 1944 when Middletown Rotary Club president John Spicer appointed a committee that included Darrell Long, Mayor Warren Buckingham, and Rev. John Thomas to oversee construction of a beautiful wooden board topped with a gold American eagle to display the names of Middletown’s servicemen and servicewomen. J. E. Walls and E. H. Shallcross were chosen to come up with the ideal location for the display. The goal was to have the Honor Roll completed in time for the upcoming Memorial Day celebration.
A month later, with the June 6 landing in Normandy drawing closer, the Honor Roll was unveiled with the names of 994 men and women hand-painted onto individual wooden plates. The Honor Roll was displayed on ground donated by the Delaware Trust Bank, just to its left on West Main Street.
Contant wrote the following about the day of the unveiling:
“That Memorial Day, it seemed that all of Middletown was present for the extensive dedication ceremony, which began at 11 a.m. The Middletown High School band played patriotic airs and Rev. Thomas gave the invocation. Then, Rotary President Spicer presented the Honor Roll, which was accepted by Mayor Buckingham on behalf of the city. Veteran B-17 bomber crewman Lt. Theodore Goldblum made a stirring speech. Following his address, the Smyrna American Legion placed a wreath at the nearby WW I monument, fired a salute, and played “Taps.” After the gathered crowd sang the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the ceremony was closed by Rev. John Walsh.
The Honor Roll monument stood as a fitting reminder of the sacrifices of the U.S. veterans. Many towns, including neighboring Odessa and Townsend, constructed monuments to honor the sacrifices of World War II veterans. Contant said that the Middletown Honor Roll monument was a particularly beautiful one.
Then, in 1972, the long-neglected memorial was removed and replaced by Delaware Trust Bank’s two-window, drive-thru banking facility. No one knows exactly what became of the Honor Roll.
“We don’t know where it was removed to. The story goes that the board was removed to a barn near the Maryland border,” Contant explained.
Another mystery that might be as important as where the Honor Roll disappeared to is where the original list of names of U.S. veterans came from. Contant said that it’s possible that the list was compiled from State Draft Enlistment Board records.
“The sad part is that our research has not turned up the original list of men and women whose names were placed on the Honor Roll or any of the names which were likely added to it,” Contant explained.
He added that, even though the Middletown Historical Society has an almost complete record of newspapers from that time period, there was never a published list of honorees.
The Middletown Historical Society does have several photographs of the dedication ceremony and of the Honor Roll board itself.
“We have scanned the photographs that we have at very high resolution,” Contant explained.
Relying on high resolution photographs of the Honor Roll, Contant said that he can make out a majority of the names.
“I think, with some work, we could come up with 85 percent of the names,” Contant said. “Unfortunately, that’s not all of them.”
Contant said that the Middletown Historical Society would like to recreate the list and possibly construct another memorial that could be displayed at the museum on North Broad Street.
“We would at least recreate the list and maybe recreate the board,” Contant said.
Ideally, he said, someone—perhaps a boy scout looking to complete an Eagle Project—will step forward and volunteer to help pursue the original list of names or compile a new list.
“I think it would be a great project for a scout. I’m definitely interested in talking to anyone who would want to take this on as a project,” Contant explained.
Anyone with information about the World War II Honor Roll or anyone who would like to help with the project should contact Contant at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-674-0727.
Contant talked about the importance of honoring the World War II veterans.
“For me, my parents were from that World War II generation,” he explained. “They were willing to do anything that they had to do. Most of those people lived through the Great Depression and that prepared them for the sacrifices that were necessary to fight a World War. All any veteran wants, and I can tell you this because I am one, is to have their sacrifices be remembered. Middletown wanted to remember what these men and women did, and what their families did. We think, as the historical society, that they should be remembered.”