Lt. Charles M. Thirlkeld ’44, 506th PIR, Easy Company
When I started this journey, I hoped that I could help put faces to the names on a few of the beautiful, white marble headstones in our American cemeteries in Europe and North Africa. I hoped that I could help record their stories for future generations, and I hoped to help others remember the Citadel Men who rest in peace overseas and those who are memorialized on Tablets of the Missing. My journey has only just begun, yet, it has already brought me in contact with many people, living and deceased, who are sharing with me their incredible stories. Mark Dworschak is on a similar journey remembering a young man from the Class of 1944. Below is his story and his request in its entirety which I received this morning. Although I am in the middle of writing about this past Memorial Day Weekend, I found his story so intriguing and in need of sharing that I had to post it today. Please contact us if you can help or know of someone who can.
I discovered your site, The Citadel Memorial Europe, during my research of 2nd Lt. Charles Marion Thirlkeld, Jr. and thought I would provide some additional information for his record. Attached are some additional photos of Chuck, a name his father used and as my wife and I have come to call him, which you may wish to use on your site.
I should provide some background: in April, 2011, I purchased from an estate a box of miscellaneous items which I have come to learn belong to Chuck. The estate, I later learned, was of his sister, Jean. Included in the materials were various photos and letters alongside Chuck’s wallet and Purple Heart. In the subsequent months, my research told of quite a life. I have begun to document Chuck’s life and service in an attempt to memorialize what may otherwise be lost.
There exists enormous gaps in the information I have been able to obtain. Chuck’s service records, along with thousands of others, was lost to fire at the National Archives in 1973. I wrote to a fellow service member who had some correspondence with Chuck’s mother, Mary, after the war, with no reply. Based on research to-date, this is what I’ve learned of Chuck.
As you know, Chuck was a cadet at The Citadel in the class of 1944. After receiving his commission in 1943, Chuck was assigned to the 648th Tank Destroyer Battalion at Fort Jackson, SC and the 672nd Tank Destroyer Battalion at Camp Hood, TX. (The order of assignments is unclear.) Chuck later volunteered to join the newly-formed parachute infantry regiment, 506th, HQ Company. Chuck was subsequently stationed in England where he worked under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and assisted in the planning of D-Day.
In early December, 1944, at the latest, he apparently was reassigned from the 506th PIR, 2nd Battalion, HQ Company to the Battalion’s now famous E Company, “Band of Brothers”. On 12/19/44, he along with other elements of the 101st Airborne, including 502nd and 506th PIR, rode 18 hours from Reims, France to Bastogne, Belgium. He and the 502nd were assigned to the woods east of Bastogne. Following weeks of fighting, Chuck suffered a direct hit from a Nebelwerfer, a “Screaming Mimi”, between 4:00 and 5:00 PM on January 3, 1945, in what has been described as the worst fighting in the battle. (The hit is described in a letter to Chuck’s father, Col. Charles M. Thirlkeld, Sr. from Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, the time confirmed in a letter from a platoon member to Chuck’s mother. Chuck’s injury is described as a “grapefruit-sized hole in his back” in the book Call of Duty: My Life Before, During and After the Band of Brothers.) I have found two accounts of Chuck’s activity when hit; the book notes him as standing upright for an unknown reason while a second account has him running forward to check his platoon’s position nearer the front. The location is memorialized in “Band of Brothers”: the Bois Jacques, south of Foy, Belgium. Chuck was next to Lt. Buck Compton when hit.
Following the war’s end, there is some confusion over where Chuck was buried. His location was not revealed until 1946. We was buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery Grand Failly, north of Verdun, France. For reasons I have not yet learned, his father had his remains cremated and moved to the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
Chuck’s birthday is July 17, 1921
Father: Col. Charles M. Thilkeld, Sr.
Mother: Mary Thirlkeld
Sister: Jean (Thirlkeld) Coate
There are no direct, living family members.
As I mentioned, I’m not having much success learning of Chuck’s life, so please feel free to pass my email address to anyone who may have known Chuck or may have served with him. I’d be grateful for any information.
My wife and I included Chuck’s Purple Heart on our Christmas tree last year and plan to visit both Bastogne and his grave early next year as I continue to research his life.
Good luck with your site.
You can read Charles Thirlkeld’s in memoriam page by clicking here.
I sent a response saying I would post the letter and share it with Citadel alumni via social media networks in the hope that we can help him with his quest. This evening I received a reply.
I appreciate you spreading the word to Citadel alumni. I suspect Chuck had a close attachment to the Citadel because I have a letter to his father which references the return of both his watch and his class ring following his death. Many years have passed but, perhaps, an alumnus remembers Chuck.
Thank you, Dworschak family. Thank you, and God bless you.
Photos courtesy of Mark Dworschak. All rights reserved.