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 Murray County Museum  

John Henry Wilbanks
1906 - 1944, 1st Lt. US Marine Corps

John Henry Wilbanks was born May 6, 1906. The 1920 Census listed his family as W. D. Wilbanks, age 46; Annie Wilbanks, age 42; Bethenia Wilbanks, age 18; Henry Wilbanks, age 13; Fite Wilbanks, age 11; Lou Wilbanks, age 9; Sarah Wilbanks, age 7; Georgia Wilbanks, age 5; W. D. Wilbanks, age 3; and Daily G. Wilbanks, 1 month. The family lived in Murray's Doolittle District. All had been born in Georgia. John Wilbanks was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, assigned to the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific Theater. That unit had landed on Guadalcanal. He died in fighting January 16, 1944. Five years later his body was returned to the United States and buried at Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia.

In their February 17, 1944 issue, The Chatsworth Times published the following article: "Henry Wilbanks Dies of Wounds. First Lieutenant John Henry Wilbanks, of the U. S. Marine Corps, has died as a result of wounds received in action, his wife has been notified in a telegram received last Saturday from his commanding officer. Lieutenant Wilbanks would have been 39 years old on May 16 and would have completed 17 years of service in the marines in June. After leaving the States for the last time on June 10, 1942, the lieutenant was sent to the Pacific theater of war and was a member of the First Marine division which landed at Guadalcanal.

The Marine was the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Wilbanks, Route 2, Chatsworth. His wife, a native of Spain whom he met and married while station in Cuba, is the former Miss Maria G. Enrico. They had three children, John Henry, Jr., Mary Ann, and Cathryn, who was 16 months old but had never seen her father.

Lieutenant Wilbanks is also survived by five sisters and three brothers: Mrs. H. V. Sanford, of this county; Miss Will D. Wilbanks, of Rome; Mrs. Aaron Deck, of Dalton; Mrs. Raymond Gentry and Mrs. A. E. Roberson, both of Alabama City, Ala.; A. F. Wilbanks and Daley Wilbanks, both of Alabama; and Private Hamilton Wilbanks of the U. S. Army.

The Marine was born in Murray County and attended the local schools."

None of the Murray citizens, including several named Wilbanks, contacted by the museum remembered this man.

After the Dalton Citizen ran an article about the museum's project honoring Murray's World War II soldiers who died while on active duty, Lt. Wilbanks' daughter, Kathy, emailed the museum from Knoxville. A cousin living in Dalton had sent her the newspaper article. Kathy wrote in her email "My father was killed in the war January 16, 1944, USMC First Lieutenant John Henry Wilbanks, known at home as Henry. I have a small suitcase filled with documents, letters, souvenirs, cards, etc., which Mother kept, and gave to me before she died. I also have a framed picture of Daddy in his uniform which hung in an honored place in our home throughout my life."

Kathy also wrote that "Daddy married a Spanish woman who was living in Cuba when he was stationed at Guatanemo Bay, March 18, 1933. He had courted her for 5 years before she agreed to marry him. Mother's maiden name was Maria Gados Encizo y Catena; Daddy called her Gladys. She used the name Maria G. Wilbanks. They were married in Cuba. My brother John H. Wilbanks, Jr., was born there. My sister Mary Ann was born in Calhoun soon after Mother came to this country in 1936. I was conceived in the year Daddy left for the last time, in 1942."

Kathy provided two corrections for the above Chatsworth Times report of her father's death. Before her marriage Kathy's legal name was Kathryn Catena Wilbanks. Her father's sister actually was Mrs. Aaron Decker.

Kathy also sent a newspaper article from The Chattanooga Times, probably from 1951, because Gladys Wilbanks mentioned that Kathryn was then 9 years old. Gladys also told about coming home with John to the United States, living first in Calhoun. She said that in later years the lived in other areas, wherever John was assigned to serve–Paris Island, S.C., New River, N.C., and Quantico, Virginia.

During these years, Gladys said that she learned to speak English and obtained U.S. citizenship. At the time the article was published, Gladys and her three offspring were living in the Dalton area.

Gladys explained that her family had originally lived in Spain. When her father died, she said that her mother brought her three small children to Cuba to live.

This article contained details of John's death. It quoted from a Citation for the Silver Star Medal..."First Lieutenant John Henry Wilbanks, USMC, dashed through Japanese sniper and machine gun fire in an attempt to rescue the team of a Marine tank, bogged down in a shell crater. While working to execute his voluntarily assigned mission of rescuing the imprisoned crew, Lieutenant Wilbanks fell, mortally wounded before bursts of enemy machine gun fire." This marine was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.

Kathy said that her father's remains were returned to Georgia in 1947. After a funeral at Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Chatsworth, John Henry Wilbanks was buried at the National Cemetery at Marietta, Georgia.

Kathy reported that her mother died on Veteran's Day, 2007, at age 97. She had lived with Kathy's family the final years of her life.


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