June 2014 — Center, Texas
Shelby County Citizen Jean Corbell provided me with the following information in 2009. VFW Post 8904 honored Mr. Wilburn and four others on POW/MIA Rememberance Day that year.
“He was the son of Isaac Wilburn and Fannie Oliver. He was the grandson of Lihue Tandy Wilburn, Jr. and Sarah Parthena Eddins. His great-grandparents were Lihue Tandy Wilburn, Sr. and Cynthia Brittain. He was also the great-grandson of Robert J. Eddins and Mary A. P. Roberts. Mr. Robert J. Eddins joined the Mississippi Guards in Marshall County, Ms. in 1846 to serve Texas in the Mexican War. His great-great-grandparents were William Warren Wilburn and Frances Wilburn. His great-grandfather and four of his sons, including Lihue Tandy, Sr. served in the civil war. As you can see, Mr. Wilburn came from a family of patriots. Ironically, I did not know that Henry Wilburn had served this country with such honor until I was researching the Eddins family. Mr. Wilburn never mentioned his service, the hardships he faced and lived through, or any experiences of his service to his country. I have stood at Mr. Wilburn's grave and wished I could tell him thank you. Perhaps this is finally my chance to have a very small part in doing that.”
Henry L. Wilburn was born on May 7th, 1918 and passed away at the age of 75 on September 23rd, 1993. He is buried in the Strong Cemetery. He was married to wife Grace on March 6, 1948. At the time of his passing he was survived by wife Grace, children Leroy Wilburn and twins Donice Wilburn and Bernice Wilburn Graham.
The 1920 Shelby County Census showed his family as father Isral (actually Isaac), mother Fannie, brother Walter, sister Mamie L., sister Maurie and brother Terrell. All of his siblings were older. The 1930 census did not show sisters Mamie and Maurie but did show a new sister Bulah T. Mr. Wilburn also had an infant sister Adel who passed in 1905 at the age of two.
He enlisted in the US Army on November 13th, 1942 in Tyler, Texas and served with the 100th Infantry Division in the North African Theatre. Mr. Wilburn was a German Prisnor of War from July 22, 1943 to July 21, 1945 at Stalag 2B, Hammerstein 99 Work Camp in West Prussia.
His granddaughter Katie Miller who is a staff writer for the Light and Champion related what she had heard from Mr. Wilburn’s nephew, Bobby Henry Wilburn. “He said pawpaw never really talked about what had happened once he was back home, but he did remember one time pawpaw was over for supper and Bobby Henry's mom had boiled potatoes and pawpaw got up from the table and left. At that time no one knew why or what was wrong but apparently when he was a prisoner one of the only things pawpaw was given to eat was potatoes that he had to boil. Bobby Henry remembered a story about pawpaw stealing a chicken and another story pawpaw having an opportunity to milk a cow. I remember the chicken story but the details are slightly different. I also remember hearing that they had to eat animal feed which of course had weevils in it, and boiling grass to eat.”
I talked to Bobby Henry Wilburn who was given the middle name of Henry in honor of Mr. Wilburn. Bobby Henry said the POWs marched a long way across Germany and were in a barn one night with a cow (or cows) that the city boys didn’t know how to milk. Being a country boy from Shelby County he had no problem. I’m not sure but he probably then shared with the city boys what I can imagine tasted like something from heaven.
Mr. Wilburn’s average weight was around 170 pounds and after release from the POW camp and spending some time in a US military hospital for rehabilitation he weighed only 86 pounds. Bobby Henry remembers a story Mr. Wilburn told him about his return to the United States aboard ship. He didn’t have a lot of money because his back pay had not caught up with him but he turned a small amount into a larger amount and the larger amount into around $1800.00 by way of lady luck with the dice. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows if you get a bunch of GIs together with time on their hands, poker and craps are inevitable.
Bobby Henry remembers Mr. Wilburn receiving around $1600.00 in back pay when he was discharged which he used to buy a farm. Mr. Wilburn worked a number of years for the State of Texas in the Port Arthur area painting and maintaining bridges. He then moved from Orange, Texas back to the farm here in Shelby County and raised cattle and chickens.