For Wayne Fleck and the rest of the seniors in Carlisle High School’s Class of 1942, there was no carefree transition from youth to adulthood. The United States’ entry into the war in the midst of their senior year put on hold everyone’s notions of what the future might bring.
However abstract a concept the global war might have seemed to that group of Pennsylvania teenagers before, the reality that their lives could be directly affected by it began to hit home as Americans mobilized to play their part.
At some point in his senior year, young Wayne composed a poem encapsulating his hopes for the world in such turbulent times. It was reprinted in The Evening News of Harrisburg in March 1945, when it seemed increasingly likely peace would soon be at hand. Just a few months too late for the poem’s author.
The war came to Robert Wayne Fleck Jr. before he even had time to complete his first year at Dickinson College.
Born in nearby Harrisburg, Fleck grew up in Carlisle, where his father worked for years as an insurance salesman after serving in the 28th Division in World War I. Fleck blossomed at Carlisle High, earning a seat on the student council as a sophomore and participating in the Latin and Science clubs as a senior — achievements that undoubtedly brought pride to his mother, Emma, and younger brother Donald.
In the fall of 1942, Fleck got a job at the Dickinson bookstore and pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity. But his bond with his new brothers would be short-lived, as Fleck was drafted into the Army in early March 1943.
He reported to Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas, for basic training and eventually moved on to Camp Claiborne in Louisiana, where he would join the 84th Infantry Division — the Railsplitters — and be assigned to the 335th Infantry Regiment.
According to a division history published after the war, the 84th spent the bulk of 1944 training stateside before shipping off to England in the early fall. After a month of training near Winchester, the 84th landed at Omaha Beach in early November and made its way across liberated France to the front.
While two regiments of the 84th went into combat in mid-November in the offensive against Geilenkirchen, Fleck and the 335th headed south to join up with the 30th Infantry and 2nd Armored divisions. That regiment did not see battle like the 333rd and 334th had, and as such was fresh for a new operation when the 84th reunited in the closing days of the month.
The objective was Lindern, a village defended by the 1st Battalion of the 21st SS Panzergrenadier Regiment that held a key position along German supply lines. The 335th was slated to attack before dawn on November 29 with support from the 40th Tank Battalion, but as tends to happen, the plan fell apart quickly.
Communications broke down and soldiers became disoriented, breaking down what was to have been a coordinated assault. While two companies of the 335th were able to enter Lindern, they soon found themselves facing German reinforcements that included the dreaded Tiger tanks. The infantrymen had no answer for that threat but were able to relay word back to their own tank support, which had been held in reserve.
As described in a detailed account of the battle by the Warfare History Network:
Two companies of M4 Shermans of the 40th Tank Battalion had been waiting to advance in support of the infantry but had never gotten word there was actually infantry left to support.
The Shermans would turn the tide, allowing the American forces to push back and occupy Lindern. The Germans counterattacked repeatedly over the next two days but were unable to dislodge the Railsplitters.
Casualties on the American side were heavy, and one of them was Private First Class Robert Wayne Fleck Jr., killed in action barely four months after his 20th birthday.
Fleck was initially buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, but finally returned home after the war along with thousands of others. Funeral services were held on Saturday, November 4, 1948, and Fleck was laid to rest for good in Longsdorf Cemetery in New Kingston, Pennsylvania.