Harry J. Kirby Jr. (#33339008) - December 14, 2005

Place of Birth
Date of Birth

October 17, 1917
Private First Class
308th Engineer
83rd Infantry

Harry J. Kirby Jr., enlisted on October 8, 1942 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and served with the 83rd Infantry Division, 308th Engineer Combat Battalion. His unit earned five battle stars for following campaigns: Normandy, Brittany, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. The unit served in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany. He was discharged in 1946. He remained active with the 83rd Infantry Association and served in various elected offices, including president of the Philadelphia Chapter and member of the national Executive Board.

Harry J. Kirby Jr. taking a break to eat his lunch, somewhere in Europe 1944-1945

Mr. Kirby was retired from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 in Philadelphia. He had been a member for more than 50 years. During his time with the IBEW, he worked on various construction projects in the city, including Penn Center. He retired in 1980. He is past president of the Local 98 retirees group. He received his training at Spring Garden Institute of Technology and attended Villanova University. He was a 1935 graduate of Central High School in Philadelphia.

Harry was a lifelong avid model train enthusiast, building model railroad layouts and often building his own cars, including a 25-car circus train. He belonged to several model railroading organizations. He had been a Mason for 60 years.

Marianne Kirby Rhodes talks about her dad:
Harry J. Kirby, Jr., served with the 308th Engineers Battalion of the 83rd from the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 until he was discharged in December 1945. 
He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 17, 1917. He lived on South Second (or "2") Street in Philadelphia for most of his life, graduating in 1935 from the renowned Central High School. Later, he attended The Spring Garden Institute of Technology and Villanova University on the G.I Bill. He was in the business of electrical construction, spending more than 60 years as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
He remembered being at home, working with his large collection of model trains on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when he heard the radio news broadcast of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. He wanted to enlist immediately, but his eyesight kept him out of the service at first. Still, he continued to return to the recruiters until finally, the fact that he wore glasses didn’t matter any longer.
As did many of the 83rd soldiers, he trained at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He told the story of how the soldiers were called up to sandbag the Ohio River as it overflowed its banks during a flood. The soldiers worked all through the night and were sent to a local Catholic school gymnasium for rest. He recalled how the nuns kept the children hushed and quiet so as not to wake the tired men.
He married Rita Pitts in September 1943, wearing his uniform with sergeant's stripes and the 83rd patch. John Dillon, another soldier from the 83rd and also a neighborhood friend from "2" Street, served as best man. Harry and Rita were married for 21 years until her untimely death in 1964. They had four children: Marianne, Harry III, Joan and James.
He spoke frequently about his time in the Army and in the war, but not about the really bad times.—not until much later in life. In particular, he talked of the Thanksgiving dinner he enjoyed in Steinsel, Luxembourg, at the home of the Pleimling family. A big fan of Christmas celebrations, he told of the Christmas Eve somewhere in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, when he and some other soldiers found a box of beautiful Christmas ornaments in a ruined home. Selecting a tree in the forest, they decorated the tree with the ornaments and “tinsel” used as WHAT from American planes. One of the soldiers took a photo of the tree; he was killed in action soon after and the photo was never seen.
When Harry returned to Europe for the 50th Anniversary celebration of D-Day in 1994, he was touched deeply by the welcome he and his buddies received from the people of Normandy, Luxembourg and Belgium. From old timers who remembered the war vividly to school children who learned its history in books, these people thanked the Thunderbolts of the 83rd with parades, toasts (many toasts!), vins d’honneur, feasts, and more. They showed that they have never forgotten and Harry felt honored. He still maintained that he was only doing his job.
He died in December 2005, still a member of the 83rd Division Association, former member of the Executive Board and past president of the Philadelphia Chapter. At his funeral in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, his old friend and buddy  from the 308th, Cliff Wooldridge, represented the 83rd and the 308th Engineers with not only his presence, but with mementoes including the Battalion Flag of the 308th.

Harry J. Kirby Jr. is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Harry is survived by his children, Marianne, Harry, Joan and James; two grandchildren, Michael Rhodes and Jill Rhodes Dow; and one great grandson, Ryan Dow.
Like so many young Americans who fought for the liberation of Europe from the Nazi yoke, he never thought of himself as a hero or as having done a remarkable deed by his service. He later remarked, "It had to be done." To know that the people for whom "it had to be done" revere and cherish his service, and that of all the American service members, was something he held close to his heart.

Thanks to Marianne for sharing this story and the photos

Thanks to Harry Kirby's daughter Marianne for sharing this for my website