William R. Balcom was born on September 18, 1921 to William and Beatrice Balcom. His father was a caretaker at the Yact Club and his mother a homemaker. He had one sister, Sally Ann. William attended Milton School and graduated from Woodmere High School, Long Island. Before joining the Army, he was employed at the shipyards of William Edgar John & Associates in Milton and was a member of Christs Church. The Balcoms resided at 18 Locust Lane and then later at 648 Milton Road. William enlisted in 1942 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Service Time: William enlisted in the U. S. Army on October 23, 1942. William achieved the rank of Corporal with B Company, 304th Combat Engineers of the 79th Infantry Division. Corporal Balcoms job as a combat engineer also called field engineer, pioneer or sapper in many armies was as a soldier who performs a variety of construction and demolition tasks under combat conditions. The combat engineers goals involve facilitating movement and support of friendly forces while impeding those of the enemy.
The division arrived in Liverpool and began training in amphibious operations. After training in the United Kingdom from 17 April 1944, the 79th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach, Normandy, June 12th -14th and entered combat 19 June 1944, with an attack on the high ground west and northwest of Valognes and high ground south of Cherbourg. The division took Fort du Roule after a heavy engagement and entered Cherbourg, 25 June.
It held a defensive line at the Ollonde River until 2 July 1944 and then returned to the offensive, taking La Haye du Puits in house-to-house fighting, 8 July. On 26 July, the 79th attacked across the Ay River, took Lessay, crossed the Sarthe River and entered Le Mans, 8 August, meeting only light resistance.
The advance continued across the Seine, 19 August. Heavy German counterattacks were repelled, August 22nd - 27th, and the division reached the Therain River, 31 August.
Moving swiftly to the Franco-Belgian frontier near St. Amand east of Lille , the division was then moved to XV Corps in eastern France, where it encountered heavy resistance in taking Charmes in street fighting, 12 September. The 79th cut across the Moselle and Meurthe Rivers, September 13th - 23rd, cleared the Foret de Parroy in a severe engagement, 28 September thru 9 October, and attacked to gain high ground east of Embermenil, October 14th - 23rd, when it was relieved, 24 October.
On October 23, 1944 Mrs. Balcom received a letter from her son wishing her a happy birthday, "
I hope you have a nice birthday. Maybe I'll be home for the next one", he wrote in a letter dated October 18. Veteran of six major campaigns as a member of a combat engineer battalion attached to the 79th Division, Cpl. Balcom wrote: "Our unit received little credit last time and were not getting much now, but we've gone through hell". He described the cold, mud and hunger that his division was compelled to endure when rations, even hot coffee, were unobtainable.
Corporal Balcom was killed in action at Embermenil France, on October 23, 1944 his mother's birthday, as his company battled for the high ground east of the town. The tragic coincidence of his death on his mothers birthday was also the date when he entered the service two years prior. When they were relieved the following day, the Division had then completed 127 consecutive days of combat.
William R. Balcom was survived by his parents and a sister Sally Ann. His remains were returned from Europe in May 1948 and he was buried in Rye at Greenwood Union Cemetery with full military honors.
The Cross of Lorraine: a combat history of the 79th Infantry Division, June 1942-December 1945