A Houston native who served in World War II was posthumously honored recently with his induction into the 35th Infantry Division Hall of Fame.
Ralph S. Lilly, who grew up in Houston and later came home after the war to continue in the family business, received the honor at the 35th Infantry’s annual conference, which also celebrated the division’s 100th anniversary. The Hall of Fame is at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka.
A 1930 graduate of Houston High School, Lilly was inducted into the military in November 1943 at Jefferson Barracks and later underwent basic training at Camp Fannin, Texas. He was 30 years old and been operating Lilly’s Store for his parents, but they were too ill to run it when he began his military service. It closed. He was a message center specialist at Fort Meade, Md.
As a rifleman, he was assigned to Company A, 137th Infantry and entered combat in September 1944. An MU School of Journalism graduate and Eagle Scout, Lilly later wrote a 1980 memoir of his service, “Journal of a Rifleman in World War II.” It describes the life of soldiers in combat, the miserable conditions that soldiers served in and his service that spanned from the Gremacey Forest to Hilsprich.
In the Battle of Fonteny, many soldiers were killed and wounded attempting to reach the town. Lilly volunteered to aid those injured and survived heavy sniper fire to aid those wounded. He would return to his platoon, which the previous day numbered 50 and now had five.
At the Battle of Hilsprich, soldiers were hit by artillery fire. A blast hit Lilly and his sergeant was badly wounded. With a hole in his leg and bleeding, Lilly crawled toward an aid station. He refused surgery until his sergeant was operated on first. It was Thanksgiving Day.
In his memoir, Lilly said he returned home June 11, 1945. After weeks in a hospital, Lilly wrote, “I threw my duffel bag into the back of my old Chevrolet convertible and headed for Missouri.” He returned to Houston and reopened the family business.
Lilly won a Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and Purple Heart for his service.
Lilly died in November 1992. His widow, Nadine, lives in the Springfield area. Lilly has three children, Scott, Walt and Mary.
A copy of lilly’s memoir, “journal of a rifleman,” is available at the Texas County Library.