On Nov. 10, the Wilp family – more than 30 of them – gathered at the home of their parents on South Delaplaine Road to bid their father farewell.
The last eight years, marked by a series of health issues, had been especially hard on Martin J. Wilp, who sat in his lounge chair in the sunroom, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They came to say goodbye to a man known for his sense of humor and, most of all, love of family.
“We had an old-fashioned Irish wake,” said his wife, Nancy, to whom Mr. Wilp has been married for 61 years.
On Monday, Nov. 12, Martin Wilp died at his home at the age of 87.
“He loved his kids and his family,” said Mrs. Wilp. “We had a lot of parties and we had a great time.”
He was born in Chicago and grew up on the Northwest Side of the city. He attended Schurz High School and, at the age of 18, was drafted into the U.S. Army in July 1943. He volunteered to become a Ranger, and was assigned to Company C of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.
The company was part of the Normandy invasion, landing on June 6, 1944 on Omaha Beach. Mr. Wilp did not land that day. Instead, he came ashore three days later, just a few days after his 19th birthday.
A mortar gunner, he served with the company from the time he landed until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
On Dec. 7, 1944 during the bloody Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, Mr. Wilp and the rest of the 2nd Rangers attacked Hill 400 outside Bergstein, Germany. There he was wounded in the arm by enemy fire.
The Rangers took the hill, which overlooked one of the Roer River dams, and held it in the face of five German counterattacks. The Rangers were relieved on the hill after taking tremendous casualties and the Germans retook Hill 400 less than two weeks later, at the start of the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans didn’t reclaim the hill again until February 1945.
In subsequent years, said Mrs. Wilp, the scars of serving in combat would resurface in her husband.
“I think he had PTSD,” she said. “If he saw a war movie, he’d be walking around, holding up the wall. But he would not talk about it.”
Martin Wilp met Nancy Wynne at a wedding in 1950. A year later, the two married at St. Viator Church in Chicago. They moved to Maywood where they lived for 20 years, raising a large family that grew to include 10 children.
“I think he saw so much destruction, killing and death, that he wanted to replenish the Earth,” said Mrs. Wilp.
The family later moved to Riverside, where Mr. Wilp would live for the next 37 years. He started out in the real estate business, but later joined the electricians’ union, working until the age of 70 as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134.
About eight years ago, however, he began suffering headaches and had trouble balancing. It got to the point where he had surgery to relieve the symptoms, but complications from the surgery failed to correct the problems.
One doctor told Mrs. Wilp that the constant concussion from firing a mortar in combat during the war may have contributed to the condition.
Martin Wilp is survived by his wife, Nancy (nee Wynne); his children, Mary, John (Melody), Dan (Colleen), Joan (Gary) Gjondla, Marty (Robin), Greg (Kim), Tim (Laura), Tom (Elizabeth), and Nancy (Ben) Brundage; 17 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.