Wilbur L. Iley, a decorated World War II veteran who worked in the Harford County dairy industry for many years, died Monday of cancer at the Forest Hill Medical and Rehabilitation Center. The Fallston resident was 94.
Mr. Iley was born on his family's farm off Grier Nursery Road in Street and was a 1937 graduate of Highland High School. He worked on the 70-acre farm until he entered military service in the Army during World War II. Family members said he was an expert marksman; he attained the rank of master sergeant.
While serving as a rifle platoon leader in the Army's 70th Division in the Lorraine section of France, he was severely wounded by an enemy grenade in Forbach near the German border. He received a Bronze Star for valor, but the presentation of the award was delayed because a fire destroyed its documentation.
Mr. Iley's division was in active combat for 86 consecutive days. Army records showed it liberated 86 towns and took 886 prisoners.
Col. John Wright, the commander of the garrison at Aberdeen Proving Ground, presented the Bronze Star in 2007 at a surprise ceremony in Bel Air attended by family members.
"He spent two years and seven months in Walter Reed Hospital and underwent 17 operations," said his son-in-law, Peter J. Schlehr of Bel Air. "He was determined to walk again and lead a normal life. He had to have parts of his body reconstructed but recovered successfully. He then returned to Harford County."
Mr. Iley then began working alongside Mervin and Louise Amrein, his brother-in-law and sister, at the family grocery store in Fallston. He met his future wife, Lois Howard, a Navy WAVE, on a blind date in Georgia.
Mr. Iley later began a job testing milk and went on to join the Maryland Artificial Breeders Association.
"He was one of the first people locally to buy and drive a VW Beetle and was well known by dairy farmers throughout Harford and Northern Baltimore counties," his son-in-law, Peter Schlehr, said.
Mr. Iley retired more than 35 years ago, but remained busy. In the 1960s he helped his son find an Indian arrowhead. This initial find led to more searching and documenting of prehistoric artifacts.
"Over the following half-century his collection of artifacts numbered in the thousands and is still considered among the largest in the region," his son-in-law said.
Mr. Iley was a Harford County Archaeological Society charter member. On his searches near the Susquehanna River and in Harford County he located projectile points, ax heads, pottery shards and tools. A site on a small Susquehanna island where he found a native American soapstone vessel has been named after him.
Mr. Iley also worked on archaeological digs in Florida and at the Anasazi Ruins in New Mexico. He spoke to elementary school classes and social organizations about his adventures.
"Teaching children about these types of things helps to spark their interest at an early age," he said in a 2007 Baltimore Sun article when he displayed part of his collection at the Hays House Museum in Bel Air.
"As part of his rehabilitation upon leaving Walter Reed Hospital after the war, he was told by his physicians to involve himself in an activity that would relax him," his son-in-law said. "He mentioned fishing. They encouraged him to pursue it."
He fished for rockfish and shad on the Susquehanna River and taught others. He became a guide. One of his clients was former Maryland Gov. and Baltimore Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin. He also led crabbing parties off Millers Island.
Nearly 50 years ago he finished first in five consecutive shad tournaments. He also set a fresh-water record for the one-piece light spinning rod with 10-pound test line as he caught a 26-pound rockfish, family members said.
Mr. Iley planted a vegetable garden at a plot at his home, family members said.
"His tomatoes, cantaloupe, corn and pole lima beans were favorites with his Fallston neighbors," said his son-in-law. "He engaged his children and later his grandchildren to sell the produce and use the revenue to help defray tuition costs."
He also had a post office box, No. 25, in Fallston. Postal officials said they believed it to be the town's oldest active box.
Mr. Iley rooted for the Baltimore Colts, Baltimore Ravens and Orioles. Among his treasured possessions were an autographed lithograph of Brooks Robinson as well as an autographed photo of Jim Nabors, who portrayed Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith TV show. Mr. Iley was a devotee of the show.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Fallston Presbyterian Church, 600 Fallston Road, where he was a member.
Mr. Iley is survived by his wife of 66 years, a retired Harlatane Gas Co. bookkeeper; a son, John Iley of Pittsburg, Kan.; two daughters, Sandra Schlehr of Bel Air and Eleanor Welkner of Street; his sister, Louise Amrein of Joppa; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A daughter, Jacqueline Iley, died in 1977.