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Hilton Howell Railey

COL in Army Experimental Station at Pine Camp : Commander


Born 1895 in LA, Died 1975

County of residence at enlistment: New York County, NY
Other residence(s): New York, NY; New Orleans, LA; Philadelphia, PA; New Rochelle, NY; Washington, DC; Little Rock, AR; Needham, MA; Pittsford, NY; Marblehead, MA; Rockland, ME
United States Army, did not accompany the unit to Europe
College education before the war: Tulane
Notes: did not go overseas with 3132, but traveled to Europe later for an inspection trip; legendary founder of sonic deception; commanding officer of Army Experimental Station at Pine Camp
Source: 3132 Caption List; 603rd reunion mailing list; 3132 Pine Camp Photo Names; photo courtesy 10th Mountain Division Museum

Hilton Railey was born on August 1, 1895, in New Orleans, LA. His father, William Railey, was in the insurance business, and also involved with the Citizens League, an organization formed in the late 19th century with the goal of cleaning up city politics by overthrowing the political ring then in control of New Orleans.

Hilton was descended from several generations of New Orleanians, and was also the great-nephew of Jefferson Davis. He had an early goal to be an actor, which didn't please his father very much. He acted in a few screen and stage roles, but eventually settled down to study journalism at Tulane.

He left Tulane before completing his degree to actually practice journalism, taking a job at the New Orleans American. The editor of the American had embarked on a campaign against saloons, cabarets, and racetrack gambling in New Orleans. This dovetailed nicely with Hilton's father's involvement in anti-corruption work in the city; William was chairman of the executive committee of the Citizens League by the time Hilton started reporting for the American.

There are several different versions of what happened next, though it is clear that the American went out of business in March, 1917, possibly urged along by corrupt politicians, and Hilton (who had started carrying a gun for self-protection) left town at the same time, possibly with the sheriff in pursuit.

He did some newspaper work in Philadelphia that spring before ending up in New York. In his June 14, 1917 World War I draft registration, he stated that he was living in New Rochelle, and working as a self-employed writer in New York City.

He did some work for the New York Evening Post, most likely with a focus on corruption, morality, and other related issues, and was hired by the American Social Hygiene Association as a result of his newspaper work. He went to Washington, DC for an interview for the Association, and was offered a job by the War Department to make a study of venereal disease, which led him into the exploration of drugs, prostitution, and bootlegging. He was detailed to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he explored the moral conditions around the Army's Camp Pike, working on "preventative measures for the suppression of immoral conditions." The War Department also granted him permission to document some of his findings in a series of articles for The Independent, a New York weekly publication which had its 19th century roots in abolitionism and woman suffrage.

While based in Arkansas, he met and fell in love with a remarkable young woman who shared his interests. Julia Taylor Houston had been a teacher in backwoods schools in Arkansas, an organizer of social work in Pine Bluff, field secretary for the State Commission of Charities and Corrections, and a lobbyist in the Arkansas Legislature for the improvement of social conditions. (She would go on to publish a 1921 novel, entitled Show Down, based on her own experiences.)

He may have met Julia when he spoke in Little Rock on September 19, 1917, along with representatives from several women's organizations focused on social reform, on "The Necessity for Better Chaperonage for Girls and Young Women in the City."

After his work in Arkansas, he returned to New York where he was assigned to help clean up the Bowery of the same immoral conditions he had encountered in Arkansas (with the focus on American soldiers in this major port of embarkation for Europe).

Hilton and Julia married in New York on January 26, 1918. He was inducted into the Army less than three weeks later and promoted to SGT 1st Class on March 1. He and Julia spent some time back in Little Rock early in 1919 when he was stationed at the familiar Camp Pike. He was discharged from the Army on April 5, 1919, with the rank of 2LT, and joined the US Infantry Reserve, where he had earned the rank of CPT some time prior to 1930.

His 1920 passport application shows him heading to Poland as a war correspondent to study social conditions there, partly at the request of the Polish ambassador to the United States. While in Poland, he ended up enlisting in the Polish Army for some months to get a handle on actual Army conditions there. He returned to the US in 1921, and parlayed his overseas experience into a series of newspaper and magazine articles, as well as a lecture tour.

At some point he and Julia adopted a son, born in 1913, whom they named Kenneth Houston Railey.

He is next to be found in Boston where he worked for a time as advertising manager of Webster & Atlas National Bank in Boston, and lived in Needham. He then organized H. H. Railey Co., a PR/fundraising firm dedicated to financing the fundraising for, and promotion of, exploration, scientific, and philanthropic enterprises.

He raised $1 million for Admiral Byrd's first expedition to Antarctica in 1928-1930 and served as business advisor for the expedition.

In the spring of 1928, on a visit to NY, he learned from George Palmer Putnam that Admiral Byrd had sold his Fokker plane to Amy Phipps Guest, a wealthy woman who planned to be the first woman to fly (as a passenger) across the Atlantic. The plane was being worked on at the airport in East Boston, and Putnam urged Railey to investigate.

He learned that her family was very concerned, and her lawyer indicated that if Railey could "find the right sort of girl" to take her place, that Mrs. Guest would continue to fund the expedition. A friend of Railey's, a retired Navy Admiral, told Railey: "I know a young social worker who flies." That turned out to be Amelia Earhart, and Railey persuaded her to take Mrs. Guest's place. George Putnam and Hilton Railey would go on to "manage her performance" that summer. (And Earhart would go on to marry Putnam.)

Also in 1928-1930, he worked as a financial advisor on the fundraising campaign for the Massachusetts Bay 300th anniversary commission, and in 1930 served as executive secretary for the Boston University 50th anniversary capital campaign.

Julia used her time in the Boston area to write a brief history of Boston department store Jordan Marsh, which was published under the title Retail and Romance in 1926.

By 1930 he had returned to New York. In 1931, he and Simon Lake, one of the chief inventors of the modern submarine, negotiated a contract with the British Admiralty to partially salvage the Lusitania. According to a Wikipedia article, "the means of salvage was unique in that a 200-foot steel tube, five feet in diameter, which enclosed stairs, and a dive chamber at the bottom, would be floated out over the Lusitania wreck and then sunk upright, with the dive chamber resting on the main deck of Lusitania. Divers would then take the stairs down to the dive chamber and then go out of the chamber to the deck." The tube was built and tested, and Railey sailed to England in April, 1932, to commence operations, but Lake ran out of funds for the project, and when their contract ended in 1935 they had not done any actual salvage work.

During the same time, in 1934, Fortune magazine sent him to examine European arms industries, incurring the suspicions of both US and British intelligence. (And a Nazi agent tried—without success—to recruit him as Hitler's PR man in America.)

Sometime after this, Railey decided to write his autobiography; he lived in Pittsford, NY for a year while he wrote the book, and published Touch'd With Madness in 1938. Then he and Julia moved to Marblehead MA. He continued to work on PR/development in projects with social significance, and to write newspaper articles on the same kinds of topics, including editorials for the Boston Herald.

For example, in 1938 he served as co-organizer of a survey into "alleged prejudice in American industry against men and women beyond the age of 40."

And, in a 1939 interview, he expressed his concern about the growth of anti-Semitism. "If one class or race is ever persecuted in America—if the persecution of the smallest minority is countenanced in this country—the liberties of all of us will be in jeopardy."

By 1940, Railey was living in New York, although his wife remained in Marblehead. He was working for the New York Times as a special writer on civil defense. He and co-author Walter P. Binger took this to book length when they published What the Citizen Should Know About Civilian Defense in 1942.

He also wrote a confidential report for the Army on how to combat low morale among draftees. (This led directly to the Why We Fight films, directed by Frank Capra.)

On April 26, 1942, Captain Railey filled out his draft registration. He was eventually recalled to service, with the rank of LTC. He was promoted to COL in October, 1944, and put to work on sonic deception at Pine Camp in New York. Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles write, in their book, The Ghost Army of World War II: "Headstrong and debonair, he was the perfect person to handle the job. 'He had style. He had grace,' recalled Lieutenant Dick Syracuse. 'This guy was certainly a leader.' At Pine Camp, Railey went to work training two sonic units. The 3132 Signal Service Company Special served in the Ghost Army, while the 3133 operated independently in Italy."

In October, 1945, Colonel Railey received the Legion of Merit for his work as commanding officer of the Army Experimental Station at Pine Camp. The text of the citation reads: "He demonstrated exceptional foresight and outstanding leadership in the development of a project entirely new to the United States Army. In fulfilling this mission he exhibited a courageous pioneering spirit in the technical development and operational application of ultra-specialized signal equipment and the activation, training, and equipping of special type signal units."

Railey and his wife separated after the war, and divorced in 1950. A few weeks later he married Elizabeth E. Stout, a research assistant in Oriental Languages at Yale. Railey's adopted son, Kenneth, was best man. The couple settled in Connecticut; at the time, Railey was said to be awaiting a recall to duty, and working on a biography of Nellie Green Talmadge, a celebrated innkeeper/bootlegger/rum runner in the New Haven area.

Sadly, Kenneth, who had served in the Navy during World War II, died the year after that wedding.

In the early 1950s, the couple moved to Maine, Elizabeth's native state, and Railey took up oil painting, exhibiting his work.

Otherwise, little is known of his retirement years. In 1964, he was rescued on a stretcher from the burning building in Rockland, ME which housed their 3rd floor apartment. (His dog, named Jefferson Davis for his great uncle, died in the fire.)

Hilton Railey died on May 1, 1975, in Rockland, ME, and is buried at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.


1917 article in Shreveport LA Times re his last day as a reporter in New Orleans

1917 article in Times-Picayune (New Orleans LA) re what happened between leaving New Orleans and arriving in Arkansas

1917 World War I draft registration

1917 article in Prescott Daily News (AR) re his promotion to 1LT

1917 article in Daily Arkansas Gazette re his speech on the protection of women in Little Rock

1918 article in Pine Bluff Daily Graphic (AR) re his marriage

1918 article in Daily Arkansas Gazette re his marriage

1918 New York Abstracts of WW1 Military Service

1920 passport application

1923 article in Boston Herald with biographical details

1926 description of Julia Houston Railey's history of Jordan Marsh

1928 article in Boston Globe describing his involvement as financial advisor to the Mass. Bay Tercentenary Committee

Wikipedia article which describes the Lusitania salvage effort 1931-1935's_attempt_to_salvage_in_the_1930s

1932 article in Middletown Times-Herald (NY) re his salvage operation on the Lusitania

1932 shipboard record Southampton to NYC; lists rank as CPT

1934 shipboard record Southampton to NYC

1936 shipboard record Southampton to NYC

1938 article in Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle with biographical details

1938 article in San Francisco Chronicle, written by Railey, about Amelia Earhart

1938 book review in NY Times

1939 article in Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle quoting his concerns re anti-Semitism

1940 census

1942 World War II draft registration

1945 article in NY Times re his Legion of Merit award

1950 divorce record

1950 article in Boston Herald re his second marriage

1958 article in Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle with biographical details

1964 article in the Bangor Daily News (ME) re a fire in his Rockland apartment

1975 VA Death Record

1975 Maine Cemetery Record

1975 Find a Grave record

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