This week I am working on some drafts for a WW II memorial stone. It also happens that today is a day set aside by our nation to remember the recipients of the Medal of Honor.
My life has been touched in brief but meaningful ways by the medal. From the comfort of a coach tour bus, I listened to a veteran from my father's army division describe the decision-making challenge that their division commander faced when pursuing the Nazi German army into the Alps in North Italy. The choice that General Hays made to dog the Germans along the tight corridor on the east shore of Lake Garda was a daring one. My dad was a breath away from getting killed in that battle, and others were not as fortunate as he. But the war ended days early, which also saved a lot of lives, and may have prevented further messes. The German general surrendered the whole Italian front and insisted on being taken to Gen. Hays.
George Hays was a brave man. Here is General Hays' Medal of Honor citation from the First World War:
HAYS, GEORGE PRICE
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army 10th Field Artillery, 3d Division. Place and date: Near Greves Farm, France, 14-15 July 1918. Entered service at: Okarche, Oklahoma. Born: 27 September 1892, China. G.O. No.: 34, W.D., 1919. Citation: At the very outset of the unprecedented artillery bombardment by the enemy, his line of communication was destroyed beyond repair. Despite the hazard attached to the mission of runner, he immediately set out to establish contact with the neighboring post of command and further establish liaison with 2 French batteries, visiting their position so frequently that he was mainly responsible for the accurate fire therefrom. While thus engaged, 7 horses were shot under him and he was severely wounded. His activity under most severe fire was an important factor in checking the advance of the enemy.
Were you aware that the nomination for the MOH is a citation in itself? A fellow from my high school was nominated for the MOH, and received the next medal down for heroism as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He was searching for a downed buddie's chopper, and pressed the search in spite of heavy enemy fire. That was Jimmy McQuade, and his younger brother was my classmate. This link provided is a very moving example of the personal sacrifice that goes with these proceedings. I also met a MOH recipient from the Vietnam War who was an infantry lieutenant, but can't recall his name.
Another notable guy recommended for the MOH was a General named Carpenter. I met him at Ft Benning, Georgia when I attended the school for wayward boys there. A big man, he was courteous, and certainly a living legend.
And, finally, if you were here with me today, I would take you for a short drive down the road, past wheat fields and bald ridges, to the boyhood home of our local Joe E. Mann. The Mann's recall the following about their late WW II veteran:
MANN, JOE E.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company H, 502d Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. Place and date: Best, Holland, 18 September 1944. Entered service at: Seattle, Wash. Birth: Rearden, Wash. G.O. No.: 73, 30 August 1945. Citation: He distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. On 18 September 1944, in the vicinity of Best., Holland, his platoon, attempting to seize the bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal, was surrounded and isolated by an enemy force greatly superior in personnel and firepower. Acting as lead scout, Pfc. Mann boldly crept to within rocket-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, destroyed an 88mm. gun and an ammunition dump. Completely disregarding the great danger involved, he remained in his exposed position, and, with his M-1 rifle, killed the enemy one by one until he was wounded 4 times. Taken to a covered position, he insisted on returning to a forward position to stand guard during the night. On the following morning the enemy launched a concerted attack and advanced to within a few yards of the position, throwing hand grenades as they approached. One of these landed within a few feet of Pfc. Mann. Unable to raise his arms, which were bandaged to his body, he yelled "grenade" and threw his body over the grenade, and as it exploded, died. His outstanding gallantry above and beyond the call of duty and his magnificent conduct were an everlasting inspiration to his comrades for whom he gave his life.
Joe E. Mann's citation is evidence of his status as an American rifleman, an integral part of life in the west. No doubt he grew up hunting deer, and defending the ranch animals from predators. Good thing, too.
Keep an eye here for my sketch of a WW II soldier.