As Jonn noted, this is National Medal of Honor of Honor Day, and this is the guy I’d like to honor.
I want to set the stage before I really discuss this guy, only because it is phenomenal. I’ve talked before about my immense respect for Hiroshi Miyamura. This is a similiar sort of story. I’m not much on noting race of an individual in general, and abhor it in specifics today, but I think it is important for both Mr Miyamura’s story and that of this other gentleman that it be considered, since the acts they did were done at the behest of a sometimes ungrateful nation.
During WWII, Japaneese and German POWs were relocated to camps throughout the US. I’ve read about baseball leagues of POWs, and various other anecdotes about their freedom. There’s a book I have been looking at purchasing that discusses the POWs in Wisconsin in particular called Stalag Wisconsin: Inside WWII Prisoner of War Camps by Betty Cowley. The review of that book illustrates my point pretty well:
“Stalag Wisconsin: Inside WW II prisoner-of-war camps” is a comprehensive look inside Wisconsin’s 38 branch camps that held 20,000 Nazi and Japanese prisoners of war during World War II. Most worked on farms, harvesting peas and other crops. Many of these prisoners blended with the local community, drinking at taverns and even dating local young women. Some returned and settled in Wisconsin after their release.
Meanwhile, African Americans in the US, be they regular citizens or service members had no such rights. The Discovery Channel has an excellent video on Youtube that covers some of the struggles that they went to just to contribute during the war, and I suggest it is worth a watch if you have the time.
Either way, we can agree that it was not a particularly good time to be African American, particularly not when you are in another country, under fire from an enemy that (if captured) will be sent to your country, and while there treated better than you. I can’t even imagine how bad that would be. Enter into this background LT. John R. Fox.
This article here from the Sunday Enterprise says it in a better way than his citation even does.
In the early morning darkness of Dec. 26, 1944, a large force of German soldiers attacked a small garrison of American troops holding the tiny mountain village of Sommocolonia, Italy, high in the Upper Apennines in the north central part of the country.
The fighting was fierce, and by daylight the 400 Germans, outnumbering the Americans 6 to 1, had the village surrounded and were moving in fast.
First Lt. John R. Fox, 26, of Cincinnatti, Ohio, and a handful of his men watched in alarm from their post on the second floor of an old house as the Germans swarmed up the streets, lobbing grenades everywhere.
Fox, a forward observer with the 366th Infantry Regiment, an all-black unit out of Fort Devens reactivated for World War II, was directing American artillery fire into the area to slow the enemy advance, and he knew the village was all but lost.
As the Germans closed in, Fox spoke calmly by telephone to the Fire Direction Center, ordering up artillery missions from the distant guns.
‘That last round was just where I wanted it,, the young lieutenant reported. “Bring it in 60 yards more.”
The receiving operator thought Fox was mistaken – the order would train the full fire of up to 75 heavy caliber artillery guns directly on Fox’s position.
Fox confirmed the order: “There’s more of them than there is of us.”
Seconds later the bombardment began. And within minutes, hundreds of shells had hit the target. each one powerful enough to blast the house and its occupants into oblivion.
There was no chance that Fox and his men would survive.
The fighting continued from door to door for the next several hours as the few Americans left tried valiantly to stop the onslaught, but by mid-afternoon the village had fallen.
That night the Americans counted their casualties: Forty-three of 60 men in the garrison were dead. The other 17 had managed a miraculous escape, slipping out of the village from undetected hiding places in the darkness.
Sommocolonia was retaken four days later, and in the rubble the bodies of Fox and his men were found among the bodies of the enemy. The dead had been killed in the shelling that Fox had brought down.
For that act of heroism, Fox was certain to be awarded a medal for valor, a Silver Star at least.
But it didn’t happen. Not for almost 38 years.
I don’t really have a lot to add to be honest. Just reading that story makes me incredibly grateful that I was allowed to even enlist in the same military as Lt. Fox. He’s been gone for 60+ years now, but his story, and those of his fellow troops, should not, can not be forgotten.
Citation: For extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy on 26 December 1944, while serving as a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92d Infantry Division. During the preceding few weeks, Lieutenant Fox served with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion as a forward observer. On Christmas night, enemy soldiers gradually infiltrated the town of Sommocolonia in civilian clothes, and by early morning the town was largely in hostile hands. Commencing with a heavy barrage of enemy artillery at 0400 hours on 26 December 1944, an organized attack by uniformed German units began. Being greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town, but Lieutenant Fox and some other members of his observer party voluntarily remained on the second floor of a house to direct defensive artillery fire. At 0800 hours, Lieutenant Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He then called for defensive artillery fire to slow the enemy advance. As the Germans continued to press the attack towards the area that Lieutenant Fox occupied, he adjusted the artillery fire closer to his position. Finally he was warned that the next adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox’s body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox’s gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack. His extraordinary valorous actions were in keeping with the most cherished traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.