Today's Medal of Honor Moment for 3 September
September 3rd, 2009 by John Donovan
Medal of Honor Recipient Master Sergeant Travis Watkins, one tough Arkansan. Most Medals are awarded for events measured in moments to hours, there are a few that cover actions that span many days. All the Medals from the modern era that were awarded today are Medals that cover multiple days - and in the case of Lieutenant Colonel Matt Urban, weeks. We open with the Civil War and one of the iron rules of good units - leave no man behind.
The next Medals are a pair from the Philippine Insurrection. In the early years of the Medal's history, it's not unusual to see the Medal awarded to everybody involved in a singular event, such as this pair. It's much rarer in the modern era, not least because since WWI and beyond there have been more options in terms of awards.MADDEN, MICHAELRank and organization: Private, Company K, 42d New York Infantry. Place and date: At Masons Island, Md., 3 September 1861. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 28 September 1841, Ireland. Date of issue: 22 March 1898. Citation: Assisted a wounded comrade to the riverbank and, under heavy fire of the enemy, swam with him across a branch of the Potomac to the Union lines.
The Medal takes a break until WWII, and the hard fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy. Then-Captain Matt Urban just wouldn't quit, and couldn't stay away from his men. Urban was one of the most decorated soldiers in US history, pretty much in the same league as Audie Murphy of WWII and Robert Howard from the Vietnam era. Urban was recipient of 29 U.S., French, and Belgian military decorations. His awards include the Medal of Honor, two awards of the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, three awards of the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device, seven Purple Hearts and the Croix de Guerre avec Etoile Vermeil (French War Cross with Silver Star) - for valor and meritorious achievement during World War II. He died at his home in Holland, Michigan in 1995 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He didn't receive his Medal until 1980. Because... the recommendation was misplaced during the war, and then found in the late 70's. How many Legionnaires will identify with that - not for the Medal, but certainly regarding military paperwork...GILLENWATER, JAMES R.Rank and organization: Corporal, Company A, 36th Infantry, U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: Near Porac, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 3 September 1899. Entered service at: Rye Cove, Va. Birth: Rye Cove Va. Date of issue: 1 S March 1902. Citation: While on a scout drove off a superior force of insurgents and with the assistance of 1 comrade brought from the field of action the bodies of 2 comrades, 1 killed and the other severely wounded. LEAHY, CORNELIUS J. Rank and organization: Private, Company A, 36th Infantry, U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: Near Porac, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 3 September 1899. Entered service at: San Francisco, Calif. Birth: Ireland. Date of issue: 3 May 1902. Citation: Distinguished gallantry in action in driving off a superior force and with the assistance of 1 comrade brought from the field of action the bodies of 2 comrades, 1 killed and the other severely wounded, this while on a scout.
Next is Korea, and three posthumous awards to soldiers of the 9th Infantry for hard fighting. What's interesting to note here is the fact that while all three citations are for 31 August to 3 September, Captain Krzyzowski's is one year to a day ahead of Private First Class Ouellette's and Master Sergeant Watkins', who earned their Medals in the same fight, a fitting bookend on this day in history (except for the personal outcomes) to the pair who earned their Medals together during the Philippine Insurrection.URBAN, MATTRank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain), 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, World War II. Place and date: Renouf, France, 14 June to 3 September 1944. Entered service at: Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 2 July 1941. Date and place of birth: 25 August 1919, Buffalo, New York. Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain) Matt Urban, l 12-22-2414, United States Army, who distinguished himself by a series of bold, heroic actions, exemplified by singularly outstanding combat leadership, personal bravery, and tenacious devotion to duty, during the period 14 June to 3 September 1944 while assigned to the 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On 14 June, Captain Urban's company, attacking at Renouf, France, encountered heavy enemy small arms and tank fire. The enemy tanks were unmercifully raking his unit's positions and inflicting heavy casualties. Captain Urban, realizing that his company was in imminent danger of being decimated, armed himself with a bazooka. He worked his way with an ammo carrier through hedgerows, under a continuing barrage of fire, to a point near the tanks. He brazenly exposed himself to the enemy fire and, firing the bazooka, destroyed both tanks. Responding to Captain Urban's action, his company moved forward and routed the enemy. Later that same day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban was wounded in the leg by direct fire from a 37mm tank-gun. He refused evacuation and continued to lead his company until they moved into defensive positions for the night. At 0500 hours the next day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban, though badly wounded, directed his company in another attack. One hour later he was again wounded. Suffering from two wounds, one serious, he was evacuated to England. In mid-July, while recovering from his wounds, he learned of his unit's severe losses in the hedgerows of Normandy. Realizing his unit's need for battle-tested leaders, he voluntarily left the hospital and hitchhiked his way back to his unit hear St. Lo, France. Arriving at the 2d Battalion Command Post at 1130 hours, 25 July, he found that his unit had jumped-off at 1100 hours in the first attack of Operation Cobra." Still limping from his leg wound, Captain Urban made his way forward to retake command of his company. He found his company held up by strong enemy opposition. Two supporting tanks had been destroyed and another, intact but with no tank commander or gunner, was not moving. He located a lieutenant in charge of the support tanks and directed a plan of attack to eliminate the enemy strong-point. The lieutenant and a sergeant were immediately killed by the heavy enemy fire when they tried to mount the tank. Captain Urban, though physically hampered by his leg wound and knowing quick action had to be taken, dashed through the scathing fire and mounted the tank. With enemy bullets ricocheting from the tank, Captain Urban ordered the tank forward and, completely exposed to the enemy fire, manned the machine gun and placed devastating fire on the enemy. His action, in the face of enemy fire, galvanized the battalion into action and they attacked and destroyed the enemy position. On 2 August, Captain Urban was wounded in the chest by shell fragments and, disregarding the recommendation of the Battalion Surgeon, again refused evacuation. On 6 August, Captain Urban became the commander of the 2d Battalion. On 15 August, he was again wounded but remained with his unit. On 3 September, the 2d Battalion was given the mission of establishing a crossing-point on the Meuse River near Heer, Belgium. The enemy planned to stop the advance of the allied Army by concentrating heavy forces at the Meuse. The 2d Battalion, attacking toward the crossing-point, encountered fierce enemy artillery, small arms and mortar fire which stopped the attack. Captain Urban quickly moved from his command post to the lead position of the battalion. Reorganizing the attacking elements, he personally led a charge toward the enemy's strong-point. As the charge moved across the open terrain, Captain Urban was seriously wounded in the neck. Although unable to talk above a whisper from the paralyzing neck wound, and in danger of losing his life, he refused to be evacuated until the enemy was routed and his battalion had secured the crossing-point on the Meuse River. Captain Urban's personal leadership, limitless bravery, and repeated extraordinary exposure to enemy fire served as an inspiration to his entire battalion. His valorous and intrepid actions reflect the utmost credit on him and uphold the noble traditions of the United States.
*Asterisks indicate a posthumous award. (John Donovan is a Legionnaire with the Department of Kansas with service in the U.S. Army. He blogs at his own website The Castle Argghhh!)*KRZYZOWSKI, EDWARD C.Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, Company B, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Tondul, Korea, from 31 August to 3 September 1951. Entered service at: Cicero, Ill. Born: 16 January 1914, Chicago, Ill. G.O. No.: 56, 12 June 1952. Citation: Capt. Krzyzowski, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and indomitable courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy as commanding officer of Company B. Spearheading an assault against strongly defended Hill 700, his company came under vicious crossfire and grenade attack from enemy bunkers. Creeping up the fire-swept hill, he personally eliminated 1 bunker with his grenades and wiped out a second with carbine fire. Forced to retire to more tenable positions for the night, the company, led by Capt. Krzyzowski, resumed the attack the following day, gaining several hundred yards and inflicting numerous casualties. Overwhelmed by the numerically superior hostile force, he ordered his men to evacuate the wounded and move back. Providing protective fire for their safe withdrawal, he was wounded again by grenade fragments, but refused evacuation and continued to direct the defense. On 3 September, he led his valiant unit in another assault which overran several hostile positions, but again the company was pinned down by murderous fire. Courageously advancing alone to an open knoll to plot mortar concentrations against the hill, he was killed instantly by an enemy sniper's fire. Capt. Krzyzowski's consummate fortitude, heroic leadership, and gallant self-sacrifice, so clearly demonstrated throughout 3 days of bitter combat, reflect the highest credit and lasting glory on himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army. *OUELLETTE, JOSEPH R. Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company H, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Yongsan, Korea, from 31 August to 3 September 1950. Entered service at: Lowell, Mass. Birth: Lowell, Mass. G.O. No.: 25, 25 April 1951. Citation: Pfc. Ouellette distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy in the Makioug-Chang River salient. When an enemy assault cut off and surrounded his unit he voluntarily made a reconnaissance of a nearby hill under intense enemy fire to locate friendly troop positions and obtain information of the enemy's strength and location. Finding that friendly troops were not on the hill, he worked his way back to his unit under heavy fire. Later, when an airdrop of water was made outside the perimeter, he again braved enemy fire in an attempt to retrieve water for his unit. Finding the dropped cans broken and devoid of water, he returned to his unit. His heroic attempt greatly increased his comrades' morale. When ammunition and grenades ran low, Pfc. Ouellette again slipped out of the perimeter to collect these from the enemy dead. After collecting grenades he was attacked by an enemy soldier. He killed this enemy in hand-to-hand combat, gathered up the ammunition, and returned to his unit. When the enemy attacked on 3 September, they assaulted his position with grenades. On 6 occasions Pfc. Ouellette leaped from his foxhole to escape exploding grenades. In doing so, he had to face enemy small-arms fire. He continued his resistance, despite a severe wound, until he lost his life. The extraordinary heroism and intrepidity displayed by Pfc. Ouellette reflect the highest credit on himself and are in keeping with the esteemed traditions of the military service. *WATKINS, TRAVIS E. Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company H, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division Place and date: Near Yongsan, Korea, 31 August through 3 September 1950. Entered service at: Texas. Birth: Waldo, Ark. G.O. No.: 9, 16 February 1951. Citation: M/Sgt. Watkins distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. When an overwhelming enemy force broke through and isolated 30 men of his unit, he took command, established a perimeter defense and directed action which repelled continuous, fanatical enemy assaults. With his group completely surrounded and cut off, he moved from foxhole to foxhole exposing himself to enemy fire, giving instructions and offering encouragement to his men. Later when the need for ammunition and grenades became critical he shot 2 enemy soldiers 50 yards outside the perimeter and went out alone for their ammunition and weapons. As he picked up their weapons he was attacked by 3 others and wounded. Returning their fire he killed all 3 and gathering up the weapons of the 5 enemy dead returned to his amazed comrades. During a later assault, 6 enemy soldiers gained a defiladed spot and began to throw grenades into the perimeter making it untenable. Realizing the desperate situation and disregarding his wound he rose from his foxhole to engage them with rifle fire. Although immediately hit by a burst from an enemy machine gun he continued to fire until he had killed the grenade throwers. With this threat eliminated he collapsed and despite being paralyzed from the waist down, encouraged his men to hold on. He refused all food, saving it for his comrades, and when it became apparent that help would not arrive in time to hold the position ordered his men to escape to friendly lines. Refusing evacuation as his hopeless condition would burden his comrades, he remained in his position and cheerfully wished them luck. Through his aggressive leadership and intrepid actions, this small force destroyed nearly 500 of the enemy before abandoning their position. M/Sgt. Watkins' sustained personal bravery and noble self-sacrifice reflect the highest glory upon himself and is in keeping with the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army.
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