Valor Friday

| September 29, 2023

Private Herbert Christian

Private Elden Johnson

As with most military historians, I’ve got a soft spot for heroic last stands. The glory of going down fighting has inspired warriors since at least the Battle of Thermopylae. While most who engage in a last stand probably expect that, despite all the odds, they will prevail, the truth of the matter is that most do not survive the attempt.

With certain death facing one as they make their final stand, the best one can hope for is to not have made the ultimate sacrifice in vain. The Spartans at Thermopylae all died, but it’s been 2,500 years and we still know the story and remember the name Leonidas. In America, we like to award our warriors who made such gallant acts with our highest honor, the Medal of Honor. I’ve talked about many such men in the past, like Captain (Doctor) Ben Solomon, the men of the Lost Battalion, and Sergeant Truman Olson.

Today’s subjects were valiant young men who refused in the face of certain defeat to give up. Solely that their comrades wouldn’t be overrun by a relentless enemy force. Much like Captain Solomon, Herbert Christian and Elden Johnson stared down the enemy again and again with their personal weapons. Tragically, like Solomon, neither Christian nor Johnson would make it out of their final battle.

Christian was quite a bit older than most of your World War II dogfaces. He was drafted at age 30 in 1942 into the Army. From Byesville, Ohio, he’d had a troubled youth. He was an inmate for a time at the Ohio Boys’ Industrial School. Ohio Boys’ was a correctional facility that straightened young men out and taught them a trade.

Joining the Army, Christian left a young wife and toddler son behind. He was assigned to the 15th Infantry Regiment, then part of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 15th Infantry dates back to the 18th Century. It was disbanded and reformed later in the War of 1812, and again raised for the Mexican-American War. The regiment has seen continuous service since the Civil War, and been involved in every major conflict the United States has been a party to since (with the notable exception of Vietnam).

The 15th Infantry is known by their motto “Can Do.” They’ve produced 21 Medal of Honor recipients (including Audie Murphy and, most recently, Alwyn Cashe), a near-record eight Presidential Unit Citations, and claims some of the most famous names in Army history as former members (to name a few; Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, Matthew Ridgeway, Joseph Stilwell, and Walton Walker).

In late-1942, the regiment sailed for French Morocco. From there they would spend the next 31 months fighting across North Africa, into Sicily, the Italian Peninsula, France, and finally Germany.

On 2 June 1943, as the regiment was advancing towards Rome, Christian was part of a patrol to reconnoiter enemy positions. Setting off at 2300 hours, they finished their reconnaissance about two hours later.

Coming into a clearing, the men suddenly found themselves in a well planned enemy ambush. Attacked from three sides, the Germans killed the patrol leader, and the rest of the men went to ground. They had come under attack from a force of at least sixty Wehrmacht troopers supported by three tanks and three machine guns. Night turned to day as the Germans popped numerous flares.

Christian was a Thompson submachine gunner. Despite being a private, Christian and the Browning Automatic Rifle gunner Elden Johnson (another private) stood in full view of the enemy. Drawing the German fire, they signaled to the rest of the men to move to the rear. Johnson was just 23 years old. He’d entered the Army from Weymouth, Massachusetts just a few months prior.

With enemy tanks only 25 yards away, the two privates not only drew the enemy fire, but laid what withering fire they could bring onto the Germans. Then they began to advance, so that the remaining 12 men of their patrol could get to safety.

Christian was hit by a 20mm shell, nearly severing his leg. Still, he inexorably continued forward, now at a crawl, as he brought the fight to the enemy, leaving a trail of his own blood in his path. Alongside him, Johnson was now the lone standing man for the Germans’ voluminous fire.

Christian’s fire killed at least three Germans as he crawled forward, dragging his dead leg behind him. The ambushers were probably starting to worry that Christian would come up and start beating them with it.

Christian made it to about 10 yards away from the enemy. He emptied his gun into a German machine pistol operator, killing the man. The enemy appeared enraged at the success of his brash attack and focused their fire on him. Christian reloaded, and fired off another short burst before the Germans were finally able to stop him.

Johnson meanwhile made it a little further forward. He pressed towards the enemy with a slow, deliberate pace. Five yards from a machine gun position, Johnson emptied his BAR, killing its crew.

With an empty rifle, did Private Johnson seek cover? Absolutely not. In plain view of the myriad enemy, he reloaded, then turned the business end of John Moses Browning’s on the German infantrymen to his left, tearing into them. He killed or at least wounded four of them before a burst of machinegun fire took Johnson out at the legs.

Dropping to his knees, Johnson still refused to go down quietly. He steadied himself on his knees, he brought the BAR to bear once more on his foes. Johnson’s comrades, having made their escape thanks to the doggedly determined efforts Johnson and Christian made to protect them, heard one last burst of fire from the valiant young man.

Both Christian and Johnson were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for their bravery in action. One of the rare cases where two men were cited for the same simultaneous action.

Christian’s medal was presented to his son, now five years old, on 18 June 1945 by General James Lawton Collins (father of future Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins). The day would have marked Christian’s 33rd birthday.

USS Pinkney (APH-2) was a World War II evacuation transport ship acquired by the Army (yes, the US Army has a rather sizable naval fleet) in 1947. They renamed her USAT Pvt. Elden H. Johnson. The ship held that name until 1950, when she was reassigned back to the Navy and became USNS Pvt. Elden H Johnson (T-AP-184). USNS Johnson remained in service until 1957, then joined the reserve fleet, before her scrapping in 1971.

Christian’s wife Katherine remarried in 1948 and died in 1993 at age 77. Their son, also Herbert, but known as “Herk” lived to age 78, passing away in 2018.

Category: Army, Historical, Medal of Honor, Valor, We Remember

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Strength of heart and mind to make the ultimate sacrifice so others may live.

I salute you Christian and Johnson.


“Herb what’s the plan for today?” “Oh I don’t know, El, been kinda boring lately…what say we go find us some tanks, machine gun positions, and a few dozen Krauts to mix it up with.” “Sounds like a plan to me, Herb…I’m wid ya.”

DAAYUUM! That such men lived. Battery Gun Salute to these Warriors! Fire by the piece from right to left…PREPARE! COMMENCE FIRING!

‘Lest we forget…

Another great story, Mason. Thanks!

Eric (The former OC Tanker)

That such men lived. No greater love that a man lay down his life for his brother.


Those two must have been seriously bowlegged.

Green Thumb

Hard fucking core.