Valor Friday

| October 20, 2023

James Ira Spurrier, Jr.

A few weeks back, I re-highlighted the bravery of William Othello Wilson. I noted in those articles how Wilson’s heroism surrounding actions at the Battle of Wounded Knee was followed soon after by desertion. He’d ultimately desert twice, but is not the only Medal of Honor recipient to have faced such charges.

James Ira Spurrier Jr was born in 1922 in Castlewood County, Virginia. When he enlisted in September 1940, into the US Army, he filled out the forms wrong. He was thus known to the Army as Junior J Spurrier.

Spurrier had only a seventh grade education. After leaving school, he’d worked in the West Virginia coal mines near where his family had settled. Prior to Spurrier’s enlistment, he’d worked in the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corps, as many young men had. After his mother died in the summer of 1940, and with the Second World War well underway, he decided to join the Army.

When the US joined the war the following year, he was one of the group of Americans to join the fighting early. He was shipped to the Pacific Theater in April 1942. While serving in the New Guinea Campaign, he was injured. He was wounded enough that he was sent back to the US for convalescence. Records indicate he served somewhere around 22 months in the Pacific.

Recovering, Spurrier requested another combat assignment. He was sent in June 1944 to the European Theater, becoming one of a relatively small group of American GIs to have seen action in both major theaters.

Spurrier was assigned to G Company, 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division (ID). The 35th ID is a National Guard division, formed during World War I of soldiers in the area of Missouri and Kansas. After distinguishing themselves in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the unit’s role returned to part of the National Guard post-war. When World War II commenced, the division was again called into active service. Their thin ranks were filled with many draftees, and they deployed to England in late May 1944.

The division landed on Omaha Beach at Normandy between 5 and 7 July, 1944, just a month after D-Day. The fighting around the beachhead was still intense, and the division was pressed into immediate action in the area of Saint-Lô within a week of landing. From 11 July to 18 July, they repulsed several German counter attacks before entering Saint-Lô itself.

It was there that Spurrier would join the unit as a replacement, with the rank of private. A week later, his prior experience obviously shining through, he was promoted to staff sergeant and served as the company’s messenger and scout.

The division fought in the coming weeks and months with minimal respite. On the morning of 16 September, they were in the area of Lay-Saint-Christophe, France in the northeast part of the country, near the German border. The men were given the task to take a hill south of the commune.

The hill was a known strongpoint. The Germans had firmly entrenched themselves with dugouts and trenches. Sergeant Spurrier, acting as a squad leader, acted decisively when his men were advancing on the hill and an enemy machine gun opened fire on them from the right.

Spurrier jumped up onto a nearby tank destroyer and manned the .50-caliber machine gun there on. As the unit advanced on the enemy machine gun nest, he concentrated his fire on the enemy. Killing several of them with withering fire, the survivors of Spurrier’s charge retreated to a nearby bunker.

They weren’t gonna get away that easy! Spurrier jumped off the tank destroyer, rushed the enemy dugout, and lobbed several hand grenades into it. Killing all of those enemy soldiers, he remounted the tank destroyer. Finding a technique that worked, Spurrier again fired on a second dugout from atop the armored vehicle, and destroyed that enemy position.

By now the Germans, no slouches when it comes to fighting, had deduced the young sergeant atop that tank destroyer meant to kill them all. Unprotected atop the vehicle, the Wehrmacht troops concentrated their fire on Spurrier. Facing small arms, machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire from the well defended troops, Spurrier relentlessly poured fire from the .50-cal into the Germans.

When the men of the 134th Infantry summited the hill, Spurrier had personally taken 22 prisoners in the day’s action. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for bravery, for heroism in action that day.

Spurrier later said that he had several French Foreign Legion troops with him on the hill that day. He said, “And did I have a time with them about not shooting Germans who wanted to give up. I’d just as soon’ve shot them myself, but you know how it is.” It would seem that the French soldiers were out for some vengeance. Not that I can blame them.

Somehow Spurrier wasn’t wounded in all that mess, but he was hit a few days later. He received a Purple Heart for combat wounds sustained on 21 September.

The men of the 35th ID continued to fight eastward, towards the German border. On 13 November, the men of Company G, along with the rest of 2nd Battalion, were moving through a wooded area toward the small French commune of Achain. Achain is only a few miles from Germany.

This part of France is heavily wooded. The battalion was stopped about 2,000 feet away from the village. There they rested, but could see the little city was walled with two entrances. While the bulk of the men took the village from the east, Spurrier wandered away from his G Company.

Spurrier had been a bit vocal in his critiques of the Army and the officers appointed over him. He voiced…displeasure…with the planned tactics, and had been sore about a lack of additional stripes being placed on his sleeve. One of the officers said, just before attacking Achain, “We’ll send a company in on one side and Spurrier in on the other side. He’ll fight the way he wants to any way, so let him do what he damn well pleases.”

Alone, with only a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and his M1 rifle, Spurrier, against all good sense, attacked a house on the west side of the city. Firing on the men within the house, he dispatched several of them, then tossed grenades into the basement, where more were hiding. Out of ammunition, Spurrier picked up German arms and used the enemy’s own ammo and grenades against them.

When G Company was held up by German resistance on the east side of town, the company commander heard rifle, grenade, and bazooka fire from the west end of town. He radioed back to command asking what the other assault team was and their location. The message came back that there was no other assault, and that it must be Spurrier attacking by himself from the west. Hearing this, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Roecker, commanding 2nd Battalion, 134th Infantry, then gave the order, “Attack Achain! Company G from the east and Spurrier from the west!”

Spurrier’s path through Achain, drawn by one of his comrades

Moving out to the street, Spurrier was confronted with a German tank barrier, behind which a machine gun nest had been set up. Firing on the surprised men, he killed them all. He then moved towards the village’s church. It’s not clear if any action happened there, as there were civilians and soldiers within the building. When the rest of the company moved into the city, the church was empty.

Moving on, Spurrier came across another tank barrier and machine gun. Destroying them, he moved to the town’s barn, which was filled with hay. He started the hay on fire with some oil also in the barn, then took the fleeing Germans prisoner as they fled the conflagration.

He finally came upon the German command post. There he took the remaining enemy soldiers in the village prisoner, and marched them back to his lines. He took two officers and eighteen enlisted men prisoner, casually walking them out to the waiting 2nd Battalion, who apparently hadn’t even noticed that Spurrier had gone. It was now dark out. Spurrier had spent the whole day fighting his way alone.

Sergeant Spurrier had nearly single-handedly assaulted, taken, and captured an enemy held city. When his comrades entered the village, there were no enemy left alive and the civilians had all fled. Twenty-five Germans lie dead, one of them an officer, in Spurrier’s wake.

In one account of the battle to take Achain, at the end of his solo fighting through the streets of the village, it’s said that Spurrier, in “a Hollywood touch”, mounted a motorcycle, and blazed away at the fleeing Germans from the back of the steel horse.

For his bravery at Achain, Spurrier was awarded the Medal of Honor. Spurrier would receive the honor from the commanding general of the Ninth United States Army, Lieutenant General Simpson, on 6 May 1945. This was just a week after Hitler’s death by suicide. Two days later, the war in Europe would end.

It will probably not surprise you that Spurrier had earned the nickname “Task Force Spurrier.” A task force normally being an ad-hoc formation of combat troops named after their commander. The implication here is that Spurrier was a one man task force.

While not wounded in his MoH earning action, he was wounded a second time in battle on 9 December 1944. He was put on special duty at company headquarters. Much like a fire hose, the colonel’s orders were to deploy Task Force Spurrier on special missions only. He was transferred to Company K in April 1945.

Spurrier was interviewed for the 25 May 1945 issue of Yank magazine. The interviewer met him on leave in Paris. Resplendent in his combat decorations, the Parisiennes would look over the fruit salad on a GI’s uniform. “It’s the Croix de Guerre they go for,” he said. “They don’t pay much attention to my Congressional Medal of Honor.”

He noted that, while it was nice of his colonel to send him to Paris (despite his constant bitching), that the press junket the Army had him on left him little time to enjoy the local nightlife. He was returned to the US soon after VE Day and discharged from the Army on 19 June 1945.

While he was in the service, Spurrier’s younger brothers had followed him into uniform. Sadly, George Spurrier was killed in action in France on 28 July 1944. He was a private with the 314th Infantry Regiment and was just 19 years old. Joe Spurrier was similarly a WWII veteran of the Army, he lived until age 76.

Noted by all as exceptionally brave and capable as a combat soldier, Spurrier was a prankster that was known to clash with his superiors as often as he baffled them with his battlefield heroism. He was known to disappear (similar to how he’d done at Achain) without leave. After his service, he attempted to go into business, and even played Division D baseball. Unsuccessful, he returned to the Army in 1947.

Wearing the nation’s (and some of our allies) highest awards on his chest, he was promoted to technical sergeant and placed on recruiting duty. Possibly (most likely) suffering from PTSD, Spurrier had trouble adjusting to the peacetime Army. He found solace, as many tortured men do, in the bottle.

A profile of Spurrier as Soldier of the Month in Army Life and United States Army Recruiting News dated December 1947 shows him looking dapper in his dress uniform. In typical fashion of a military recruiter, he extols the virtues of military service and the opportunity it affords.

His troubles with alcohol led to his demotion to private in 1950. Despite the Korean War going on, where few heroes from the last war were allowed to see more action, he once more disappeared. Deserting his post, the Army decided that court-marshalling one of your more celebrated soldiers wasn’t in the best interest of the service. They discharged him (honorably) in 1951.

After leaving the Army for the second time, Spurrier’s difficulty with authority continued. He was arrested many times, and served three different prison sentences. His final stay in the grey bar hotel saw him leave in 1969. From there, Spurrier gave up booze. As a teetotaler he ran a radio and television repair business before retiring to a cabin in Tennessee.

Spurrier, later in life

Spurrier died in relative obscurity in 1984 at the age of 61. It doesn’t look like he ever had any children. When he reenlisted in 1947, one news article says he was married to Kathleen. He had several nieces and nephews from his brother and two sisters.

Spurrier’s medals were thought lost, but were found in 2011 in a safe in West Virginia. His sisters were presented them later that year.

In addition to the MoH and DSC, Spurrier had earned the Bronze Star Medal and both the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre. His French medal came with a bronze star, signifying a citation in orders at the regiment or battalion level.

Spurrier was the only Medal of Honor recipient from the 35th Infantry Division during WWII. His DSC was one of only 35 awarded to men of the division. Only two other men of the 35th Infantry Division were ever awarded the Medal of Honor, both posthumous awards during World War I.

Category: Army, Distinguished Service Cross, Historical, Medal of Honor, Valor, We Remember

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Great article.


That such men lived, and an anti-authoritarian Virginian at that!


Holy Schiezer, he makes Rambo look like a malingerler. A company of guys like him and you could have taken the world. Sure the UCMJ would be busy, that’s all part of it.


Break Glass…only in case of war!


Tough in combat, daring in garrison.
All to often…

May he and his rest in peace.

Also today would have been the 88th birthday of LtGen Charles Henry Pitman Sr.

If you ain’t familiar, boy does he have a story (it involves a ‘stolen’ CH-46):


Another one who decided that it was better to ask for forgiveness than wait too long for permission. Wonder how many of those types are left serving?


Thanks for this story of another true American hero.


SSG James Ira Spurrier, Jr.

A DSC and MOH Recipient. WOW.

Never Mess With A Southerner….😉😎

You can find Junior’s Family Members Here:

Rest In Peace, Sir.


Thank You, Mason, for sharing another Valor story about an Unsung Hero.


Damn! That is some serious Audie Murphy shit right there.


Hardcore! Salute!

“The Spurrier does not inquire how many the enemy are, but where they are.”

Anybody else notice that it seemed his preferred weapon(s) were those designed by HMS JMB (HBHN)? Bring any and every weapon to be…including those of your enemy.

Great story, Mason…again! Thanks


As a coal miner, he could have sat out WWII. My WWII Navy vet uncle worked in the mines at the beginning of the war. He told me that coal miners were exempt from the draft. Apparently the powers that be figured Rosie could rivet but they didn’t want her working underground. (My uncle quit the mines so he’d be drafted, then served on a destroyer escort in the Pacific.)