Valor Friday

| June 7, 2019

Army MOH

Not missing a beat, Mason brings us Valor Friday. This is a story of heroism long overlooked, but finally recognized and awarded the medal commiserate with the valor. Lieutenant John R. Fox, USA, serving in a still segregated US Army in Italy, volunteered to remain behind to call in artillery on the advancing enemy.

Mason

Unfortunately, there are many American heroes that have been denied proper, timely recognition. Thankfully we have gotten better at rectifying this. Today’s subject, John R Fox, was posthumously once forgotten and twice denied for his incredible heroic last act. Recognition at all was delayed almost 40 years due to lost paperwork, and then another 15 years passed before that award was upgraded to one befitting his sacrifice and final deed.

Graduating the historically black Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1941 with an engineering degree, John R Fox was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant after participating in the college’s ROTC program. In ROTC, Fox had come under the command of Chief Warrant Officer (former Captain) Aaron R. Fisher, a highly decorated black soldier from WWI.

Serving in the still segregated Army, Lieutenant Fox was assigned to the 366th Infantry Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division (Colored), coincidentally the same regiment and division his mentor “Cap” Fisher (receiving the honorific from his cadets due to his highest wartime rank of captain). It was in this regiment that Fisher received the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in WWI.

The 92nd Infantry Division had distinguished itself in combat during the First World War, when it went to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. This was a tradition the men and officers of the 92nd would carry on as they were the only black infantry division to see combat during the Second World War.

The division had been reactivated in October 1942 and was overseas taking part in the Italian campaign by September 1944. It was here, while serving as an forward observer for the 598th Artillery Battalion of the 366th Infantry that the 29 year old now First Lieutenant John Fox would acquit himself in spectacular fashion, taking out nearly 100 enemy and saving countless American lives.

It was 26 December, 1944 near Sommocolonia, Italy. Poor winter weather had largely halted Allied advances through northern Italy, just as they had hampered operations in Northern Europe where the Battle of the Bulge was ongoing 1,000km nearly due north. .

Though the Allies had overwhelming air superiority, the weather made using it to their advantage difficult and they’d fallen into a defensive posture. The Germans launched a major offensive on Allied lines on this Tuesday morning.

With American forces forced to retreat from the small village of Sommocolonia, Fox was a part of a small team of forward observers that volunteered to remain behind to call in artillery on the advancing enemy.

Fox took up an observation post in a house on the second floor. From here he was able to direct artillery barrages on the Germans. The approaching Wehrmact forces greatly outnumbered the Americans here and so Fox kept having to call strikes in closer and closer to his position as they continued to advance.

At 0800 he reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He called his battalion commander and brought the barrages nearer to his position. Telling the CO, “That was just where I wanted it. Bring it 60 yards!” Protesting that it would be too close to his position, they cut the distance in half and Fox re-called for the fire mission.

LT Fox
LT Fox

Continuing to press forward, the enemy was now literally at his doorstep. Fox knew the only hope for his comrades was to call in strikes to cover their retreat and give them time to reorganize. No artillery spotter wants to call in a “danger close” strike, and no artilleryman wants to launch one, but what Fox did wasn’t just danger close. He called in a strike square on top of his location to buy his men more time, well aware that he was certainly unlikely to survive.

The battalion commander, receiving the message was shocked and told him “Fox, that will be on you!” Fox replied simply, “Fire it!” Then telling his CO that “There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!”

As the friendly rounds rained down on his position the German advance was slowed long enough for the American forces to organize a counter attack. The battle ended with a retreat of enemy forces on the 28th when Americans retook the village, due at least in part to Fox’s efforts to call in accurate artillery barrages.

When the American forces came back into the village, the men discovered the bodies of Lieutenant Fox and his team in the vicinity of the building they’d been using. They also found nearly 100 dead Germans.

The men who served with 1st Lieutenant Fox undoubtedly never forgot his incredible self-sacrifice. Due to rampant racism in award decisions at the time, the fog of war causing paperwork to be lost, or a combination of the two, his last act was officially forgotten for nearly 40 years.

That was rectified in 1982 when Fox was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously). However, his tale is not quite done yet.

During the 1990s the Army and Defense Department undertook a major review of past awards after it became obvious many black and other minority men had not been properly recognized for their accomplishments, particularly during WWII. Many men who had been recommended for awards were simply not rewarded at all and those that were were often given awards below that which white soldiers had received for comparable acts.

It was during this review that Lieutenant Fox came up again, this time for consideration for the Medal of Honor. The review found that 10 soldiers should have received Medals of Honor for their actions. In 1997, after Congress passed legislation allowing it, President Clinton honored the 10 men with their upgraded awards. Fox’s widow accepted the award on his behalf.

The town of Sommocolonia has erected a monument to nine men who died during the artillery barrage, eight Italians and Lieutenant Fox. If a small town in Italy can remember John R Fox, then so can we.

Medal of Honor
AWARDED FOR ACTIONS
DURING World War II
Service: Army
Division: 92d Infantry Division
GENERAL ORDERS:
CITATION:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to First Lieutenant (Infantry) John Robert Fox, United States Army, 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.

Hand Salute. Ready, two!

Category: Army, Guest Post, The Warrior Code, Valor, We Remember

Comments (6)

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  1. HMC Ret says:

    Long overdue. I am humbled by men and women such as this.

  2. 5th/77th FA says:

    “Fire it!” “There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!”

    They made mention on occasion that being an FO could get dangerous. ‘Specially when you had to call the fires onto your own pos. “Cannon Company”; I think the last time I heard that term spoken was by SFC Sledge, our DS at Ft Sill, Sept 71. Sledge was a 3 war Black Vet who would give the troops hell for referring to themselves as “African Americans.”….”Was you born in Africa?”….”Dipsh^t you just an American!” Memory banks are weak, but he may have served with them. He was Artillery all the way.

    Gun Salute to 1LT John Robert Fox! “…No greater love…”

    Thanks Mason

  3. Jay says:

    Hot….damn. To KNOW what will happen, and STILL make that call. No greater love indeed.

  4. SgtBob says:

    I call it, you shoot it. I’ll make adjustments.

  5. Inbred Redneck says:

    My cojones were never that big. RIP, sir.