Heroes of the D-Day Invasion
On this 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, we should take time to remember some of the many heroes of the various battles that took place as the Allies stormed their way into France during World War II. Here are some who received the Medal of Honor for their bravery and selflessness.
Jimmie W. Monteith
Lieutenant Jimmie W. Monteith of the U.S. Army was a member of the 1st Division (The Big Red One) that fought in Algeria and Italy before transferring to England to prepare for D-Day. During the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy, his unit was left open when the accompanying tanks became bogged in sand and sea water. Monteith led his 51 men into the water to storm the beach, but half were shot or drowned before reaching the shore. Pinned down by Erwin Rommel’s forces, Monteith ran to each of the survivors' hiding places under fire to rally the troops. He led an assault over open terrain, leading tanks (that were able to land after the tide came in) through a minefield on foot, eventually capturing an advantageous hill. Monteith’s unit continued ahead until they were completely surrounded by the enemy. There, Monteith was shot and killed. He was one month shy of his 27th birthday.
Monteith received a posthumous Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. The U.S. military base Camp Monteith in Kosovo was named in his honor, and Monteith Hall at Virginia Tech (which he was attending when drafted in 1941) was built in 1949. Other edifices and streets were also named after the D-Day hero.
John J. Pinder, Jr.
John J. Pinder, Jr. was a professional baseball player when the U.S. entered World War II. He played for several teams, ultimately with the Greenville (Alabama) Lions when he was drafted in 1942. Pinder’s younger brother Harold joined the Army Air Force and was shot down in January of 1944, eventually captured, and spent the rest of the war as a POW. John Pinder, meanwhile, fought in Africa with The Big Red One and then traveled to England to prepare for D-Day. By then, Pinder was a Technician 5th Grade, in charge of communications for his unit.
Landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, Pinder was carrying heavy radio equipment and was shot as he waded ashore. Refusing medical attention, he continued to carry the equipment to shore to deliver the radio. Then he went back into the water three times to collect and salvage other communications equipment. He was shot again on the last trip off shore. Still refusing medical attention, he set up a radio communication station on the beach. Pinder was then shot a third time, this time fatally. June 6, 1944, was his 32nd birthday.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. had already fought in World War I and served as Governor of Puerto Rico and Governor General of the Philippines before serving in World War II. He was the oldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt. Returning to the Army in 1940, he was promoted to Brigadier General and was second in command of the 1st Infantry Division in North Africa. General Patton did not like his easy ways with the troops, and pulled him from command, leaving Roosevelt to serve in various capacities in Italy.
Assigned to help lead the Normandy Invasion, he petitioned to invade with the troops. After several denials, he was allowed to lead the landing of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division's 8th Infantry Regiment and 70th Tank Battalion at Utah Beach. Meanwhile, his son Quentin Roosevelt landed at Omaha Beach. General Roosevelt was 56 years old, and the only general to storm the beach at Normandy with the first wave of soldiers. Roosevelt greeted the troops as they reached the shore. Although the unit was a mile from their landing target, they still met enemy fire. Instead of trying to move to the original landing area, Roosevelt modified the unit’s plans and moved inland in order to engage the enemy from the rear. Roosevelt’s calm under fire inspired the troops and contributed greatly to the success of their mission.
Roosevelt died of a heart attack in France a month later. He was recommended for a Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously in September of 1944. The Medal was one of many Roosevelt had earned through two World Wars. Roosevelt was portrayed by Henry Fonda in the 1962 film The Longest Day.
Carlton W. Barrett
Pvt. Carlton W. Barrett joined the Army in 1940 and served with the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. On D-Day, he landed on the beach near St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. Private Barret’s Medal of Honor citation says he waded ashore in neck-deep water under enemy fire, but returned to the water time and again to rescue other soldiers who were in danger of drowning. He also carried wounded comrades to an evacuation boat. He remained calm under fire and other soldiers turned to him for guidance during the confusion of battle. Barrett survived the war and served until 1963, when he retired with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Robert G. Cole
Photograph by Wammes Waggel.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Cole was born at Fort Sam Houston, the son of an army colonel. He joined the Army in 1934 and went on to West Point. As the commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, Cole was the first to parachute into enemy territory on June 6, 1944. His unit captured an enemy position and welcomed Allied troops advancing from the beaches.
On June 10, Cole led his men down an exposed road between marshes and they were attacked. With little alternative, Cole led a bayonet charge under cover of smoke against the enemy, causing them to flee. His unit took heavy casualties, but they gained ground. They managed to call in reinforcements before the Germans returned for a counterattack. Lt. Col. Cole was recommended for a Medal of Honor, but was killed by a sniper in the Netherlands in September before he received it.
Staff Sergeant Walter Ehlers joined the Army in 1940 and served in North Africa and Sicily. He was called to England to train troop replacements and prepare for D-Day. On June 6, he led his squad onto the shores west of Omaha Beach. While half of the first wave of troops were killed or wounded, Ehlers got all 12 of his men into the trenches safely. On June 9, the squad was near Goville, France. Coming under fire, Ehlers led his men to neutralize several enemy machine gun and mortar positions, killing several Germans himself while under fire. Ehlers was wounded, but continued on, even carrying one wounded soldier to safety. He refused evacuation, preferring to stay and lead his unit.
Several months later, while recovering from yet another wound, Ehlers read about his Medal of Honor in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. He also received three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. After the war, Ehlers worked for the Veterans Administration for 29 years. Before Ehlers died this past February at age 92, he was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the D-Day Invasion.
Charles N. DeGlopper
PFC Charles N. DeGlopper was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and went overseas in 1943 to serve in North Africa, Italy, and France. DeGlopper entered France on June 7, 1944, behind enemy lines by glider. On June 9, C Company 1st Battalion was cut off from the rest of the battalion while attacking the La Fière Bridge on the Merderet River at La Fiere, France. Under fire, Pvt. DeGlopper stood up and starting shooting Germans to suppress their fire. He was shot twice, but continued firing, giving his comrades enough cover to rejoin the rest of the battalion. DeGlopper was killed by the third shot, but managed to kill many of the enemy. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously, the only member of the 82nd Airborne Division to receive the medal in the Normandy Invasion.
The Medal of Honor Society commissioned this digital painting of Charles DeGlopper in action in World War II by artist Jean-Pierre Roy.
John E. Butts
Photograph by Doug Butts.
2nd Lieutenant John E. Butts was one of five brothers to serve in World War II. He went to Normandy with the 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Butts was wounded on the 14th of June and then again on the 16th, both times refusing medical evacuation to stay with his platoon. On June 23rd, he led his unit against the enemy for a strategic hill and was critically wounded by machine gun fire. Butts commanded his men to attack from the side while he alone charged directly to the front, drawing fire away from his men so they could take the hill. He was shot again, twice. Butts was less than ten yards from the machine gunner when he fell for the last time. His unit, taking advantage of Butts’ distraction, managed to take the hill. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Urban was a graduate of Cornell University when he joined the Army in 1941 as a commissioned officer. He served with the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division in North Africa. Urban also fought in Sicily, France, and Belgium. He broke a leg during the landing on the beach at Normandy, but still managed to mount a tank and lead an assault. On June 14, he personally destroyed two enemy tanks with a bazooka. He was wounded twice that day. In July, Urban left the hospital where he was recovering and joined his unit at St. Lo, France, for Operation Cobra. There, Urban single-handedly drove an abandoned American tank into a German unit, leading his men to victory. Urban was wounded seven or eight times during the war. The final time, he was shot in the neck and was not expected to survive. Yet he did.
Urban’s recommendation for a Medal of Honor was lost when his commanding officer was killed in action. It was not found until 1979. Urban finally received his Medal of Honor in 1980 from President Jimmy Carter.
Other recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions in the Normandy Invasion include: