The closer the Germans came to him, the closer Lt. John R. Fox brought in the American artillery barrage. “That’s just where I wanted it,” he radioed from his advance observation post. “Bring it in 60 yards!”
Even when surrounded, he ordered the shells closer. “Fox,” his stunned commander radioed, the barrage will be falling right “on you.” Fox replied: “Fire it.”
It was the day after Christmas, 1944, and when the Americans later retook the position near Sommocolonia, Italy, they found Fox’s shattered body, along with those of about 100 enemy soldiers.
John Fox’s deed was sublimely courageous and worthy of his government’s highest military accolade, the Medal of Honor. Except for one thing: He was black.
Today, a half-century after the 29-year-old lieutenant gave his life in Italy’s Serchio River Valley, President Clinton will grant to Fox and six other soldiers the first Medals of Honor ever bestowed on blacks who served in World War II.
Vernon Baker of St. Maries, Idaho, is the only one of the seven still living. He and relatives of the others are scheduled to assemble in the East Room of the White House this morning to receive the honor they have long deserved.
“It’s a great honor no matter when it comes,” said Fox’s widow, Arlene, of Houston, who still recalls the bleak, snowy day she received the telegram that her husband was missing in action.
“However, we never needed a medal to know that John was a good father, a good husband and a good soldier. Now the rest of the world can share in that pride.”
Here are the stories:
Fox, an avid horseman, who met his wife while out riding one day in a park in Dorchester, Mass. She was living at Fort Devens, Mass., with their small daughter, Sandra, 2, when the fateful telegram arrived about his death in Italy. “My dad’s spirit stayed very much alive as I was growing up,” his daughter, now 54, said Thursday. “We always in my family knew that he was a hero.”
Edward A. Carter of Los Angeles, a missionary’s son reared in China, “Eddie” Carter gave up his sergeant’s stripes to get into combat. He killed six German soldiers who were trying to capture him, used two others as human shields and suffered five bullet wounds during one desperate day of combat in Germany in March 1945.
“Eddie was a model soldier,” his daughter-in-law, Allene, said Thursday. “Everything he did, he did above the rest. He wasn’t a person who would puff himself up. He knew what he did and in his heart he felt he should have gotten it.”
His wife, Mildred, 81, - whom he addressed as “Dearest Mil” in war time V-mail - will be present at the White House today.
Deceased in 1963 in Los Angeles, Carter is being reburied Tuesday, at his family’s request, in Arlington National Cemetery.
Willy F. James Jr. of Kansas City, who acted as a decoy to draw enemy fire near Germany’s Weser River in April 1945, and then was cut down by machine-gun fire as he raced across open ground to rescue his wounded platoon leader. James lies in the American Battle Monument Cemetery, in the Netherlands.
Ruben Rivers, the third of 15 children of a Tecumseh, Okla., cotton farmer. He was badly wounded in France in November 1944 when his tank hit a mine. He took over another tank, declined an order to retreat - “I see em, we’ll fight em,” he radioed - and was killed in a shootout with German anti-tank guns. He is buried in an American cemetery in France.
Charles L. Thomas, Alabama-born son of a Detroit auto worker. “Uncle Charlie,” as his family knew him, was a 24-year-old lieutenant who boldly rode ahead in a scout car during an anti-tank advance near Climbach, France in December 1944. Severely wounded on contact with the enemy, he refused evacuation until he had organized an effective counter-assault. He died in 1980.
George Watson of Birmingham, Ala., a private with a quartermaster outfit. He was aboard a Dutch steamer when it was attacked by Japanese planes off New Guinea in March 1943. Instead of saving himself, he stayed near the sinking vessel helping those who could not swim to a life raft. Then, exhausted, he was sucked under by the sinking ship and drowned. His body was apparently never recovered.
He has no known next of kin.