Private John R. Towle, USA (September 21, 1944)

504th Parachute Infantry Regiment Distinctive Unit Insignia (WC)

John Roderick Towle was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 19, 1924. Towle, an “unskilled machine shop” employee with just a grade school education, was drafted into the United States Army on March 11, 1943 at age 18. After his initial training, he volunteered for airborne duty. After earning his jump wings, Towle was sent overseas to join the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

82nd Airborne Division insignia (WC)

The 504th was withdrawn from combat in Italy in March 1944 and sent to England in preparation for future operations. Due to their combat losses, the regiment was exchanged with the 507th Parachute Infantry in the 82nd Airborne Division for the airborne attack on D-Day. Their next action as part of the 82nd would be Operation MARKET GARDEN: the attempt to secure key bridges in Holland to allow a quick penetration of the Nazi German homeland and end the war in 1944.

Towle jumped into battle south of the city of Nijmegen, Netherlands on September 17, 1944 as a member of the 504th’s 1st Battalion in Company C. He held one of the most dangerous roles for an infantryman: a bazooka gunner. The bazooka was only effective against enemy armor if it could be fired at extremely close range and at the backs or sides of tanks. Their gunners were always at extreme risk when firing.

On September 21 after the 82nd seized the bridge over the Waal River at Nijmegen, Towle’s company was positioned on the left flank of the bridgehead in the village of Oosterhout. His single-handed expertise with his bazooka secured his sector at the cost of his own life. About six months later, he was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (T-Z):

Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*TOWLE, JOHN R.

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company C, 504th Parachute Infantry, 82d Airborne Division. Place and date: Near Oosterhout, Holland, 21 September 1944. Entered service at: Cleveland, Ohio. G.O. No.: 18, 15 March 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 21 September 1944, near Oosterhout, Holland. The rifle company in which Pvt. Towle served as rocket launcher gunner was occupying a defensive position in the west sector of the recently established Nijmegen bridgehead when a strong enemy force of approximately 100 infantry supported by 2 tanks and a half-track formed for a counterattack. With full knowledge of the disastrous consequences resulting not only to his company but to the entire bridgehead by an enemy breakthrough, Pvt. Towle immediately and without orders left his foxhole and moved 200 yards in the face of Intense small-arms fire to a position on an exposed dike roadbed. From this precarious position Pvt. Towle fired his rocket launcher at and hit both tanks to his immediate front. Armored skirting on both tanks prevented penetration by the projectiles, but both vehicles withdrew slightly damaged. Still under intense fire and fully exposed to the enemy, Pvt. Towle then engaged a nearby house which 9 Germans had entered and were using as a strongpoint and with 1 round killed all 9. Hurriedly replenishing his supply of ammunition, Pvt. Towle, motivated only by his high conception of duty which called for the destruction of the enemy at any cost, then rushed approximately 125 yards through grazing enemy fire to an exposed position from which he could engage the enemy half-track with his rocket launcher. While in a kneeling position preparatory to firing on the enemy vehicle, Pvt. Towle was mortally wounded by a mortar shell. By his heroic tenacity, at the price of his life, Pvt. Towle saved the lives of many of his comrades and was directly instrumental in breaking up the enemy counterattack.

Towle’s remains were eventually repatriated to the United States and laid to rest in the Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland.

1st Battalion, 504th Infantry is today a core element of the 1st Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The header image (Wikimedia Commons) for this post is of the Waal River bridge, with the ruins of Nijmegen in the foreground.

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