Staff Sergeant Joseph E. Schaefer, USA (September 24, 1944)

1st Infantry Division patch (Wikimedia Commons)

Joseph Edward Schaefer was born on December 27, 1918 in Queens, New York. He was drafted for World War II service in the United States Army at age 23 on January 28, 1942.  Schaefer was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, also known as the “Fighting First” or simply “The Big Red One” for their division insignia.

I couldn’t determine when he joined the division, but as the 1st entered combat in North Africa on November 8, 1942, it’s possible he was with them. The 1st Infantry Division also fought on Sicily, and then was relocated to England on November 5, 1943 to prepare for the invasion of Europe.

18th Infantry Regiment distinctive unit insignia (WC)

Schaefer was a member of the division’s 18th Infantry Regiment in its 3rd Battalion, Company I. The 18th Infantry landed on Omaha Beach during the follow-on waves on D-Day, June 6, 1944. They, with the 1st Division, then fought their way across France, becoming one of the earliest American units to enter German home territory by September 1944.

The 18th Infantry’s motto is “In Omnia Paratus”, translated as “prepared (or ready) for all things”. Seventy years ago today, Schaefer was a Staff Sergeant and a squad leader and had everything thrown at him.

He most certainly was ready.

His platoon was guarding a key crossroads near Stolberg, Germany when they were attacked by a larger Nazi German force. One of his fellow squads was captured, another had to withdraw. Schaefer, showing incredible fighting spirit and indomitable personal courage, kept his squad in position, held off the enemy’s onslaught until they were relieved, and even liberated the other squad who had been captured.

By the following summer, Schaefer had been promoted to Technical Sergeant and was on occupation duty in Germany when he was presented with his Medal of Honor by the Commanding General of the XV Corps, Major General Walter M. Robertson.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: US Army Heritage & Education Center

SCHAEFER, JOSEPH E.

Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company I, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Stolberg, Germany, 24 September 1944. Entered service at: Long Island, N.Y. G.O. No.: 71, 22 August 1945

Citation: He was in charge of a squad of the 2d Platoon in the vicinity of Stolberg, Germany, early in the morning of 24 September 1944, when 2 enemy companies supported by machineguns launched an attack to seize control of an important crossroads which was defended by his platoon. One American squad was forced back, another captured, leaving only S/Sgt. Schaefer’s men to defend the position. To shift his squad into a house which would afford better protection, he crawled about under heavy small-arms and machinegun fire, instructed each individual, and moved to the building. A heavy concentration of enemy artillery fire scored hits on his strong point. S/Sgt. Schaefer assigned his men to positions and selected for himself the most dangerous one at the door. With his Ml rifle, he broke the first wave of infantry thrown toward the house. The Germans attacked again with grenades and flame throwers but were thrown back a second time, S/Sgt. Schaefer killing and wounding several. Regrouped for a final assault, the Germans approached from 2 directions. One force drove at the house from the front, while a second group advanced stealthily along a hedgerow. Recognizing the threat, S/Sgt. Schaefer fired rapidly at the enemy before him, killing or wounding all 6; then, with no cover whatever, dashed to the hedgerow and poured deadly accurate shots into the second group, killing 5, wounding 2 others, and forcing the enemy to withdraw. He scoured the area near his battered stronghold and captured 10 prisoners. By this time the rest of his company had begun a counterattack; he moved forward to assist another platoon to regain its position. Remaining in the lead, crawling and running in the face of heavy fire, he overtook the enemy, and liberated the American squad captured earlier in the battle. In all, single-handed and armed only with his rifle, he killed between 15 and 20 Germans, wounded at least as many more, and took 10 prisoners. S/Sgt. Schaefer’s indomitable courage and his determination to hold his position at all costs were responsible for stopping an enemy break-through.

Schaefer remained in the Army and also served during the Korean War. He was also credited with receiving two awards of the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. He passed away at age 68 on March 16, 1987 and was laid to rest in the Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, New York.

3-18 Infantry is presently inactive. The 1st Infantry Division is presently based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

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