Sergeant Harold O. Messerschmidt & First Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab, USA (September 17, 1944)

3rd Infantry Division patch (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day seventy years ago, two soldiers of the United States Army‘s 3rd Infantry Division demonstrated courage “above and beyond the normal call of duty” in combat operations in southern France.

Both men later received the Medal of Honor for their heroism. The first, Harold O. Messerschmidt, was killed in action and posthumously decorated in the immediate postwar period. The second, Donald K. Schwab, fell victim to ethnic discrimination and wasn’t given the award he deserved until just this year.

30th Infantry Regiment Distinctive Unit Insignia (Wikimedia Commons)

Harold O. Messerschmidt was born in Grier City, Pennsylvania during 1923. He completed three years of high school and was employed as a “plumber, gas fitter, [or] steam fitter” when he was drafted into the Army on May 5th, 1943. By September 17, 1944, he had been promoted to Sergeant and was a rifle squad leader in Company L, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment. The 30th Infantry’s motto is “Our country, not ourselves”, and Sergeant Messerschmidt embodied that as he rallied his soldiers in the defense of a hill against a determined Nazi counterattack. His final stand was made hand-to-hand as he had run out of ammunition.

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

MOH-200px

Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*MESSERSCHMIDT, HAROLD O.

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company L, 30th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Radden, France, 17 September 1944. Entered service at: Chester, Pa.
G.O. No.: 71, 17 July 1946

Citation: He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Braving machine gun, machine pistol, and rifle fire, he moved fearlessly and calmly from man to man along his 40-yard squad front, encouraging each to hold against the overwhelming assault of a fanatical foe surging up the hillside. Knocked to the ground by a burst from an enemy automatic weapon, he immediately jumped to his feet, and ignoring his grave wounds, fired his submachine gun at the enemy that was now upon them, killing 5 and wounding many others before his ammunition was spent. Virtually surrounded by a frenzied foe and all of his squad now casualties, he elected to fight alone, using his empty submachine gun as a bludgeon against his assailants. Spotting 1 of the enemy about to kill a wounded comrade, he felled the German with a blow of his weapon. Seeing friendly reinforcements running up the hill, he continued furiously to wield his empty gun against the foe in a new attack, and it was thus that he made the supreme sacrifice. Sgt. Messerschmidt’s sustained heroism in hand-to-hand combat with superior enemy forces was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

Messerschmidt’s remains were repatriated to the United States and laid to rest in the Christ Lutheran Church Cemetery in Barnesville, Pennsylvania.

 

15th Infantry Regiment Distinctive Unit Insignia (Wikimedia Commons)

Donald Kenneth Schwab was born on December 6, 1918 in Hooper, Nebraska. He volunteered and enlisted in the United States Army after graduating from high school, rose through the ranks, and received an officer’s commission in the Infantry branch. On September 17, 1944, he commanded Company E, 2nd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. First Lieutenant Schwab guided his company across a quarter-mile of territory with little cover. When they were ambushed, he quickly extricated his forces so they could regroup for another attack. In the company’s third attempt to seize the enemy positions, Schwab truly led from the front as he charged alone the key enemy position that was blocking their way and destroyed it.  Schwab, a Jew, was decorated at the time with the Distinguished Service Cross. A review of records initiated during the 2000s to identify soldiers who were not properly recognized for their courage due to racial or ethnic discrimination eventually determined that his citation would be upgraded to the decoration he so richly deserved.

Schwab’s son, Dr. Terry Schwab, accepted the Medal on his late father’s behalf from President Barack Obama at the White House, March 18, 2014.

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

MOH-200px

Photo: WhiteHouse.gov

*SCHWAB, DONALD K.

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army. Place and date: September 17, 1944, Lure, France

Citation: First Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as the Commander of Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy near Lure, France on September 17, 1944. That afternoon, as First Lieutenant Schwab led his company across four hundred yards of exposed ground, an intense, grazing burst of machinegun and machine-pistol fire sprung forth without warning from a fringe of woods directly in front of the American force. First Lieutenant Schwab quickly extricated his men from the attempted ambush and led them back to a defiladed position. Soon after, he was ordered to overwhelm the enemy line. He rapidly organized his men into a skirmish line and, with indomitable courage, again led them forward into the lethal enemy fire. When halted a second time, First Lieutenant Schwab moved from man to man to supervise collection of the wounded and organize his company’s withdrawal. From defilade, he rallied his decimated force for a third charge on the hostile strong point and successfully worked his way to within fifty yards of the Germans before ordering his men to hit the dirt. While automatic weapons fire blazed around him, he rushed forward alone, firing his carbine at the German foxholes, aiming for the vital enemy machine-pistol nest which had sparked the German resistance and caused heavy casualties among his men. Silhouetted through the mist and rain by enemy flares, he charged to the German emplacement, ripped the half-cover off the hostile firing pit, struck the German gunner on the head with his carbine butt and dragged the German back through a hail of fire to friendly lines. First Lieutenant Schwab’s action so disorganized hostile infantry resistance that the enemy forces withdrew, abandoning their formidable defensive line. First Lieutenant Schwab’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Dr. Terry Schwab accepts the Medal of Honor earned by his father (US Government image)

Donald Schwab passed away on February 19, 2005 and was laid to rest in the Hooper Cemetery, Hooper, Nebraska.

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