Captain James M. Burt, USA (October 13-21, 1944)

James Montross Burt was born in Hinsdale, Massachusetts on July 18, 1917. He attended Norwich University, graduating with the class of 1939. Burt was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Armor Branch of the United States Army.

He was placed on active service in 1941 with the 66th Armored Regiment and the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia.

66th Armor Distinctive Unit Insignia (Wikimedia Commons)

The 2nd Armored Division was first committed to combat during the North African campaign in 1942. They also fought in Sicily during 1943, before being relocated to England to prepare for the invasion of France.

He landed in Normandy as the commander of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor on Omaha Beach on “D+3”: June 9, 1944. They fought through Normandy, across the French countryside, and were one of the first units to fight their way into Germany itself.

2nd Armored Division patch (WC)

Nicknamed “Hell on Wheels”, the 2nd Armored Division was a “heavy” armored division – featuring a larger number of tanks than other US Army armored units. For eight days during the Battle of Aachen near Wurselen, Germany, Captain Burt commanded his tanks and attached infantry in numerous engagements against the Nazis defending the city and surrounding area. On at least two occasions, the tank Burt led his company from was destroyed. He boarded another and continued the fight. Through atrocious weather, having suffered multiple wounds, and continually exposing himself to the enemy, Burt never wavered in his duty and fighting spirit.

His Medal of Honor was presented to him just over one year later.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

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)
JamesMBurtNorwich
James Burt at Norwich University, 1939 (Norwich Univ.)

BURT, JAMES M.

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, Company B, 66th Armored Regiment, 2d Armored Division. Place and date: Near Wurselen, Germany, 13 October 1944. Entered service at: Lee, Mass. G.O. No.: 95, 30 October 1945

Citation: Capt. James M. Burt was in command of Company B, 66th Armored Regiment on the western outskirts of Wurselen, Germany, on 13 October 1944, when his organization participated in a coordinated infantry-tank attack destined to isolate the large German garrison which was tenaciously defending the city of Aachen. In the first day’s action, when infantrymen ran into murderous small-arms and mortar fire, Capt. Burt dismounted from his tank about 200 yards to the rear and moved forward on foot beyond the infantry positions, where, as the enemy concentrated a tremendous volume of fire upon him, he calmly motioned his tanks into good firing positions. As our attack gained momentum, he climbed aboard his tank and directed the action from the rear deck, exposed to hostile volleys which finally wounded him painfully in the face and neck. He maintained his dangerous post despite pointblank self-propelled gunfire until friendly artillery knocked out these enemy weapons, and then proceeded to the advanced infantry scouts’ positions to deploy his tanks for the defense of the gains which had been made. The next day, when the enemy counterattacked, he left cover and went 75 yards through heavy fire to assist the infantry battalion commander who was seriously wounded. For the next 8 days, through rainy, miserable weather and under constant, heavy shelling, Capt. Burt held the combined forces together, dominating and controlling the critical situation through the sheer force of his heroic example. To direct artillery fire, on 15 October, he took his tank 300 yards into the enemy lines, where he dismounted and remained for 1 hour giving accurate data to friendly gunners. Twice more that day he went into enemy territory under deadly fire on reconnaissance. In succeeding days he never faltered in his determination to defeat the strong German forces opposing him. Twice the tank in which he was riding was knocked out by enemy action, and each time he climbed aboard another vehicle and continued the fight. He took great risks to rescue wounded comrades and inflicted prodigious destruction on enemy personnel and materiel even though suffering from the wounds he received in the battle’s opening phase. Capt. Burt’s intrepidity and disregard of personal safety were so complete that his own men and the infantry who attached themselves to him were inspired to overcome the wretched and extremely hazardous conditions which accompanied one of the most bitter local actions of the war. The victory achieved closed the Aachen gap.

Burt returned to civilian life following the war, and remained closely associated with the US Army armor community as a war hero, including recognition as the honorary Colonel of the 66th Armor. He passed away at age 88 on February 15, 2006 and was laid to rest in the Sinking Spring Cemetery, Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania.

The 2nd Armored Division was last active as a US Army formation in 1995. 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor is also presently inactive but one of the combined arms battalions of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division is planned to be “reflagged” as that historic unit.

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