Second Lieutenant James L. Harris, USA (October 7, 1944)

James Lindell Harris was born on June 27, 1916 in Hillsboro, Texas and was 24 years old when he was drafted into the United States Army on March 20, 1941 prior to the United States’ entry into World War II.  By October 7, 1944, Harris had risen to the rank of Second Lieutenant, having received a battlefield commission in March of that year. He was a tank platoon commander with the independent 756th Tank Battalion.

The 756th was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division and was fighting in southern France. On this day seventy years ago, Lieutenant Harris stopped a German assault on the battalion headquarters of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment at Vagney, France. His incredible courage saved the headquarters from destruction or capture, and saw him posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

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: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*HARRIS, JAMES L.

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 756th Tank Battalion. Place and date: At Vagney, France, 7 October 1944. Entered service at: Hillsboro, Tex. G.O. No.: 32, 23 April 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 7 October 1944, in Vagney, France. At 9 p.m. an enemy raiding party, comprising a tank and 2 platoons of infantry, infiltrated through the lines under cover of mist and darkness and attacked an infantry battalion command post with hand grenades, retiring a short distance to an ambush position on hearing the approach of the M-4 tank commanded by 2d Lt. Harris. Realizing the need for bold aggressive action, 2d Lt. Harris ordered his tank to halt while he proceeded on foot, fully 10 yards ahead of his 6-man patrol and armed only with a service pistol, to probe the darkness for the enemy. Although struck down and mortally wounded by machinegun bullets which penetrated his solar plexus, he crawled back to his tank, leaving a trail of blood behind him, and, too weak to climb inside it, issued fire orders while lying on the road between the 2 contending armored vehicles. Although the tank which he commanded was destroyed in the course of the fire fight, he stood the enemy off until friendly tanks, preparing to come to his aid, caused the enemy to withdraw and thereby lose an opportunity to kill or capture the entire battalion command personnel. Suffering a second wound, which severed his leg at the hip, in the course of this tank duel, 2d Lt. Harris refused aid until after a wounded member of his crew had been carried to safety. He died before he could be given medical attention.

Lieutenant Harris’ M4 Sherman tank, after the battle at Vagney (Photo: National Archives via 756tank.com)

Harris was the 2nd member of the 756th Tank Battalion to receive the Medal of Honor; the other was Second Lieutenant Raymond Zussman. Harris’ remains were repatriated to the United States after the war and laid to rest in his birth city of Hillsboro at the Ridge Park Cemetery.

For more on the 756th Tank Battalion’s combat in World War II, please check out this great website.

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