Sergeant Max Thompson, USA (October 18, 1944)

Max Thompson was born in Bethel, North Carolina on July 21, 1922. He was working in a paper mill when he was drafted into the United States Army on November 14, 1942 at age 20. His service began at Camp Croft, South Carolina.

Thompson went to war as an infantryman with the 1st Infantry Division. As a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, he hit Omaha Beach on D-Day and then fought across France with his comrades.

In October 1944, the 1st Infantry Division was one of the units assigned to breach the Siegfried Line and seize the German city of Aachen. Seventy years ago today, Sergeant Max Thompson, a squad leader, was evacuating casualties when he saw that a neighboring platoon had been overrun by a German counterattack.

Thompson used every weapon at his disposal – an abandoned machine gun, a bazooka, a Browning Automatic Rifle – and with incredible personal courage stemmed the Nazi advance alone. His Medal of Honor was presented to him the following summer.

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)
Photo: First Division Museum at Cantigny


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company K, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Haaren, Germany, 18 October 1944. Entered service at: Prescott, Ariz. G.O. No.: 47, 18 June 1945

Citation: On 18 October 1944, Company K, 18th Infantry, occupying a position on a hill near Haaren, Germany, was attacked by an enemy infantry battalion supported by tanks. The assault was preceded by an artillery concentration, lasting an hour, which inflicted heavy casualties on the company. While engaged in moving wounded men to cover, Sgt. Thompson observed that the enemy had overrun the positions of the 3d Platoon. He immediately attempted to stem the enemy’s advance single-handedly. He manned an abandoned machinegun and fired on the enemy until a direct hit from a hostile tank destroyed the gun. Shaken and dazed, Sgt. Thompson picked up an automatic rifle and although alone against the enemy force which was pouring into the gap in our lines, he fired burst after burst, halting the leading elements of the attack and dispersing those following. Throwing aside his automatic rifle, which had jammed, he took up a rocket gun, fired on a light tank, setting it on fire. By evening the enemy had been driven from the greater part of the captured position but still held 3 pillboxes. Sgt. Thompson’s squad was assigned the task of dislodging the enemy from these emplacements. Darkness having fallen and finding that fire of his squad was ineffective from a distance, Sgt. Thompson crawled forward alone to within 20 yards of 1 of the pillboxes and fired grenades into it. The Germans holding the emplacement concentrated their fire upon him. Though wounded, he held his position fearlessly, continued his grenade fire, and finally forced the enemy to abandon the blockhouse. Sgt. Thompson’s courageous leadership inspired his men and materially contributed to the clearing of the enemy from his last remaining hold on this important hill position.

Thompson reached the rank of Technical Sergeant before leaving the Army at the end of the war and returned to his civilian life as a paper mill worker. He died at age 74 on November 30, 1996 and was laid to rest in the Forest Lawn Cemetery, Candler, North Carolina.

3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry is presently inactive. The modern 1st Infantry Division is based at Fort Riley, Kansas.


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