The 126th Cavalry Regiment is presently a unit of the Michigan National Guard. During World War II, the regiment was an infantry unit, and was part of the United States Army‘s 32nd Infantry Division. The regimental motto is “Courage Without Fear” (Latin: Courage Sans Peur).
On December 15, 1944 in combat near Limon, Leyte in the Philippines, two of the regiment’s soldiers embodied the motto and received the Medal of Honor. They were Sergeant Leroy Johnson and Private First Class Dirk J. Vlug.
Leroy Johnson—born December 6, 1919 in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana—had less than three months left in his enlistment in the Army when he was involuntarily extended as war threatened. On December 15, 1944 he smothered two grenades with his own body to save the lives of the squad he commanded.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company K, 126th Infantry, 32d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Limon, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 15 December 1944. Entered service at: Oakdale, La. G.O. No.: 83, 2 October 1945
Citation: He was squad leader of a 9-man patrol sent to reconnoiter a ridge held by a well-entrenched enemy force. Seeing an enemy machinegun position, he ordered his men to remain behind while he crawled to within 6 yards of the gun. One of the enemy crew jumped up and prepared to man the weapon. Quickly withdrawing, Sgt. Johnson rejoined his patrol and reported the situation to his commanding officer. Ordered to destroy the gun, which covered the approaches to several other enemy positions, he chose 3 other men, armed them with hand grenades, and led them to a point near the objective. After taking partial cover behind a log, the men had knocked out the gun and begun an assault when hostile troops on the flank hurled several grenades. As he started for cover, Sgt. Johnson saw 2 unexploded grenades which had fallen near his men. Knowing that his comrades would be wounded or killed by the explosion, he deliberately threw himself on the grenades and received their full charge in his body. Fatally wounded by the blast, he died soon afterward. Through his outstanding gallantry in sacrificing his life for his comrades, Sgt. Johnson provided a shining example of the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
Dirk John Vlug was born in Maple Lake, Minnesota on August 20, 1916. He was drafted on April 21, 1941. In his life before the war, he was a machinist who had only completed one year of high school. On December 15, 1944, he single-handedly destroyed five Japanese tanks with a bazooka.
VLUG, DIRK J.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, 126th Infantry, 32d Infantry Division. Place and date. Near Limon, Leyte, Philippine Islands, 15 December 1944. Entered service at: Grand Rapids, Mich. G.O. No.: 60, 26 June 1946
Citation: He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty when an American roadblock on the Ormoc Road was attacked by a group of enemy tanks. He left his covered position, and with a rocket launcher and 6 rounds of ammunition, advanced alone under intense machine gun and 37-mm. fire. Loading single-handedly, he destroyed the first tank, killing its occupants with a single round. As the crew of the second tank started to dismount and attack him, he killed 1 of the foe with his pistol, forcing the survivors to return to their vehicle, which he then destroyed with a second round. Three more hostile tanks moved up the road, so he flanked the first and eliminated it, and then, despite a hail of enemy fire, pressed forward again to destroy another. With his last round of ammunition he struck the remaining vehicle, causing it to crash down a steep embankment. Through his sustained heroism in the face of superior forces, Pfc. Vlug alone destroyed 5 enemy tanks and greatly facilitated successful accomplishment of his battalion’s mission.
Vlug survived the war, and transitioned from the United States Army to the Michigan National Guard in May 1949. He retired as a Master Sergeant in 1951, and passed away at age 79 on June 25, 1996. Dirk J. Vlug rests in peace in the Greenwood Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Michigan.