Charles Patrick Murray, Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 26, 1921. He moved with his family to Wilmington, North Carolina as a toddler, and was in his third year of studies at the University of North Carolina when he was drafted into the United States Army on September 7, 1942. He was commissioned as an officer, and arrived in France as a replacement platoon leader in Company C, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division during October of 1944.
Russell E. Dunham was born in East Carondelet, Illinois on February 23, 1920. He held just a grammar school education and was a farmhand when he volunteered for the United States Army and enlisted on August 16, 1940.
Dunham fought across North Africa and Europe with the 3rd Infantry Division. By January 8, 1945, he was a Technical Sergeant and acting as a platoon leader in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.
William F. Leonard was born on August 9, 1913 in Lockport, New York. It appears that he was living in Maine when he was drafted for war service in the United States Army on November 17, 1942. By November 7, 1944, Leonard was a Private First Class in Company C, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment and was fighting in southern France as part of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Wilburn Kirby Ross was born on May 12, 1922 in Strunk, Kentucky. At age 18 he worked as a coal miner, but was employed in Virginia as a shipyard welder when he received his draft notice to report for induction into the United States Army. He was a foot soldier with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
Lucian Adams was born on October 26, 1922 in Port Arthur, Texas. He was drafted for wartime service with the United States Army on February 25, 1943 and was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Adams joined the division for the Italian Campaign, and landed at both Salerno and Anzio.
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.
Patrick L. Kessler was born on March 17, 1922 in Middletown, Ohio. According to his enlistment record, he was drafted on September 8, 1942, had completed just two years of high school, was working as a dairy farmer, and had once been married but was divorced and left no dependents.
Based on his induction date into the United States Army, I’m assuming that he was posted to the 3rd Infantry Division as a replacement for combat losses; I was not able to determine when he joined the division’s 30th Infantry Regiment in its 3rd Battalion, Company K.
John W. Dutko was born in Dilltown, Pennsylvania on October 24, 1916. He enlisted in the United States Army on February 21, 1941 at age 24. His enlistment record shows that he never received an education after grammar school, and was working as a farm hand when he volunteered for the Army.
Dutko’s records also indicate that he was initially in the Medical Corps, but it wasn’t in medicine that he wound up serving during World War II. He was a foot soldier, an automatic rifleman armed with an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle in the 3rd Infantry Division‘s 30th Infantry Regiment.
The motto of the 30th Infantry is “Our country, not ourselves.” On May 23, 1944, then Private First Class Dutko demonstrated exactly what that means.
All Medal of Honor stories are incredible, but some are even more so than others. Some read as if they hadn’t happened, the entire course of a conflict may have been different. Today’s story is one of those; that of a not-quite 19 year-old American, in the Army for less than one year, who exhibited conduct in action far beyond his years or experience. John C. Squires was born in Lexington, Kentucky on May 19, 1925. He was drafted at age 18 on July 24, 1943 into the United States Army.
Half a world away from the attack on Kwajalein on February 1, 1944 where Marines Richard B. Anderson and John V. Power were distinguishing themselves above and beyond the courage and fighting spirit otherwise expected of warriors, Americans were also locked in combat with our Nazi enemies in Italy.
Alton W. Knappenberger was born on December 31, 1923 in Cooperstown, Pennsylvania. He left school after the fifth grade, and worked in a variety of farming jobs until he was drafted into the United States Army when he was 19 on March 4, 1943.
As he was growing up, Knappenberger honed his skills as a marksman by hunting for food to help feed his family. His keen aim and skill would serve him well in combat.
Knappenberger was posted as a replacement with the 30th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. His first combat action was Operation SHINGLE, the landing in Italy at Anzio on January 22, 1944.
For two hours on February 1, 1944, just his eleventh day in combat, Knappenberger relentlessly poured fire at counter-attacking Germans during the Battle of Cisterna with his M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. His accurate shots knocked out multiple enemy machine guns and other weapons. When he ran out of ammunition, he gathered more and also used the weapons of fallen comrades around him. His solo stand turned the tide of the battle, and eventually saw him decorated with the Medal of Honor.
|Photo from Military Times’ Hall of Valor|
KNAPPENBERGER, ALTON W.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, 3d Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy, 1 February 1944
Entered service at: Spring Mount, Pa.
G.O. No.: 41, 26 May 1944
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action involving actual conflict with the enemy, on 1 February 1944 near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy. When a heavy German counterattack was launched against his battalion, Pfc. Knappenberger crawled to an exposed knoll and went into position with his automatic rifle. An enemy machinegun 85 yards away opened fire, and bullets struck within 6 inches of him. Rising to a kneeling position, Pfc. Knappenberger opened fire on the hostile crew, knocked out the gun, killed 2 members of the crew, and wounded the third. While he fired at this hostile position, 2 Germans crawled to a point within 20 yards of the knoll and threw potato-masher grenades at him, but Pfc. Knappenberger killed them both with 1 burst from his automatic rifle. Later, a second machine gun opened fire upon his exposed position from a distance of 100 yards, and this weapon also was silenced by his well-aimed shots. Shortly thereafter, an enemy 20mm. antiaircraft gun directed fire at him, and again Pfc. Knappenberger returned fire to wound 1 member of the hostile crew. Under tank and artillery shellfire, with shells bursting within 15 yards of him, he held his precarious position and fired at all enemy infantrymen armed with machine pistols and machine guns which he could locate. When his ammunition supply became exhausted, he crawled 15 yards forward through steady machinegun fire, removed rifle clips from the belt of a casualty, returned to his position and resumed firing to repel an assaulting German platoon armed with automatic weapons. Finally, his ammunition supply being completely exhausted, he rejoined his company. Pfc. Knappenberger’s intrepid action disrupted the enemy attack for over 2 hours.
PFC Knappenberger came through the battle unharmed. February 1 was actually his last day of fighting, as the Army decided to evacuate him and use him domestically as a war hero on tour for morale building or in other mundane, stateside jobs that he wound up resenting.
The same day Knappenberger and his BAR broke up the Nazi attack at Cisterna, the Army and Marines stormed Kwajalein in the Pacific. Two Marines, PFC Richard B. Anderson and 1stLt John V. Power, earned the Medal themselves.
After being discharged from the Army, Knappenberger returned to farming and also later worked for a paving company. He died at age 84 on June 9, 2008 after previously having survived five heart attacks and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
The 1st Battalion of the 30th Infantry is a present component of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The 2nd Battalion of the regiment is part of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.