Tag Archives: West Virginia

This Month in NCO History: March 27, 1945 — Storming the castle at Lembeck

Technical Sgt. Clinton M. Hedrick knew firsthand that victories in war sometimes came at a high cost. He learned that during one of the most iconic battles of World War II and rode that lesson to the nation’s highest military honor.

For most of the conflict, Hedrick fought with the 550th Infantry Airborne Division. In December 1944, the division was part of the Allied contingent that resisted a massive enemy force during the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive in the Ardennes region in Belgium, France and Luxembourg on the war’s Western Front that killed 19,000 Americans. The casualties inflicted on Hedrick’s unit were so heavy that the 550th Infantry Airborne Division was disbanded, its Soldiers were parceled out to other infantry units for the remainder of the war.

Hedrick joined I Company, 194th Glider Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division where he was promoted to technical sergeant, E-7. Two months after the Battle of the Bulge, the 17th AD joined the British 6th Airborne Division for Operation Varsity — the last full-scale airborne operation of the war. The two divisions supported amphibious assaults on the Rhine River as the Allies looked to gain a foothold on the North German Plain for an advance to Berlin and other northern cities.

Operation Varsity was the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment’s first glider landing. Its objective was to land north of Wesel, Germany, in a large flat area, where the Issel River and the Issel Canal merged, and seize the crossing over the Rhine River to protect the rest of the division’s right flank.

By the evening of March 24, 1945, the 194th overran the German positions, destroying 42 artillery pieces and 10 tanks. More than 1,000 enemy soldiers were captured. By March 26, the Allies massed enough forces on the German side of the Rhine to begin an eastward advance, which the 194th began the following day. Hedrick’s I Company was assigned as the assault platoon for an advance on the town of Lembeck, about 20 miles east of Wesel.

As the unit approached, it was met by intense automatic weapons fire three times from strongly defended positions. Each time, Hedrick charged through the fire, shooting his Browning Automatic Rifle from the hip, according to his Medal of Honor citation. His courageous action so galvanized his men that they quickly overran the enemy positions in rapid succession. When six German soldiers attempted a surprise flanking movement, Hedrick quickly turned and killed the entire party with a burst of fire.

The Americans’ advance continued into the following day. Eventually, they forced the enemy to withdraw across a moat into Lembeck Castle. According to the citation, Hedrick disregarded his safety and plunged across the drawbridge alone in pursuit. A German soldier, with hands upraised, declared the garrison wished to surrender. Hendrick entered the castle yard with four of his men to accept the capitulation. The group moved through a sally port, and was met by fire from a German self-propelled gun. Hedrick was mortally wounded, but he managed to fire at the enemy gun, allowing his comrades to retreat. Hedrick died while being evacuated after the castle was taken. His great personal courage and heroic leadership contributed in large measure to the speedy capture of Lembeck and provided an inspiring example to his fellow Soldiers.

Hedrick was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 19, 1945. His body was returned to the United States after the war. He was originally interred at the Cherry Grove Cemetery in Cherry Grove, West Virginia. His body was moved to North Fork Memorial Cemetery in Riverton, West Virginia, on Memorial Day 1991. A grand monument, which showcases his selfless actions during the war was erected at the site.

Hedrick was born May 1, 1918, in Cherry Grove. He enlisted in the Army in September 1940. His name graces the football stadium at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and a tree in the Medal of Honor Grove at Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In 2011, the West Virginia legislature named a section of U.S. Route 33 the Sergeant Clinton M. Hedrick and World War II Veterans Memorial Highway.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

This Month in NCO History: Aug. 17, 1944 — Taking the knoll near La Londe, France

When the 3rd Infantry Division reached the shores of France on Aug. 15, 1944, the Rock of the Marne had already seen several examples of gallantry from its Soldiers that were worthy of the nation’s highest honor. It took only two days to witness another.

Staff Sgt. Stanley Bender stood tall as a barrage of German gunfire barreled toward him before helping his unit gain a crucial position near La Londe, France. Bender was part of E Company, 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. The unit made landfall in southern France after spending the previous 21 months engaged in battles throughout North Africa and Sicily as part of the 3rd ID’s Operation Torch. The men of the 3rd ID would eventually be awarded 15 Medals of Honor for their actions in Italy. Bender would join their ranks when he leapt into action after one of the company’s tanks was disabled.

The division was beginning its push north through France to close the gap on German forces who were scurrying east in a hasty retreat from Allied forces, which had landed two months earlier at Normandy. Bender’s unit encountered heavy German resistance near the town of La Londe. When a volley of machine-gun fire halted an American tank, the company was pinned down. Bender scrambled to the top of the disabled tank and scanned the horizon to find the source of gunfire. He stood bravely in full view of the enemy while a steady stream of bullets careened off the turret below him for more than two minutes, according to his Medal of Honor citation. He eventually saw muzzle flashes flaring from a knoll 200 yards away. From there, Bender leapt off the tank and into history.

According to the citation, Bender ordered two squads to cover him as he took a group of Soldiers through an irrigation ditch toward the enemy gunfire. For the first 50 yards of their advance, they were sprayed with intense fire, resulting in four Soldiers being wounded. Bender ended up alone ahead of the squad and stood his ground while the Germans hurled grenades into the ditch. Once the squad reached his position, Bender set out for the German stronghold. He wound his way to the rear of the enemy emplacement, then started marching toward it — alone. With no cover fire laid down for him, Bender traversed 40 yards as the occasional German and friendly fire whizzed past him. He reached the first machine gun and eliminated it with a short burst.

That caught the attention of another two-man machine-gun crew, which turned the weapon around and trained it on him. But Bender was unfazed. He walked calmly through the hail of fire and nullified the threat before signaling his men to rush the remaining rifle pits. Bender headed back to his squad’s position, killing another German rifleman along the way, and together they charged the remaining eight German soldiers in the machinegun nest. The attack galvanized the rest of the assault company, with Soldiers spring from their positions shouting. The company eventually overpowered an enemy roadblock, knocked out two anti-tank guns, killed 37 Germans and captured 26 others.

The attack also resulted in the capture of three bridges over the Maravenne River and command of key terrain in southern France. Bender’s actions were in keeping with the “conspicuous gallantry and the intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty,” worthy of the nation’s highest honor. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 1, 1945.

After his service, Bender had two bridges named in his honor on the West Virginia Turnpike, one in 1954 and the other in 1987. In addition to his Medal of Honor, Bender, who joined the Army in December 1939, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, as well as the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and seven battle stars. He died June 22, 1994, at age 84 in Oak Hill, W.Va. He was buried in High Lawn Memorial Park in Oak Hill.

Compiled by Pablo Villa