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The Bravest
Of the Brave:
The 3rd Infantry Division in World War II
ARMY ■ November 2003
By Robert P. Broadwater
The annals of the United States military in
World War II are filled with acts of heroism
that give evidence to the highest levels of patriotism, courage, honor and self-sacrifice.
Units and individuals left to future generations a legacy that will always shine as an example of what free men can and will do when
called upon to defend the rights they hold so
dear. With so many acts of bravery, in so many
places, one cannot presume to pronounce any
military organization to have been any braver,
or more heroic than another, but when measured in terms of recorded instances of valor,
Photographs: National Archives
November 2003 ■ ARMY
Lt. Maurice Britt receives the Silver Star from Maj. Gen. Lucian
K. Truscott Jr., the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division.
the 3rd Infantry Division stands alone. The division’s stellar performance in Operation Iraqi Freedom has brought it
again into prominence and reminds us of its heritage.
During the four years that America fought in World War
II, there were a total of 440 Medals of Honor presented to
members of the nation’s military. Members of the Army
took the lion’s share of these, with 301 medals. Members of
the 3rd Infantry Division won a total of 36 Medals of
Honor, or approximately 12 percent of the total number
awarded to the Army. The next closest contender was the
1st Infantry Division, with a total of 16, and two other divisions with 10 or more. In addition, 71 members of the division were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the
second highest medal awarded by the Army for bravery.
The sheer disparity in numbers between the 3rd Division
and the rest of the Army is impressive. The individual stories that go along with those numbers reinforce the 3rd Infantry Division’s reputation as the bravest of the brave.
The 3rd Division was mobilized early in 1941 when the
President declared a state of emergency. The task of bringing it up to full strength was taken to a fever pitch after
Pearl Harbor.
By July 1942, the division had been recruited, the men
trained and orders had been received for the 3rd to make
ready to go to war. It was to take part in Operation Torch,
the American invasion of North Africa.
Operation Torch was intended to gain a foothold in
French North Africa, from which offensive operations
could be launched against continental Europe. American
troops were to be landed at three points: Casablanca in
Morocco, and Oran and Algiers in Algeria. The 3rd Division was entrusted with the capture of Casablanca. The
soldiers embarked on transport ships in the United States
and sailed directly to Morocco.
The landing was successfully accomplished on November 8, 1942, and after the Vichy French forces recovered
from their initial surprise, three days of hard fighting ensued before they capitulated. In fact, when the French surrendered, they joined forces with the Americans. Casablanca had been a key objective. Its possession by the
Allies ensured that military operations in North Africa
could proceed without fear that the Straits of Gibraltar
would be sealed off, denying naval access to the Mediterranean.
The division next moved east, in support of the British
assault on Tunisia. The British forces were attacking the
ROBERT P. BROADWATER writes a monthly column for Military Trader. He has also written six books and has had over
70 articles published in national magazines. His next book, on
the Civil War Battle of Bentonville, is scheduled for release in
the fall of 2003.
ARMY ■ November 2003
Mareth Line in Tunisia from two directions: west from
Egypt and east from Algiers. The Mareth Line was a fortified position in Tunisia that had been built by the French,
but was now being occupied by German and Italian
troops. A strong position and well defended, it proved too
formidable for the British to take, so Allied forces established a defensive position in the Tunisian mountains
while they waited for reinforcements to arrive. It was during this time that Rommel resumed the offensive, attacking
the Americans at Kasserine Pass and punching a hole in
the Allied line. The German drive stalled, however, when
it could not be reinforced, and a strong British force in its
front caused the attacking column to call off the offensive
and return to the Mareth Line. Allied forces kept up the
pressure on the Germans and Italians, and on May 10,
1943, the Mareth Line fell and the Allies had complete control of North Africa.
There was little time for the men of the 3rd Division to
rest at the end of the North African campaign. Orders were
issued almost immediately to prepare for the invasion of
Sicily, and the division made ready for its second amphibious operation of the war. Sicily would be the first step in
the invasion of Europe, and it would also be the first place
where members of the 3rd Division would display the conspicuous bravery that would be recognized with the Medal
of Honor.
The landing took place on the morning of July 10, 1943,
under terrible conditions caused by gale force winds and
rough seas. Light opposition was encountered on the
beaches as the 3rd Division stormed ashore, and the immediate objectives were quickly taken. The Allies consolidated their beachhead positions and prepared to move
inland. The 3rd Division was operating as part of Gen.
George S. Patton’s 7th Army.
Patton’s orders were to drive westward against Agriento, while the British, under Field Marshal Bernard Law
Montgomery, were to advance north, along the coast road
toward Messina. Patton, however, had other ideas. He captured Agriento, then thrust his army north and west to
capture Palermo. From there, he shifted due east, in a race
to beat Montgomery to Messina and to cut off the route of
retreat for the German and Italian armies. During this east-
tunity to face these foes again. After a
ern thrust, the 3rd Division was called
brief rest, they were ordered to preupon to make two amphibious landpare for their fifth amphibious landings, as Patton kept the Germans runing of the war: the invasion of Italy.
ning by throwing large forces in their
Mainland Europe was invaded by
rear as he hammered at their front.
The first member of the 3rd Divithe Allies when they landed at Salerno
sion to earn a Medal of Honor was
on September 9, 1943. The Germans
2nd Lt. Robert Craig. On July 11, 1943,
and Italians were forced to give ground,
near Favoratta, Sicily, Craig attacked
and by early October the 3rd Division,
and silenced a machine gun that had
along with the 7th Armored Division
been holding up the advance of his
and the 82nd Airborne had captured
company. Shortly thereafter, his plaNaples.
toon was attacked by an enemy force
The strong German position at
of over 100 men, and Craig ordered
Monte Cassino held up Gen. Mark
his platoon to withdraw, while he covClark’s 5th Army, however, and it was
ered its retreat himself. In an attempt
determined to launch another amto draw all enemy fire to himself,
phibious landing behind the Germans
Craig charged the German force,
in an effort to break the stalemate. The
killing 5 and wounding 3. He had ad3rd Division boarded ships for their
Lt. Robert Craig
vanced to a position a mere 25 yards
sixth time of hitting the beaches and
from the enemy line and was able to
were landed at Anzio on the morning
hold their attention long enough for
of January 22, 1944. The move had
the rest of his platoon to reach the reltaken the Germans completely by surative safety of the crest of a hill. The
prise, and the 3rd Division only had
concentrated small arms fire of the ento contend with a single company of
emy finally shot him down. His
Germans when they came ashore.
courageous act had saved the platoon
Troops rapidly pushed inland, but
at the cost of his own life.
when resistance stiffened near CisFirst Lt. David Waybur earned his
terna, the troops were ordered to
Medal of Honor near Agriento on July
hold their positions and consolidate
17, 1943. Waybur had been ordered to
before the final push was made. The
take three vehicles to search for a
American high command was unRanger unit that had been trapped beaware that the roads to Rome were
hind German lines. His patrol was to
only lightly guarded and that the city
depart at night to give it some hope of
could easily have fallen with a coneluding the numerous road blocks
certed effort. The week of inactivity
and machine-gun nests that the Gerthat followed allowed the Germans to
mans were known to have placed
bring up 13 divisions. The opportualong the route. Waybur was successnity for an easy capture of Rome had
Lt. David C. Waybur
ful in avoiding these, but the patrol
vanished, and five months of hard
was suddenly cut off and surrounded
fighting would be necessary before
by four German tanks, and it looked as if the only rational the city finally fell on June 5, 1944.
course of action was to surrender. Waybur, however, deThe men of the 3rd Division were awarded 15 Medals of
cided to make a fight of it. He ordered his vehicles to dis- Honor for their service in Italy. Conspicuous gallantry and
perse and fire on the tanks with .30- and .50-caliber ma- heroism were evidenced daily in the struggle to take
chine guns. Three of his men were quickly wounded, and Rome. The first 3rd Division Medal of Honor in the Italian
Waybur himself was seriously wounded, but he picked up campaign was earned by Capt. Maurice Britt for his aca Thompson machine gun and charged the lead tank, tions near Mignano on November 10. Britt was commandkilling the crew and causing the tank to run into a small ing a small portion of his company when they were atbridge and into the stream bed below. Despite overwhelm- tacked by over 100 Germans as part of a counterattack
ing odds, Waybur continued to battle against the tanks and along the line. Despite the overwhelming odds, Britt and
was able to hold his position until the following day when his men held their position. Though wounded in the side
he was relieved and his wounded men could be evacuated. by a bullet and in the face and hands by grenade fragThe capture of Messina by Patton’s army signaled the ments, Britt refused to give up the fight. Firing his carbine
end of the fighting in Sicily. A large number of the German until he had run out of ammunition, he then picked up an
and Italian troops had escaped capture and fled to Italy M1 and continued to battle the Germans, throwing a total
and the mainland. The 3rd Division would have the oppor- of 32 fragmentation grenades in addition to his small arms
November 2003 ■ ARMY
Lt. Audie Murphy
Sgt. Sylvester Antolak
PFC Wilburn K. Ross
The fall of Rome and the Allied confire. Britt wiped out a machine-gun
trol of Italy should have earned the
crew, killed another five Germans,
3rd Division a well deserved period of
wounded an unknown number and
rest. They had seen some of the bloodcaptured another four. Britt’s personal
iest combat of the war to date and had
courage was largely responsible for
performed in an exemplary manner
thwarting the German counterattack,
through all the trials and hardships of
which, if successful, would have cut
three separate campaigns. With a total
off and isolated his battalion. He
of 17 Medals of Honor credited to the
refused medical attention for him unit, it would already have been
self, seeing to his men instead, until
awarded more than any other division
ordered to seek aid by his battalion
had they sat out the rest of the war
as garrison troops in Rome, but rest
Sgt. Sylvester Antolak was awarded
and rear echelon duty had never been
the Medal of Honor for heroism exthe role of the 3rd Division. After a
hibited during the breakout from
short period to refit and reorganize,
Anzio, near Cisterna di Littoria, on
the division received orders to make
May 24, 1944. Antolak was leading his
yet another amphibious landing, this
squad in an attack on the German potime in southern France. Fighting on
sition when they ran into heavy fire
Sgt. James P. Connor
French soil, 16 additional members of
from machine guns, machine pistols
the 3rd Division would be awarded
and other small arms. The hail of bullets was tremendous, and the squad hesitated amidst the the Medal of Honor.
On August 15, 1944, the 3rd Division landed on French
storm. Antolak pushed forward alone, a full 30 yards in
front of his men. He was seriously wounded and knocked shores near Toulon and Marseilles. When those two port
to the ground three different times, but rose to continue his cities quickly fell, the Allies pushed north. German resisone-man attack on each occasion. His left shoulder had tance was crumbling, and the Nazis were in full retreat bebeen badly gashed, and his right arm was shattered and fore the American 7th and French 1st Armies.
useless, but he wedged his sub-machine gun under his left
During the landing on August 15, Sgt. James Connor
armpit and charged the German strong point, closing to a led his platoon through intense fire from mortars, madistance of 15 yards before spraying the position with bul- chine guns, 20 mm flak guns and snipers as they came
lets. Two Germans were killed and another 10 surrendered. ashore at Cape Cavalaire. A hanging mine killed his lieuAntolak, refusing medical attention, then reorganized his tenant and seriously wounded Connor in the neck,
men and launched an attack against a second German but Connor refused medical attention and pushed his
strong point 100 yards away. Again in advance of his men, men forward. The enemy held a commanding position
he had covered a distance of 75 yards when he was killed on the peninsula on which the Americans were landing
instantly by enemy fire. His heroic example so inspired his and they threatened the entire operation. The platoon atmen that they surged forward and captured the position.
tacked this strongpoint, though heavily outnumbered, and
ARMY ■ November 2003
his exposed position to pull rounds from his machine-gun
Connor himself killed two German snipers.
When the platoon sergeant was killed, Connor assumed magazines in order to have anything to fire at all. Ross excommand of the platoon and he pushed the attack for- pended his remaining ammunition in repelling this attack
ward. He was felled by a second wound that lacerated his and was ordered to fall back on the company command
shoulder and back, but he once more refused to be evacu- post. He refused to follow the directive, however, upon
ated. With only about 12 of the original 36 men of the pla- hearing that additional ammunition was on its way. Defitoon remaining, Connor attacked the position, where he re- antly, he held his ground as the Germans surged forward
ceived his third serious wound, this time in the leg. The in a last, all-out attempt to overrun him. The eight riflesergeant still tried to lead his men and relinquished com- men, without ammunition but still supporting the machine
mand only after finding it impossible to stand. Neverthe- gun, fixed bayonets and waited. A runner arrived with amless, he refused evacuation and continued to direct the ac- munition at the last possible second, and Ross’ gun blazed
tion from his prone position. Because of his courageous into action killing 40 and wounding 10 of the attacking
example, the platoon was able to neutralize the German force, breaking the back of the assault. Though he had been
position, capturing three machine guns and killing seven in combat for five continuous hours and had saved the
German soldiers, while capturing another 40. A serious remnants of his company from destruction, he refused to
threat to those 3rd Division men not yet landed had been be relieved and remained at his exposed post for 36 hours.
The most famous hero of the 3rd Division was among
eliminated through dogged determination and bravery.
By September 11, the 7th Army had been able to link up the last to win a Medal of Honor in France. Second Lt. Auwith Patton’s 3rd Army, and it seemed as if the war was die Murphy was near Holtzwihr, France, on January 26,
nearly over. The 7th Army reached the Rhine River, but 1945, when his company was attacked by six German
was ordered to dig in and hold the position due to logisti- tanks with heavy infantry support. He ordered his men to
cal problems. When the Germans launched their offensive retire to prepared positions in the woods and, disregarding
in the Ardennes that would become known as the Battle of his own safety, remained exposed in order to call in and
the Bulge, the 3rd Division, along with the rest of the 7th spot artillery fire. A nearby American tank destroyer was
Army, was ordered to maintain their position to prevent hit by enemy fire and abandoned by the crew. Murphy,
any of the German divisions that were facing them from alone and far in front of his own lines, continued to call in
being used in the offensive. For four months, the division the artillery fire that was killing large numbers of the enfought in this static situation along the Rhine, keeping the emy. He then climbed aboard the tank destroyer, engulfed
Germans to their front occupied and holding them in in flames and in danger of blowing up at any second, and
turned its .50-caliber machine
gun against the supporting inPvt. Wilburn Ross was
fantry, killing dozens in the
awarded the Medal of Honor
process. Though alone and surfor his actions near St. Jacques,
rounded on three sides, MurFrance, on October 30. His comphy continued this unequal
pany had lost 55 of their 88 men
contest for approximately one
in an attack against an enhour. He was wounded in the
trenched force of elite German
leg, but fought on until he had
mountain troops. When the
exhausted all of the available
Germans launched a counteratammunition. Returning to his
tack, Ross took his light macompany, he organized them
chine gun to a position 10 yards
for a counterattack that threw
in advance of his supporting rithe Germans back and re-estabflemen, and from this vantage
lished the line, even though he
point, defeated seven separate
was himself seriously wounded.
German assaults, despite the
His spotting for the artillery refact that he had become the
sulted in large numbers of the
focal point of the entire Ger enemy being killed, and Murman attack and was being
phy was personally credited
showered by rifle fire and hand
with killing more than 50 of the
grenades that exploded all
attacking Germans himself.
around him. By the time the
Audie Murphy emerged from
Germans mounted their eighth
the war as America’s most decassault, the remaining riflemen
orated soldier. He continued to
had exhausted their ammuniact out in motion pictures the
tion. Ross beat back this attack
heroics he had lived. “To Hell
virtually alone, as the riflemen
Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division climb ladand Back,” starring Audie Murwere forced to crawl forward to
ders as they advance in Besancon, France.
November 2003 ■ ARMY
The 3rd Infantry Division marches into Cori, Italy.
phy as himself, depicted his and the division’s exploits
during the war.
At the end of March 1945, the 3rd Division, along with
the rest of the 7th Army, was finally permitted to cross the
Rhine and invade the German heartland. As part of 6th
Army Group, they swept through southeast Germany and
beat the German army in a race to the Alps in southern
Germany and Austria, where the Nazis had planned to reorganize and make another stand. The swift movements of
the American Army cut the Germans off from their mountain stronghold, causing the Nazi army to disintegrate,
with thousands surrendering daily. On May 8, Germany
officially capitulated and the war was over. The 3rd Division fought in Germany for less than two months, but
three more members of the division had distinguished
themselves during that time and were awarded the Medal
of Honor.
Pvt. Joseph Merrell was awarded the medal for his actions on April 18, 1945, near Lohe, Germany. His company
was attacking a fortified position on a hill when the Germans opened a galling fire with two heavy machine guns,
machine pistols and small arms, taking a heavy toll on the
Americans and pinning them down. Merrell took it upon
himself to silence the machine guns and launched a one
man attack. He ran 100 yards through the concentrated fire
of the enemy and killed four Germans armed with machine pistols. As he started for the next objective, his rifle
was shattered by a sniper’s bullet, leaving him armed with
only three hand grenades. Merrell did not hesitate. He
zigzagged the 200 yards that separated him from the first
machine-gun nest and threw two of his grenades at the position. After the blasts, he rushed the Germans, seized a
Luger and killed the crew members who had survived the
blasts. He then attacked the second machine-gun nest, 30
yards away. As he crawled toward his objective, he was
grievously wounded in the abdomen, but succeeded in
killing four Germans in camouflaged foxholes along the
way. Throwing his last grenade at the machine gun, he
rushed the Germans and finished them off with his Luger.
He had just silenced the gun when he was killed instantly
by a burst from a machine pistol. His disregard for his own
ARMY ■ November 2003
safety had eliminated a dangerous threat to his unit. In the
process, he had silenced two enemy machine guns and
personally killed 23 German soldiers.
From July 11, 1943, until April 18, 1945, a period of 22
months, members of the division had been awarded 36
Medals of Honor, an amazing ratio of more than 1.5
medals per month. This certainly bears evidence to the
hard fighting the division was forced to endure during its
many campaigns and also serves as a testimonial to the
selfless, courageous spirit of the men who served in it.
They were among the bravest of the brave. Regretfully, it is
impossible to cite each of the 36 examples of bravery here,
though each story deserves to be told. The following is a
listing of all the men of the 3rd Division who were
awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II:
SSgt. Lucian Adams
Sgt. Sylvester Antolak
SSgt. Stanley Bender
Capt. Maurice Britt
First Lt. Frank Burke
Pvt. Herbert Christian
Sgt. James Connor
Second Lt. Robert Craig
Capt. Michael Daly
Technical Sgt. Russell Dunham
PFC John Dutko
Technician Fifth Grade Eric Gibson
PFC Lloyd Hawks
Pvt. Elden Johnson
First Lt. Victor Kandle
SSgt. Gus Kefurt
PFC Patrick Kessler
PFC Alton Knappenberger
PFC Floyd Lindstrom
Technician Fifth Grade Robert Maxwell
Pvt. Joseph Merrell
Sgt. Harold Messerschmidt
Pvt. James Mills
Second Lt. Audie Murphy
First Lt. Charles Murray Jr.
Capt. Arlo Olson
Sgt. Truman Olson
Technician Fifth Grade Forrest Peden
Pvt. Wilburn Ross
PFC Henry Schauer
Sgt. John Squires
First Lt. John Tominac
PFC Jose Valdez
Lt. Col. Keith Ware
First Lt. David Waybur
First Lt. Eli Whiteley