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John R Fox and the Buffalo Soldiers

The story of John R Fox is filled with heroism
The story of John R Fox is filled with heroism
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First Lieutenant John R Fox wrote his name in the battle-weary pages of American heroism with his selfless act of valor during the harrowing times of World War II. On a cold, bleak winter day, December 26, 1944, in the shadowed, war-torn landscapes of Sommocolonia, Italy, Lt. Fox made the ultimate sacrifice. Amidst the chaos of battle, with German forces overwhelming his position, he made a fateful decision, calling in artillery fire upon his own coordinates—a decision that cost him his life but saved many others.

This act of extraordinary courage did not go unrecognized. Over half a century later, in 1997, Lt. Fox’s bravery was posthumously honored with the Medal of Honor, the United States’ most prestigious military decoration. This honor was proof of his extraordinary courage and sacrifice, a beacon of valor shining through the horrors of the Second World War.

The January 12, 1997 ceremony was an emotional moment in history. Lt. Fox, alongside six other African American warriors of World War II, was awarded the Medal of Honor. This momentous occasion marked these seven individuals as the only African American soldiers of World War II to receive the Medal of Honor, cementing their legacy in the fabric of American military and cultural history. Their story, a tale of bravery and sacrifice, continues to inspire and resonate and serves as a reminder of the price of freedom and the valor of those who defend it.

The Buffalo Soldiers

In World War I, the United States formed two segregated divisions comprising African American soldiers: the 92nd Division, which inherited the esteemed nickname “Buffalo Soldiers,” and the 93rd Division, known as the “Blue Helmets.” These divisions marked a significant presence of African American troops in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Despite this, they faced considerable challenges and discrimination from the American military leadership.

The 92nd Division, for much of its deployment, was primarily assigned to logistics and support roles, often positioned behind the front lines. This allocation reflected the prevailing biases and underestimation of African American soldiers’ capabilities by some American leaders. In contrast, the 93rd Division was more actively engaged in combat roles.

Upon their arrival in France, General John “Black Jack” Pershing, recognizing the potential of these divisions, made a strategic decision. He agreed to lend both the 92nd and the 93rd Divisions to fight under French command, a move that saw these soldiers don the blue French helmet and use French military equipment, while still wearing their American uniforms. This integration into the French military structure was a pivotal moment for these African American troops.

Officers of the 92nd Infantry Division, Company F, 370th Combat Team, look at maps and orders at a farmhouse

Officers of the 92nd Infantry Division, Company F, 370th Combat Team, look at maps and orders at a farmhouse

In the crucible of war, soldiers from both divisions demonstrated extraordinary courage and skill, quickly dispelling the American Army’s misconceptions about their abilities. Their valor in fierce combat was recognized by the French, who awarded several honors and medals to multiple regiments within both divisions. Among these was the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War), a commendation for exemplary and heroic actions during the war, which was equivalent in prestige to the U.S. Medal of Honor.

Despite their heroism, it would take more than seven decades for the United States to acknowledge and honor the bravery of these African American soldiers with its highest military decoration. Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 93rd Division, for his gallant actions on September 28, 1918, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 24, 1991. Similarly, Sergeant Henry Johnson, also of the 93rd Division, received the Medal of Honor posthumously on June 2, 2015, for his exceptional bravery on May 15, 1918.

Before the outbreak of World War II, the 25th Infantry Regiment, an African American unit, was stationed at Fort Huachuca. This installation would later become the primary base for both the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions, known for their predominantly African American composition. During the war, significant structural changes were made to the African American cavalry regiments. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were largely disbanded, and their soldiers were reassigned to service-oriented units, along with the entire 2nd Cavalry Division.

The 92nd Infantry Division, proudly bearing the moniker “Buffalo Division,” saw active combat in the Italian campaign, continuing the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers. Meanwhile, the 93rd Infantry Division, which included the 25th Infantry Regiment, was deployed in the Pacific theater. Additionally, independent Black units such as artillery, tank, and tank destroyer battalions, as well as quartermaster and support battalions, played vital roles in various theaters of the war. These units, in their unique capacities, upheld and advanced the traditions established by the Buffalo Soldiers.

The gun crew of the 92nd Infantry Division, Battery 598th Field Artillery, readies their 105 howitzer

The gun crew of the 92nd Infantry Division, Battery 598th Field Artillery, readies their 105 howitzer

Despite facing official resistance and administrative obstacles, African American airmen were trained and significantly contributed to the air war in Europe. These airmen, famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen, earned a distinguished reputation for their skill and bravery in combat.

A pivotal change occurred in early 1945 following the Battle of the Bulge. The American forces in Europe, confronting a shortage of combat troops, adjusted their policies regarding the deployment of Black soldiers. General Eisenhower, recognizing the need for more infantry replacements during the enemy’s counteroffensive, offered Black soldiers in service units the opportunity to volunteer for infantry duty.

This call was met with an overwhelming response, with more than 4,500 soldiers stepping forward, many accepting demotions to meet the necessary requirements. The 6th Army Group formed these men into provisional companies, while the 12th Army Group integrated them as additional platoons within existing rifle companies.

The Tale of John R Fox

On December 26, 1944, First Lieutenant John Fox found himself in a dire situation in the Italian village of Sommocolonia. Stationed on the second floor of a house, Lt. Fox was surrounded by enemy troops, with the grim reality of no rescue in sight. In an act of extraordinary bravery, he made the ultimate sacrifice by calling in an artillery bombardment on his own position. His final, resolute order, “Fire it! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!” is remembered as a proof to his courage and selflessness.

John Robert Fox’s journey began in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was born on May 18, 1915, the eldest of three sons. Growing up in a nation marked by prejudice and segregation, Fox navigated through these societal challenges with determination. After completing high school, he initially attended The Ohio State University but later transferred to Wilberforce University, a historically Black institution.

At Wilberforce, Fox was engaged in ROTC while studying science, showcasing his academic and leadership abilities. He graduated in 1941 with an engineering degree and received a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army.

1st Lt. John R. Fox. Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

1st Lt. John R. Fox. Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Amidst the segregated policies of the U.S. Army, Lt. Fox joined the 92nd Infantry Division, a majority Black division with some white officers. This division, formed initially in October 1917 for World War I service, was reactivated on October 15, 1942, for World War II. The division, known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” honored the legacy of the segregated regiments that had served during the Indian Wars. Lt. Fox, in his role as a forward observer with the 598th Artillery Battalion, trained at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, preparing for a role that would place him on the front lines to coordinate artillery strikes against enemy positions.

The debate within Army leadership about the role of Black soldiers in combat was ongoing, but it shifted in July 1944 when the 92nd Infantry Division was deployed to Italy. Upon their arrival, the division was immediately thrust into intense combat and challenging conditions. Despite suffering high casualties, the 92nd persisted, advancing against German forces along the Italian coast.

By December 1944, the division had reached the Serchio River Valley near Sommocolonia. The harsh winter and revitalized German resistance significantly impeded their progress. On Christmas Day, German troops, disguised in civilian clothing, infiltrated Sommocolonia. By the following morning, they had overrun the town and launched a fierce assault on U.S. positions. Amidst this chaos, as U.S. forces made the strategic decision to retreat under heavy German artillery fire, Lt. Fox chose to stay behind, setting the stage for his heroic final stand.

Fire it! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!

On that fateful morning of December 26, 1944, First Lieutenant John Fox, along with his observer party, held their position on the second floor of a house in Sommocolonia, Italy. Their mission was crucial: to coordinate defensive fire and protect the retreating American troops from the advancing German forces. At 8 a.m., Fox relayed the critical situation, reporting that German soldiers were swarming the streets and attacking with formidable strength.

Despite the increasing danger as German troops pressed closer, Lt. Fox remained steadfast. He continued to direct artillery strikes, meticulously adjusting their range as the enemy advanced. Demonstrating extraordinary calm under pressure, he radioed his battalion commander to bring the artillery fire even closer, “That was just where I wanted it. Bring it in 60 yards!” His request was met with hesitation, as his commander warned that the bombardment would be dangerously close to their position.

However, as the situation grew increasingly dire, with German soldiers encircling his location, Fox remained undeterred. Understanding the gravity of the moment and the high stakes involved, he made the heroic decision to prioritize the larger tactical advantage over his personal safety. In his final communication, Lt. Fox’s words echoed with bravery and self-sacrifice: “Fire It! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!”

In the tragic yet heroic aftermath of the artillery strike called in by First Lieutenant John Fox, both he and his observation party were killed as a result of the friendly fire that decimated the area. This same bombardment also claimed the lives of approximately 100 German soldiers. The sacrifice made by Lt. Fox was not in vain; it significantly delayed the enemy offensive, giving the retreating American soldiers a crucial opportunity to regroup.

This act of bravery and tactical acumen played a pivotal role in the American forces’ ability to recapture Sommocolonia a few days later.

Members of a mortar company of the 92nd Division pass the ammunition and heave it over at the Germans

Members of a mortar company of the 92nd Division pass the ammunition and heave it over at the Germans

Lt. Fox’s final resting place is in Whitman, Massachusetts. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, his extraordinary sacrifice was not recognized by the Army with the same reverence typically accorded to white soldiers. This oversight was reflective of a broader pattern; during the World Wars, no Black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in the field, a stark testament to the racial prejudices of the time.

However, as societal attitudes towards race began to evolve in the decades following the war, there was a gradual but significant shift in the recognition of African American soldiers’ contributions. On May 15, 1982, Lt. Fox was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, an acknowledgment that, while overdue, was a step towards rectifying past injustices.

In the late 1980s, the Department of Defense undertook a comprehensive review of Distinguished Service Cross awards to determine if racial prejudice had played a role in denying any soldiers the Medal of Honor. This review unearthed several cases from both World Wars, including that of Lt. Fox, where the deeds performed were indeed worthy of the nation’s highest military honor.

On January 13, 1997, in a historic and corrective action, the Distinguished Service Cross awards of seven African American veterans of World War II, including Lt. Fox, were upgraded to the Medal of Honor. These men became the first Black soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor for their service in World War II. In a ceremony marked by solemnity and respect, President Bill Clinton posthumously bestowed Lt. Fox’s Medal of Honor to his widow, Arlene Fox.

The journey to recognition for Lt. John Fox encapsulates a larger narrative about the valor and dedication of African American soldiers in the face of inequality and segregation. His actions in Sommocolonia not only saved the lives of many fellow soldiers but also underscored the courage and commitment of African American soldiers who served with distinction during World War II, despite the discrimination they faced both at home and within the Army.

In the Italian village of Sommocolonia, where Lt. Fox made his heroic stand, the local citizens erected a monument to honor those who fell during the artillery barrage. This monument pays tribute to eight Italian soldiers and Lt. Fox, serving as a reminder of the international impact of his bravery and the solidarity shared in the face of adversity.

In a unique tribute blending history with popular culture, the renowned toy company Hasbro, in 2005, released a 12-inch action figure of Lt. John R. Fox. This figure was part of its G.I. Joe Medal-of-Honor series, a collection designed to commemorate and educate about the heroic actions of Medal of Honor recipients.

Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, commanding general of the 92nd Infantry, inspects his troops during a decoration ceremony in Italy in 1945

Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, commanding general of the 92nd Infantry, inspects his troops during a decoration ceremony in Italy in 1945

This gesture by Hasbro not only acknowledges Lt. Fox’s heroism but also serves to inspire and educate future generations about his sacrifice and the broader context of African American soldiers’ contributions during World War II.

The village of Sommocolonia further honored Lt. Fox’s memory on July 16, 2000, by dedicating a peace park in his and his unit’s name. This park stands as a symbol of peace, remembrance, and the enduring legacy of those who fought and sacrificed in the village during the war.

Back in the United States, and specifically in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lt. Fox was born, his memory continues to be revered. American Legion Post 631 bears his name, serving as a living tribute to his bravery and as a gathering place for veterans and community members to remember and honor his and other veterans’ service and sacrifices.

These various forms of recognition and remembrance reflect the deep respect and gratitude held for Lt. Fox’s heroism. They ensure that his story and the broader narrative of African American soldiers in World War II continue to be remembered and honored, bridging past and present, and inspiring future generations.

RIP Victims.

Next, read about the Tales of the Mad Bomber and the Horrors of the Epstein Island!

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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