John R. Fox - Called an Artillery Barrage On His Own Unit Location and Got The Medal of Honor
John R. Fox – Called an Artillery Barrage On His Own Unit Location and Got The Medal of Honor

John R. Fox – Called an Artillery Barrage On His Own Unit Location and Got The Medal of Honor

Sean Alison - August 4, 2016

An American soldier during World War II, John R. Fox was killed in action when his position was so compromised that there was no way left to decimate the enemy except for calling an artillery strike on his very own position. His actions led to a halt in a German offensive in the Northern Italian region. It wasn’t until 1997 that his services were recognized and he was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on 18th May 1915, John Robert Fox graduated from Wilberforce University. He joined the US Army Reserve, i.e. ROTC under the supervision of Aaron R. Fisher and got commissioned in the Army in 1940 with the rank of second lieutenant. Just one day after Christmas, at the age of 29 he called an artillery barrage onto his position when the Germans launched an attack as part of their larger campaign to defend the Italian peninsula in 1944.

His services were first recognized in 1982 when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross but it took a much longer time, 53 years to be exact, before he was awarded the highest military honor of the United States. He was buried in Colebrook Cemetery, Massachusetts after his body was exhumed and sent back.

John R. Fox – Called an Artillery Barrage On His Own Unit Location and Got The Medal of Honor
John R. Fox

During the early 90s, it was a widespread concept that both during and after World War II, African-American soldiers were discriminated against and denied even consideration for the award. In January 1997, to quash this stereotype, the Army upgraded the medals of 7 African-American soldiers. One of the soldiers was Lt. John R. Fox.

Buffalo Soldiers was a common term for the 92nd Infantry Division that consisted solely of African-American men. The 92nd fought in the Italian peninsula. Within the division, Fox was part of the 366th Infantry Regiment. The Germans had prepared an array of defensive lines to prevent the Allies from capturing Italy. In December 1944 the Germans attacked American troops stationed at the Italian village of Sommocolonia. The attack was of such a severe nature that most of the troops were forced to retreat. Fox was part of a mobile forward observer party who willingly stayed behind. He was ordered to direct artillery fire from the 2nd floor of a house.

John R. Fox – Called an Artillery Barrage On His Own Unit Location and Got The Medal of Honor
Buffalo Soldiers of the US Army during WW2

The Germans who had vehemently taken the village were putting down any remaining resistance and using their superior strength to do so. Fox who at the time was a 1st Lt. called Artillery fire close to his position but the Germans were too many. So Fox called in the Artillery once again, this time extremely close to his position. The soldier who got the message was completely astonished as artillery fire so close to Fox would result in sure death for him.

Lt. Fox was informed of this situation, to which he said, “Fire it.”

He stated that artillery fire needed to move 60 yards toward him to clear out the Germans as much as possible. Fox had ordered the full arsenal of 75 heavy caliber artillery guns to be fired on top of him which led the operator to believe there was something wrong with Fox’s judgment. However, Fox confirmed his request with his final words, “There’s more of them than there is of us”.

It was just a matter of seconds for the artillery to strike and within a few moments houses were reduced to rubble, let alone human beings. Fox along with a bulk of German soldiers had perished.

Although not completely obliterated, the Germans were forced to halt their advance which gave the Americans enough time to re-group and stage a counterattack. Fox’s sacrifice wasn’t wasted as the counterattack was successful and the town was under the folds of the Allies once again.

After the dust had settled, the soldiers went to get the body of Lt. Fox. Along with Fox and 8 Italian soldiers, the Americans found almost 100 German soldiers lying dead!

John R. Fox – Called an Artillery Barrage On His Own Unit Location and Got The Medal of Honor
Lt. Fox’s Gravestone

Medal of Honor Citation

1st Lt. John R. Fox was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously for his “gallant & courageous actions at the supreme sacrifice of his own life”. He was survived by his wife, the former Arlene Marrow of Brockton who received her husband’s medal in a ceremony at the White House on January 13th, 1997. On the very same day, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to six other WWII African-American veterans as well, only of whom was alive, Vernon Baker.

John R. Fox’s plaque read:

For extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy on 26 December 1944, while serving as a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92d Infantry Division. During the preceding few weeks, Lieutenant Fox served with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion as a forward observer. On Christmas night, enemy soldiers gradually infiltrated the town of Sommocolonia in civilian clothes, and by early morning the town was largely in hostile hands. Commencing with a heavy barrage of enemy artillery at 0400 hours on 26 December 1944, an organized attack by uniformed German units began.

Being greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town, but Lieutenant Fox and some other members of his observer party voluntarily remained on the second floor of a house to direct defensive artillery fire. At 0800 hours, Lieutenant Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He then called for defensive artillery fire to slow the enemy advance. As the Germans continued to press the attack towards the area that Lieutenant Fox occupied, he adjusted the artillery fire closer to his position. Finally he was warned that the next adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position.

After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox’s body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox’s gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack.