|Lt. Jack Knight commanded an infantry unit in Burma that included two younger brothers.|
On this Memorial Day we honor Medal of Honor recipient Jack L. Knight who never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on May 29, 1917 in Texas. His parents were also both born in Texas. His father worked as a farmer. Jack had five younger brothers (three of whom served during the war) and one younger sister. By 1940 Jack had graduated from Weatherford Junior College and was working on the family farm.
On November 18, 1940, Jack and his brother Curtis both enlisted in the Texas National Guard.
He served as a first lieutenant and was the commander of F Troop, 124th Calvary Regiment, Mars Task Force. His brother Curtis was in the same unit and was it's First Sergeant. Brother Loyd, if you can believe it, also joined the unit. Brother Hershel broke the pattern by serving in the Navy during the war.
In a age of armor and air power, the army didn't know what to do with a calvary regiment. It stayed in Texas until June 1944 when it turned in it's horses and became an infantry unit. In July, it was sent to serve in India. By December 1944 it was part of Mars Task Force, a special unit tasked with the mission of removing the Japanese from North Burma. It required a 200 mile march through mountainous jungles and streams. It must have been quite an adjustment for the three Knight brothers used to dry Texas. Normal resupply was impossible -- they had to get everything delivered by airdrop.
His is the only Medal of Honor earned by someone in the ground forces of the US Army in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War 2.
Carl W. Weidenburner did an outstanding job describing Lt. Knight's last battle. It reads like a scene from a John Wayne movie. The decision to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor was an easy decision. You can read his full article at http://www.cbi-theater.com/knight/knight.html
Knight and his men reached their objective after 35 minutes. The men began to dig in. Knight reconnoitered the slope at the end of the hill. He spotted an enemy pillbox and grenaded it. He found two more pillboxes and gave them the same treatment.
Knight called to his men, "Come on up. There's a whole nest of them here." His men obeyed. Knight found himself in the center of a horseshoe formation of pillboxes. He threw a grenade into his fourth pillbox, then fired his carbine into it.
Men who later described the scene said Knight acted as if he were out to get every pillbox himself. A Japanese soldier tossed a grenade at the lieutenant. He backed away but the burst caught him full in the face. As he turned around and walked back to Lt. Leo C. Tynan to get more carbine ammunition, the men saw blood dripping from his face.
Another enemy soldier tried to bayonet Knight as he walked past a pillbox. Lt. Tynan killed him. Knight took half of Tynan's ammunition and started forward again. As he broke into a run, he muttered to Tynan, "I can't see."
The troop had caught up with him by then. Concentrated fire came from the pillboxes. Men were falling all around Knight. He regrouped his squads by arm motions and went out in front again.
He grenaded his fifth Pillbox. An enemy grenade landed nearby and wounded him a second time. This time he went down. But as he lay there, he kept shouting encouragement to his men. Lt. Knight's brother, 1st Sgt. Curtis Knight, saw his brother fall and ran forward to lead the troop. But he was dropped by a bullet under the heart.
The lieutenant asked one of the men to get his brother back to an aid station. He continued to encourage his men. Then, on his hands and knees, he started to crawl towards another enemy pillbox. He was hit by a bullet. It was the end for Lt. Jack Knight. His men went on to take the objective. His brother, flown to an evacuation hospital, recovered.
Brother Curtis earned the Silver Star and the Bronze Star (died in 2013 at age 94). Brother Loyd died in 1987.
His remains were returned to be buried at Holders Chapel Cemetery in Cool, Texas.
JOHN F. KENNEDY TIE IN
John F. Kennedy was also born 100 years ago on May 29, 1917. Hundreds of books have been written about JFK including many about his service as a PT boat skipper in the South Pacific.
His brother Joseph, whom his father had groomed to run for president one day, was one of the fallen. We will never know if others of the fallen may have also run for president had they survived.
In remembering the fallen on Memorial Day, we can do well to reflect on President Kennedy's words:
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them."
On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!
Follow on Twitter @ww2fallen100
Join the public Facebook group WW2 Fallen 100