On this day in 1944, Americans win the Battle of Crucifix Hill. That battle was an important part of an Allied effort to seize Aachen, Germany. The effort might have failed but for one man: Captain Bobbie E. Brown, Jr.
Indeed, Brown would receive a Medal of Honor for his bravery.
Brown was then commanding Company C, 18th Infantry Regiment. His rise to that spot had some surprising moments. He’d been born in poverty, with limited educational opportunities. Indeed, it was later said that Brown’s schooling was “the educational equivalent of a twelve-year-old.”
None of that was going to get in Brown’s way.
He signed up for the Army in 1918, when he was just 15 years old. (The recruiter apparently didn’t question his age because Brown was so tall.) Once in the Army, he worked hard. Soon after World War II began, he earned a battlefield commission while fighting in Africa. Later, he was among those who stormed the beaches of Normandy, and he was promoted to Captain just as his unit reached the German border.
By then, he’d been given command of Company C because another officer had been hit in battle.
“I decided to give the company to Bobbie in spite of his limitations,” Lieut. Gen. Robert H. York said of this appointment. “Shortly after I recommended him for the promotion I was transferred out to take charge of a regiment in the 83d Division. I worried from time to time whether I’d made the right choice. I did.”
Company C had been tasked with attacking seven bunkers near the entry to Aachen. It wouldn’t be easy. “The German bunker system was an extensive fortification line built from 1938 to 1942 to protect Germany’s western border,” Lt. Col. (ret) Edwin L. Kennedy Jr. explains. “The bunkers were designed to hold up to platoon-sized units and had multiple gun ports, some with rotating armored cupolas. One of the seven bunkers assigned to Company C had an 88-mm gun in an armored turret.”
Most of these bunkers were on a hill with a large crucifix atop it. American bombers had taken a few runs at the bunker system, but it hadn’t been enough to discourage the enemy. Company C was soon under fire, and our soldiers became pinned down by the unrelenting enemy fire.
Brown leapt into action. He grabbed some explosives and ordered his men to cover him while he worked his way toward the first enemy pillbox. “Hugging the ground while enemy bullets whipped around him,” Brown’s citation describes, “he crawled and then ran toward the aperture of the fortification, rammed his explosive inside and jumped back as the pillbox and its occupants were blown up.”
Would you believe that he repeated that dangerous feat not just once, but twice?
He’d taken out three enemy pillboxes, and he was wounded. Nevertheless, he refused medical attention. The German position had been significantly weakened, but the job wasn’t done yet.
Brown knew that information was needed about enemy activity beyond the hill. He set out on his own to reconnoiter the area. Several times during this trip, he purposefully drew enemy fire towards himself, just so he could get a better idea of where the enemy was hidden.
He received two more serious wounds for his efforts, but he returned to his men with the information that was needed. Americans ultimately secured the area and Brown finally consented to medical treatment.
“He was a scrapper and his men had confidence in him and would go anywhere with him,” York concluded.
Brown continued to serve his country after World War II, first with the Army, then at West Point. Unfortunately, he never really overcame the wounds he’d sustained at Crucifix Hill, and he was tormented by memories of the war. Brown took his own life in November 1971.
The sacrifices that our military makes come in so many shapes and sizes, don’t they?
James H. Willbanks, America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan (2011)
Medal of Honor citation (Bobbie Evan Brown, Jr.; WWII)
Medal of Honor winner dies—as a janitor at West Point (Baltimore Sun; Nov. 12, 1971) (page 17)
Murray Illson, Bobbie E. Brown, Medal of Honor Winner, Is Dead (NY Times; Nov. 11, 1971)
WWII Hero dies after shooting self (San Bernardino County Sun; Nov. 11, 1971) (p. 24)