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This Day in History: Daniel W. Lee's Medal of Honor

On this day in 1985, a hero passes away. Daniel W. Lee, Sr. made a solo attack on the enemy during World War II. He survived the experience and received a Medal of Honor after the war.


Unfortunately, he lost a battle with liver cancer in 1985.


“Dan was very modest,” his wife told a reporter at the time. “Unless specifically asked, he did not elaborate much about [his Medal].”

Many years before, the University of Georgia graduate had tried to join the U.S. Army Air Forces, but he was denied because of his colorblindness. He ultimately enlisted in the Army in March 1942, just after Pearl Harbor.


The Army Air Forces’ loss was the 7th Army’s gain.


Lee’s heroism came on September 2, 1944, as he served in Montreval, France. Germans had surrounded the town. For hours, the two sides engaged in a “pitched battle,” as Lee’s citation would describe.


The defenders inside Montreval were badly outnumbered, and it wasn’t going well, to say the least. Finally, Lee decided to go after the enemy mortars that were inflicting such heavy damage.  He organized a patrol and led them to the edge of town.


The group had forced some enemy riflemen out of position on a ridge when Lee looked down. Seven Germans were manning two large mortars about 100 yards away. Taking only his rifle and some grenades, he left his men behind and began crawling toward the enemy. He was about 30 yards short of his goal when the enemy noticed him and began firing.


His right thigh was shattered.


“Scorning retreat,” his Medal citation describes, “bleeding, and suffering intense pain, he dragged himself relentlessly forward. He killed five of the enemy with rifle fire, and the others fled before he reached their position.”


Suddenly, Lee found himself under attack by an enemy armored car, and he hastily took cover behind a German half-track (military vehicle) that he’d already seen nearby.  In a lucky twist, he found a German panzerfaust behind the vehicle. Grabbing the rocket launcher, he maneuvered himself into position and blasted the armored car with it. As the car retreated, Lee dragged himself back to his men.


He'd lost a lot of blood by then, and he collapsed.


Lee’s Medal citation doesn’t relay what came next: The Germans ended up winning the day, and they took many of our soldiers captive. Lee was so badly wounded, though, that they left him behind.


The decision likely saved Lee’s life. He survived and received a promotion to first lieutenant. He also received a Medal of Honor from Harry Truman.


“Dad was a very humble man,” Lee’s daughter said in an interview for a University of Georgia publication. “He was very much a patriot and a man of faith. We found the Bible he carried during the war after he died. He truly believed in our country and his faith got him through all those difficult days.”


Another member of the Greatest Generation giving his all for love of country.  Rest in peace, Sir.


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