On this day in 1943, a U.S. soldier engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Would you believe that he took out a tank with a tommy gun!?!
Allied forces were then engaged in an invasion of Sicily, the large Mediterranean island just off the “toe” of Italy. First Lt. David Waybur was with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division when it made its landing on July 10. One week later, Waybur volunteered to lead a 3-vehicle patrol into enemy territory. The task? Locate an isolated Ranger unit.
Nothing about this task was easy, of course. The road Waybur traveled on was full of mines. It was dark, and there was always the danger of hidden enemy machine gun positions. Finally, Waybur and his men came upon a bridge that had been destroyed. Just then, they were attacked.
Unfortunately, four Italian tanks managed to get behind Waybur’s group, cutting off the route he could otherwise have used to escape.
The Americans were badly outnumbered, but Waybur ordered his vehicles to disperse and to open fire. Four men, including Waybur, were injured in the exchange that followed. As ammunition began to run low, Waybur took a drastic step. He grabbed his tommy gun and marched out in front of one of the tanks. He was standing in the moonlight, easily visible.
It must have been like a scene from a Rambo movie. Amazingly, Waybur took out that tank. (He shot at the crew through the ports.) Soon, the tank veered into the damaged bridge and toppled into the creek bed.
Waybur’s action reinvigorated his men—and demotivated the enemy. The Americans were able to hold their position all night until reinforcements arrived.
That wasn’t the end of Waybur’s story, naturally. He recuperated. He received the Medal of Honor for his brave actions. He went home! He married his high school sweetheart. And he volunteered to go back into combat.
Sadly, he did not survive that next tour of duty in Germany. Waybur was killed in action just after his first wedding anniversary.
Another member of the Greatest Generation who gave all that he had to give.
High Award for Piedmont Hero (Oakland Tribune; Nov. 18, 1943) (p.1)
Hero David Waybur is Married (Decatur Review; March 21, 1944) (p. 11)
Lt. Donald G. Taggart, History Of The Third Infantry Division In World War II (2016) (Vol. 1)
Lt. General L.K. Truscott, Jr., Command Missions: A Personal Story (2014)
Medal Given to Piedmont Hero at Ceremony in Italy (Oakland Tribune; Nov. 30, 1943) (p. 17)
Medal of Honor citation (David Crowder Waybur; WWII)