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Medal of Honor Monday: Jimmie Monteith

On this day in 1917, a hero is born. Jimmie W. Monteith Jr. was among those brave Americans who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He would go on to receive a Medal of Honor for his actions at Omaha Beach.

 

“Monteith’s heroism was so apparent,” the National D-Day Memorial website concludes, “that both General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley personally recommended Monteith posthumously receive the nation’s highest honor for valor in combat.”

 

Did anyone think that the college dropout would go on to be a war hero? 


Monteith had grown up, the youngest of three, in Virginia. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson high school and went on to Virginia Tech. He lasted for a little while, but he soon dropped out to work at a coal company. A few years later, he was drafted into the Army.

 

“You know I may be your baby,” he wrote his mom soon afterwards, “but I am really a plenty big boy and I believe I can take care of myself. . . . I know what the scene is.”

 

Monteith would prove true to his word on D-Day. He was in the initial assault wave at Omaha Beach on that day in June 1944.

 

The assault on that beach was expected to be difficult, but it turned out to be even worse than anticipated. Indeed, many boats did not hit their intended target, and many units in the initial wave struggled to remain operational.

 

Monteith’s boat was among these, hitting the beach 500 yards away from its target. Nevertheless, as Monteith landed on the beach, he quickly organized his men.

 

“When we hit the beach,” Sgt. Aaron B. Jones later described, “the air was thick with machinegun, rifle, and shell fire. Lt. Monteith brought his men together and faced the first obstacle, layers of heavy barbed wire. After selecting a place where it could be blown open, he led men with a Bangalore torpedo in blasting the wire open. Beyond this were two mine fields and he led the way through these.”

 

Once through the minefield, our soldiers were at a safer spot at the bottom of a cliff. Monteith could have stayed with his men. Instead, he promptly turned, retracing his steps back to the beach.

 

Once there, he found two Sherman tanks “buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machinegun fire,” as his citation describes. He walked right up to those tanks and banged on the sides to get the attention of the men inside. Then he led the tanks through a minefield where they were able to take out several enemy positions.

 

When he got back to his men, he led them as they captured an advantageous position on a hill.

 

“In that sector,” Jones explained, “the enemy was not fighting from fixed positions but was moving around in the hedgerows and setting up automatic weapons. . . . [Lt. Monteith] moved toward the sound of voices and launched a rifle grenade at them from 20 yards, knocking out the machinegun position.”

 

He took out other enemy positions in a similar manner before finally taking a fatal hit. Nevertheless, his actions had been critically important that day.

 

“Of all the men who fought and died on D-Day,” a Department of Defense summary concludes, “Army 1st Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith Jr.'s actions might have been the most crucial toward the Allies gaining a foothold in Europe.”

 

General Eisenhower agreed, personally ensuring that Monteith received a Medal. “I must say that the thing looks like a Medal of Honor to me. This man was good,” Eisenhower wrote.

 

“He was heaped with honors [after the war],” his sister later said, “but I’d rather have him back.”

 

Yet another sacrifice made by the Greatest Generation—both by the men who went overseas, and by the families who stayed behind.

 

Rest in peace, Sir.

 

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