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This Day in History: John “Bud” Hawk in WWII

On this day in 1924, a hero is born. John “Bud” Hawk enlisted in the Army straight out of high school. He would later call himself a “citizen-soldier” who “came when I was called and did the best I could.”

His “best” in World War II led his country to award him the Medal of Honor.

Hawk’s heroism came in France, after the Allied landings in Normandy. By August, Germans were surrounded in an area known as the Falaise Pocket. They were trying to get out, even as Allied forces sought to keep them trapped.

By August 20, Sergeant Hawk was commanding a machine gun squad in this area. He was at the edge of an apple orchard. “Our mission simply was to stop everything we could from getting out through the gap,” Hawk later recounted.

The gap he was protecting, Hawk’s Medal citation describes, was a “a key point in the encirclement which created the Falaise pocket.”

German tanks were rolling his way, along with enemy infantry. Hawk’s gunners were outnumbered, and they soon lost two of their guns. The young Sergeant took cover behind a tree, but he was hit.

“I didn’t see the one tank,” Hawk later confessed, “so he shot me right through the apple tree, literally through the apple tree, and into my leg and mostly through my leg. To me, it was like getting hit with a sledgehammer, and I couldn’t tell whether I had a broken leg or no leg or what. It knocked me flat, but I’m either down or I can run like hell. And, boy, I took off out of there like you wouldn’t believe.”

Hawk came upon a drainage ditch where an American soldier had a bazooka. “What are you doing?” he asked the soldier. “Well, trying to get these tanks that are in the brush over there,” the soldier responded, “but I’ve got no backup and I have to put it down to load it.” Naturally, Hawk was up for the task. Soon the two men were working their way across the orchard, firing at the tanks until they temporarily withdrew.

The brief lull in fighting gave Hawk the opportunity to reorganize his men. He also figured out how to make one workable weapon from two of the guns that had been damaged.

The German attack soon resumed. By this point, two American tank destroyers had been brought up. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see through the trees.

“Can’t see them, can’t shoot them,” Hawk said simply. “Well, I could see them, I knew darn well. You’re not thinking really of the consequences. You’re trying to think of a solution.”

His solution was to put himself right in the middle. He’d direct the destroyers’ fire.

“Their shots were ineffective because of the terrain,” Hawk’s Medal citation describes, “until Sgt. Hawk, despite his wound, boldly climbed to an exposed position on a knoll where, unmoved by fusillades from the enemy, he became a human aiming-stake for the destroyers.”

But no one could hear his shouted directions. The sound of the battle was too intense. Hawk ran back to the destroyers to correct their range, then he rushed back to his original position and resumed his role of “human aiming-stake.”

It was enough. Two of the enemy tanks were destroyed, and a third retreated.

“The Germans were getting shot by somebody they couldn’t see,” Hawk shrugged. “So we knocked out a couple of them and the other ones backed off. And it was literally the turning point of the whole battle.”

The battle proved critical in keeping the Germans trapped in the Falaise picket until they surrendered.

Hawk would receive a Medal of Honor for his actions, just one short year later.

“This is not mine,” he would later say of the Medal. “I hold it in trust for those I served with, for those who gave their lives.”

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