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This Day in History: Patrick J. Regan's bravery in World War I

On this day in 1943, a hero passes away. Patrick J. Regan received a Medal of Honor for his bravery in World War I, yet his name has been all but forgotten.

Would you believe that a memorial field in Massachusetts even got mixed up about which war hero it was trying to honor several years ago?! Two Medal recipients share the name “Patrick Regan,” you see. The other Patrick Regan served in the Navy, as opposed to this Patrick Regan, who served in the Army.

Our hero enlisted in the Army as early as 1899. He served in the Spanish-American War then went on to serve in World War I. His heroism came in the final weeks of that war during the Meuse–Argonne offensive, which helped bring the Great War to an end.

On October 8, 1918, Regan found himself near Bois-de-Consenvoye, France, leading his platoon in an effort to take out an enemy machine-gun nest. That enemy nest needed to be taken out: It was holding up the advance of two American companies.

Regan divided his men into three groups. One would take the right flank; the other took the left. In the meantime, Regan himself would lead an automatic rifle team at the front.

It didn’t go so well. The enemy took out much of Regan’s team almost immediately. Two were killed. Regan and a third man were badly wounded. Yet Regan knew what he had to do—and he did it. Major Thomas G. McNicholas later described these moments in his recommendation for Regan’s Medal of Honor:

“Lieutenant Regan, armed with an automatic pistol that was not loaded and with no cartridges in the magazine, shouted the command to ‘charge the nest!’ as though his platoon were behind him, whereas in fact he was alone,” he explained.

Charging a machine gun nest with an empty pistol? Bold. Audacious.

Amazingly, the badly wounded Regan captured 30 Austrian gunners and four machine guns with that empty pistol. His action allowed the American companies that had been stalled to advance.

He obtained medical treatment only after he was ordered to do so.

Regan received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the spring of 1919. At least reportedly, he received another honor in 1921, serving as a pallbearer for an unidentified World War I soldier when that soldier was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Nevertheless, local papers would later report that his health was never the same. He passed away in 1943, leaving behind a wife and three children.

Another of America’s little-known heroes, fighting and sacrificing that we might remain free.

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Primary Sources:

  • 30 Prisoners and Guns Taken by Lieut. Regan (Los Angeles Evening Express; Feb. 7, 1919) (p. 7)

  • Kevin Canessa, Belleville Historical Society Takes Part in Wreaths Across America (Observer; Jan. 13, 2021) (p.3)

  • Los Angelan Wins War Honor Medal: Lieutenant Patrick Regan Captured Austrians with Empty Pistol (Fresno Morning Republican; Apr. 9, 1919) (p. 13)

  • Lt. P.J. Regan Dies in Jersey (Evening Sun; Nov. 5, 1943) (p. 42)

  • Medal of Honor citation (Patrick J. Regan; WWI)

  • Medal of Honor is Given for Bravery: Citation for Patrick Regan, Los Angeles Lieutenant (Los Angeles Evening Post-Record; Dec. 2, 1933) (Section 2, p. 1)

  • Obituaries: Patrick J. Regan (Hartford Daily Courant; Nov. 1, 1943) (p. 4)

  • Patrick J. Regan WW1 Medal of Honor (American Legion website; May 27, 2002)



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