This Day in History: Robert B. Nett's Medal of Honor
On this day in 1944, a hero leads his men in a tough battle against the Japanese. Then-First Lieutenant Robert B. Nett would be wounded multiple times, even taking a shot to his neck.
Amazingly, Nett survived and would go on to personally receive his Medal of Honor.
Nett was inspired by a family friend to join the military, originally joining the Connecticut National Guard in 1941. Unsurprisingly, his unit was activated in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1944, he was serving with the U.S. Army in the south Pacific. He’d been in Guam that summer, but found himself in Leyte by the end of the year.
The Japanese had turned a municipal building on the island into a blockhouse, and they were using their position to hold the Americans at bay. Nett would be the one to lead an attack against the position on December 14. His men began using Bangalore torpedoes to make their way closer.
“[T]he NCOs would push Bangalore torpedoes under the barbed wire,” he described, “blow the barbed wire up—and it would create a little ditch, as well as blowing the barbed wire up.”
From there, the soldiers would crawl along the ditch with flame throwers, steadily establishing a foothold from which to attack. Nett ordered artillery to begin firing on the Japanese blockhouse, but it wasn’t long before he took a hit in the neck.
“My jugular vein was just cut,” he later said. “And a little blood shot out like the size of a needle point. But, I went on. Kept going.”
It must have been brutal. Nett describes crawling on his hands and knees and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. “And as I was going from one squad to the other, I would fire, and occasionally the clip would fly out. That meant last round. And what are you going to do when a Jap jumps up in front of you? We were trained to use the bayonet.”
So that’s what our soldiers did. “The adrenaline was running real hard,” he chuckled, “and we were movin’, shootin’, and no salutin’, I guarantee you!” All the while, remember, Nett was injured, but refusing to leave his men.
As they got closer to the blockhouse, Nett began moving one machine gun team at a time closer and closer to the Japanese. Unfortunately, just as he was ordering one of the machine gun teams forward, he was shot again.
This time, he was hit in his right lung, collapsing it.
“So I did exactly what I was trained to do in commando school,” he said matter-of-factly. “Kept going, supervising. We finally got flame into this big bunker. Burned out as much as we could.”
The Americans, led by Nett, had secured the blockhouse, but he was beginning to have trouble. He’d been losing too much blood throughout the ordeal, and he’d been injured a third time in the final assault. He’d accomplished his objective, though, so he could finally go.
“[H]e calmly made all arrangements for the resumption of the advance,” his citation notes, “turned over his command to another officer, and then walked unaided to the rear for medical treatment.”
He spent months recovering, but was back in time to help with the Okinawa invasion.
“About 86 percent [of Medals] are posthumously awarded,” Nett later told an interviewer. “So, I feel that those that are living and that are capable should be out talking to young people emphasizing the great honor that’s been bestowed upon the individual. And what that honor means.”
As for himself, he felt that he’d earned the Medal on behalf of his company.
“When we were successful in combat,” he concluded, “it was because of the teamwork. The sincerity of each individual doing his part. I share this honor with all those people, because they made it possible.”
Medal of Honor citation (Robert B. Nett; World War II)
Medal of Honor oral histories (Robert B. Nett; World War II)
Peter Collier, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty (2d ed. 2006)
WWII Medal of Honor hero dies (U.S. Army website; October 21, 2008)