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This Day in History: Troy McGill's bravery in the Pacific

On this day in 1944, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor.  Troy McGill single-handedly protected a crucial airstrip in the Pacific just when it was needed most.


“He was Knoxville’s own,” Tennessee journalist Kaye Veal wrote in 1985, “and he died, fighting to the end, slinging his rifle like a club at the oncoming wave of Japanese soldiers when he no longer had bullets to fire.”


McGill’s heroism came as Allied forces began an effort to capture the Admiralty Islands. U.S. forces had opened the campaign with an invasion of Los Negros Island on February 29. 

Our soldiers captured the island’s Momote airstrip relatively quickly, but the fight to take the rest of the island took longer. Would Americans have been able to maintain their hold on the airstrip without McGill?  Perhaps not.


During the early morning hours of March 4, Sergeant McGill was with his squad of 8 men: They’d been ordered to defend a line of foxholes near the airstrip. The enemy was just 35 yards in front of them.


Unfortunately, the enemy attacked at 4:00 a.m. There were 200 of them—and they were drunk!  They screamed threats and curses at our soldiers as they abruptly emerged from the underbrush.  Six of the eight Americans were killed.  Only McGill and one other remained.


McGill ordered the other soldier to retreat.  He planned to hold the line on his own.


“Courageously resolved to hold his position at all costs,” his Medal citation later described, “he fired his weapon until it ceased to function. Then, with the enemy only five yards away, he charged from his foxhole in the face of certain death and clubbed the enemy with his rifle in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed.”


McGill’s body was later found, surrounded by 105 dead enemy. His heroic one-man stand has been credited with saving the vital Momote airstrip.


His sister received the Medal of Honor on his behalf several months later.


“I believe historians have failed to give enough credit to this event and its effects on bringing the war to a quicker conclusion and saving many lives,” Navy veteran Ray Hodges told a Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter. He noted that men like McGill were working to clear a path for those who came to the Pacific at the end of the war. “Few know how much we benefitted from what McGill and his fellow soldiers did,” Hodges concluded. “I do because what they did had a direct impact on my life for the final months of the war.”


Yet another member of the Greatest Generation, giving everything that he had to give—and making a huge difference.


Where would we be but for brave Americans such as these?  How proud we can be that we get to call these heroes our own.

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Primary Sources:

  • Bill Maples, Portion of Highway to Honor War Hero McGill (Knoxville News-Sentinel; July 1, 1990) (p. B1)

  • Fought Off 200 Japs: Posthumous Award to Sergeant for Los Negros Stand (Kansas City Star; Sept. 19, 1944) (p.16)

  • Gamble at Los Negros: The Admiralty Islands Campaign, 29 February 1944 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

  • Harold Julian, Columnists’s License: Some Interesting Odds and Ends (Knoxville News-Sentinel; Apr. 21, 1996) (p. E14)

  • Harold Julian, U.S. is Indebted to Knox Native Troy A. McGill (Knoxville News-Sentinel; March 3, 1996) (p. E10)

  • J. Pope Dyer, Tennessee Heroes of World War II (Hancock County News; Oct. 24, 1947) (p. 1)

  • Kaye Franklin Veal, Knoxville's Troy McGill Lived, Died a Hero (Knoxville News-Sentinel; Nov. 10, 1985) (p. B4)

  • Major B.C. Wright, The 1st Cavalry Division in World War II (2000)

  • Medal of Honor citation (Troy McGill; WWII)

  • Patrick J. Chaisson, Putting the Cork in the Bottle at Los Negros (WWII History Mag.; Aug. 2018) (reprinted HERE)

  • Sabrina Bodon, Medal of Honor recipient Troy McGill, eight-man patrol took on 200 drunken troops (Chattanooga Times Free Press; Feb. 22, 2020)

  • Sgt. Troy McGill, Killed Facing 200 Japs, Buried Here Today (Knoxville News-Sentinel; Jan. 25, 1951) (p. 17)

  • Troy McGill (Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame)

  • Tulsa Heads up Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame Inductees (Tulsa World; Sept. 14, 2014) (p. A20)



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