A Heroic Fox



First Lieutenant John R. Fox, pictured above, was a member of an all African-American infantry division in World War II called the Buffalo Soldiers. On Christmas Day, 1944, many of the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed in the Italian village of Sommocolonia and were expecting a German advance on the area. Lt. Fox’s job was as an artillery observer; he was to take an advance position near the enemy, and, when he spotted German troops, radio their positions to the American men operating the artillery to allow for optimal targeting.

But the next day, Lt. Fox’s position was overrun. He’d not survive to see the next day. In fact, he made sure of it.

Overnight, German troops in civilian clothes had entered Sommocolonia, effectively undetected by Allied forces. By daybreak, the city was clearly going to fall to German hands, and most of the Allied forced retreated. Lieutenant Fox and a handful of others remained, still directing artillery fire despite the personal risk. For Lt. Fox, that risk became immediate. Upon radioing updated targeting coordinates to the artillery, Lt. Fox was informed of a problem: the artillery fire would hit him as well.

Lt. Fox told the gunners to fire anyway.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society goes into further detail:

After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox’s body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox’s gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack.

The Allies held Sommocolonia, in no small part due to Lt. Fox’s sacrifice.

Lt. Fox was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997. (The delay was likely due to his race; as explained by his Wikipedia entry, many African-American soldiers who should have earned the honor were overlooked otherwise inexplicably.) And in 2005, Lt. Fox became the inspiration for a toy — as part of a line of “medal of honor” G.I. Joe action figures.

Bonus Fact: During World War II, American soldiers discovered German troops stationed in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In general, the Allied strategy called for a shelling of any such position, ad hoc as it may be, but as recounted by a book excerpt in the Guardian, the sergeant in charge decided to spare the landmark.

From the ArchivesThe Christmas Truce: When the artillery went quiet in the middle of World War I.

Related: The commemorative G.I. Joe version of Lt. Fox. It’s… a bit expensive.