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John R. Fox who ordered an artillery strike on his own position

John Robert Fox (May 18, 1915 – December 26, 1944) was a United States Army first lieutenant who was killed in action after calling in artillery fire on the enemy during World War II. In 1997, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for valor, for his actions on December 26, 1944, in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy. It is believed that he called in his own coordinates because he was in an area overran with German soldiers.

Fox and six other African Americans who served in World War II were awarded the Medal of Honor on January 12, 1997. The Medal of Honor was posthumously presented to Fox by President Bill Clinton on January 13, 1997, during a Medal of Honor ceremony for the seven recipients at the White House in Washington, D.C. The seven recipients awarded in 1997 are the only Black Americans to be awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II.

John R. Fox Biography

Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 18, 1915, the eldest of three children. He was raised in Wyoming, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University. He transferred to Wilberforce University, participating in ROTC under Captain Aaron R. Fisher, a highly decorated World War I veteran. Fox graduated with a degree in engineering and received a commission as a U.S. Army second lieutenant in 1941.

Military service

During World War II, Fox was in the 92nd Infantry Division, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, a segregated African American division. Lt. Fox was a forward observer of the 598th Artillery Battalion, supporting the 366th Infantry Regiment of the division.

On December 26, 1944, Fox was part of a small forward observer party that volunteered to stay behind in the Italian village of Sommocolonia, in the Serchio River Valley. American forces had been forced to withdraw from the village after it had been overrun by the Germans. From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox called in defensive artillery fire. As the Wehrmacht soldiers continued attacking, Fox radioed the artillery to bring its fire closer to his position, eventually ordering to fire directly on his position.

The soldier who received the message, Fox’s close friend, Lt. Otis Zachary (1917–2009), was stunned, knowing that Fox had little chance to survive, but Fox said, “Fire it! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!” The resulting artillery barrage killed Fox and approximately 100 German soldiers surrounding his position. Fox’s sacrifice gained time for U.S. forces to organize a counterattack.

Fox was buried in Colebrook Cemetery in Whitman, Massachusetts. On April 15, 1982, Fox was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; the initial award recommendation had been lost.

Medal of Honor

In the early 1990s, the US Army determined that black soldiers had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor in World War II because of race discrimination. In 1993, the U.S. Army commissioned Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to research and determine if there was racial disparity in the Medal of Honor nomination and awarding process. The study found that there was systematic discrimination; it recommended in 1996 that ten African American veterans of World War II be awarded the Medal of Honor. In October 1996, Congress passed a bill to allow President Bill Clinton to award the Medal of Honor to these former soldiers. Seven of the ten, including Lt. Fox, were approved, and awarded the Medal of Honor (six had Distinguished Service Crosses revoked and upgraded to the Medal of Honor) on January 12, 1997.

A day later, President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to the seven soldiers in a formal ceremony, but six awards were made posthumously and received by family members. Fox’s widow accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf. Vernon Baker was the only living recipient of the medal at the time.

Other honors

After the war, the citizens of Sommocolonia erected a monument to nine men who were killed during the artillery barrage: eight Italian soldiers and Lt. Fox.

In 2005, the toy company Hasbro introduced a 12-inch action figure “commemorating Lt. John R. Fox as part of its G.I. Joe Medal-of-Honor series.”

On July 16, 2000, Sommocolonia dedicated a peace park in memory of Fox and his unit.

American Legion Post 631, located in Fox’s birthplace of Cincinnati, Ohio, is named for Lt. Fox.

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