The story of Col. Jack L. Treadwell, U.S. Army, WWII, Medal of Honor

Published 3:31 pm Friday, November 27, 2020

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The 25-year-old Lieutenant found his unit pinned down near the Siegfried Line in Germany. The German defense consisted of interlocking trenches and concrete bunkers known as pillboxes. The crossfire from the pillboxes had already taken out eight of his men. Lieutenant Jack Treadwell, faced with impossible odds, made his decision and  struck out toward the pillboxes, alone. Armed with a submachine gun and hand grenades, he crossed the deadly terrain to the nearest pillbox. As he neared the bunker, he fired into the slit used by the German gunners and threw several grenades. At the opening, he shoved the muzzle of his machine gun inside, forcing four Germans to surrender. Leaving one dead German inside the bunker, Treadwell sent his prisoners back toward the American lines. Still under heavy fire, he continued on to the next pillbox. He used the same tactics, this time capturing the German commander of the defensive position. The capture of their commander caused confusion among the Germans but they continued to lay down a deadly fire in Treadwell’s direction. Unfazed by the intense fire, he continued forward until he had captured four more pillboxes. By now Treadwell’s men were so inspired by his action that they followed his lead, storming the hillside, forcing the Germans to flee. Their success drove a wedge into the Siegfried Line and other units of the battalion quickly followed.

Treadwell’s brash and courageous actions that March 18, 1945, earned him the Medal of Honor. It was presented by President Truman on August 23, 1945.

Jack Lemaster Treadwell was born in Ashland, Alabama on March 30, 1919. His family moved to Snyder, Oklahoma a few years later and Jack attended school there. He graduated from Snyder High School in 1937 and he enrolled in Southwestern State College. After a couple of years, Jack enlisted in the Army in January, 1941. Trained as an infantryman, he was assigned to the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. Jack deployed to North Africa in June 1943 and participated in the first allied landing on Sicily in July 1943. These invasions were followed by landings in Salerno and Anzio in late 1943 and Southern France in August 1944. He received a battlefield commission for his actions during the Battle of Anzio. Treadwell and the 180th Infantry Regiment fought on into Central Europe in the Alsace and Rhineland Campaigns. The stage was now set for Treadwell’s heroic action near Nieder-Wurzbach, Germany that earned him the Medal of Honor. By war’s end, Treadwell had participated in eight campaigns across Africa and Europe

Treadwell was hospitalized for wounds he received during the actions of March 1945. While recuperating, he met an Army nurse, Maxine Johnson, whom he would later marry.

By the end of the war, Jack Treadwell has risen from private to the rank of Captain. After the war, he returned to the States and continued his army service. He attended the Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the Army War College. He served in various locations within the United States, as well as the Marshall Islands. He received his college degree from the University of Omaha in 1963. He then served as a battalion commander in West Germany. In the years right before the Vietnam War, Treadwell was Chief of the Army Infantry Center at Ft. Benning.

From October 1968 until March 1969, Treadwell served as Chief of Staff of the 23rd Infantry Division [the Americal division] in Vietnam. He then became commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade until September 1969. He made more than 100 parachute jumps while in Vietnam.

Treadwell’s post-Vietnam service included assignments to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas and Columbia, South Carolina, where he was senior advisor to the Army Reserves. In 1970, he was presented with the Oklahoma Distinguished Service Cross for his service to the National Guard from 1941-1970. Jack L. Treadwell retired as a Colonel in 1974.

In addition to the eight campaign ribbons from the European theater, Treadwell was the recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star with “V” device for valor with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Soldier’s Medal, three awards of the Legion of Merit, Air Medal with 12 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Senior Parachutist Badge. He is thought to have been the most decorated United States service member in WW II.

The Treadwells settled in Oklahoma after his retirement in 1974. Sadly, Jack Treadwell died from open-heart surgery complications on December 12, 1977. He was survived by his wife, Maxine and three daughters, two of whom were married to Army officers. He is buried at the Ft. Sill Post Cemetery at Lawton, Oklahoma. One tribute, written after Jack Treadwell’s death said that “When you consider all his heroic actions to save and protect others, you just have to consider that possibly this man’s heart was simply too big for his body. May he rest in peace.”

Col. Jack Lemaster Treadwell was an Alabama native, Medal of Honor recipient and member of The Greatest Generation.

John Vick

[Sources: Department of Defense article, “Medal of Honor Mondays, Army Captain Jack L. Treadwell” by Katie Lange; National Medal of Honor Museum; Military Hall of Honor; FSB Hill 4-11, article from The Leader dated Feb. 15, 1974; Wikipedia]