“One Man Army”: The story of Sergeant Jake Lindsey, U.S. Army WWII, Medal of Honor
Deep into the Huertgen Forest, the ground was frozen and the temperature was near zero. It was November 16, 1944, and Sgt. Jake Lindsey, already wounded and fighting with his “six-man platoon”, became a “One Man Army.” His heroic actions on that day would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Jake William Lindsey was born May 1, 1921, to Jake L. and Ruby Gandy Lindsey in Isney, Choctaw County, Alabama. At some point, the family moved to Lucedale, Mississippi. It was from there that Jake joined the Army in February 1940. After the United States entered the war, Lindsey’s unit deployed overseas. They fought in Sicily and at Omaha Beach, where Jake was wounded twice. The attack by the 1st Infantry Division [The Iron Rangers] at the Huertgen Forest in 1944 would be the scene of Jake Lindsey’s legendary exploits.
The Battle of Huertgen Forest was part of the Allied strategy to overcome the formidable Siegfried Line along the German border. Gen. Lawton Collins, commander of the First Army’s VII Corps, sent his men south, near Aachen, through the 70-square mile, heavily forested terrain known as the Huertgen Forest. The attack began in September 1944 and before it was over in February 1945, the Allied armies would suffer over 24,000 dead, wounded and captured.
Sgt. Jake Lindsey’s platoon was part of “Charlie” [C] Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. On November 16, his company, along with B Company, attacked near the town of Hamich. Their advance was slow, and they were pinned down by heavy mortar, artillery and tank fire, after advancing only 500 yards.
Lindsey’s 40-man platoon only had six men left to fight after they had reached their objective. The Germans quickly formed a counterattack consisting of infantry and five tanks. Lindsey was dug into the frozen ground, 10 yards in front of the rest of his platoon. When the Germans attacked, Lindsey’s actions would later be described as those of a “One Man Army.”
Already wounded and using only his rifle and hand grenades, Lindsey beat back the Germans three times. He took out two machine gun nests in a furor that caused the tanks to withdraw. He watched as the Germans tried to regroup and realizing he was out of ammunition, Lindsey charged with his bayonet, killing three Germans, capturing three more and routing two more. In the confusion of the battle, it was reported that Sgt. Lindsey had been killed.
When Lindsey’s heroic actions were reported to the War Department, he was recommended for the Medal of Honor by Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. When Stimson announced that Lindsey would be awarded the Medal of Honor, he pointed out the diversity of American youth who had been given that honor, ”Names like Kelly, Bianchi, Martinez, Bjorkland, Tominac, Baker, Sadowski, Fournier, Lopez, Wierdorfer, Thompson and Smith….These farm boys, garage mechanics ,lathe hands, clerks, elevator boys, are the soldiers who smashed the flower of Hitler’s armies.”
Stimson first thought that the medal would have to be awarded posthumously, but it was soon reported that Sergeant Lindsey was very much alive. Lindsey’s Medal of Honor would be the 100th awarded to an infantryman. It was decided that the award would be made before a joint session of Congress, in effect, honoring all infantrymen. No Medal of Honor had ever been awarded in that manner. Mississippi Congressman William Colmer stated, “In honoring this Mississippi boy, the nation through its President and its Congress, is honoring the entire American Infantry, which has played and is playing a wonderful role in the subjection of our enemies.”
On June 19, 1945, President Harry S. Truman placed the medal around Lindsey’s neck and addressed the Congress, “No officer ordered Sergeant Lindsey, when wounded, to engage eight Germans in hand-to-hand combat. Those decisions came from his own heart.” Amid thunderous applause, Truman continued, “They were a flash of the nobility which we like to think is apart of every American. They were the unselfish valor which can triumph over terrible odds. They were the very essence of victory.”
The ceremony only lasted 15 minutes and when it was over, the President escorted Lindsey to a private luncheon held in his honor. The President, who was a WW I veteran, told Lindsey, “I’d rather have that medal than be President of the United States.”
Later that summer, Lindsey briefly left the Army and tried to adjust to civilian life. After receiving the Medal of Honor, he had been flooded with a mountain of mail. To help him answer all the mail, he was provided with a secretary and private office by R. B. Chandler, publisher of the Mobile Press-Register. After answering his mail, Lindsey found time to marry Beverly Hargreaves of Lexington, Massachusetts. He had first met her on a blind date in 1941.
At some point, Lindsey rejoined the army and was commissioned as an officer and fought in Korea. His heroism was not limited to WW II. According to one report, Lindsey killed as many as 150 Chinese soldiers in a single night. After Korea, he gave up his commission saying, “I’m just a Sergeant at heart. I just think I can do a better job in the Army as a Sergeant….” He served in Germany again, where he commanded a platoon. When the Vietnam War started, Lindsey, who was too old to fight, trained GIs from the 101st Airborne Division Rangers. Besides the Medal of Honor, Lindsey had been awarded another 16 medals.
Jake Lindsey retired from the Army in 1963 and worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 10 years.
He died July 18, 1988 in Waynesboro, Mississippi. He is buried at Whitehouse Cemetery in Clara, Mississippi. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.
[Sources: Wikipedia; National Medal of Honor Museum; The Knoxville Focus article “The One Man Army: Sergeant Jake Lindsey” by Ray Hill, May 29, 2017; First Division Museum; Military Times Hall of Valor; Los Angeles Times article July 23, 1988; The 16th Infantry Division History; The Fighting First: The Untold Story of the Big Red One on D Day by Flint Whitlock]
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