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John R. Fox – Lieutenant Who Called An Artillery Strike on Himself

Have you ever heard of the first African Americans to be awarded the medal of honor after their death in American history? Well, that list would never be complete without the name John Robert Fox.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 18th May 1915, John R. Fox showed great courage in the face of danger on the battlefield, against the Germans, by calling an artillery strike firing towards his position.

But what exactly happened that led to his recognition as a great icon of courage and receiving the medal of honor award, the nation’s highest military decoration?

Who was John R. Fox?

John R. Fox was the eldest of his three siblings raised in Wyoming, Ohio. Before transferring to Wilberforce University as a commissioned college-going officer working under World War I veteran Aaron R. Fisher, Fox attended Ohio State University. Fox graduated with an Engineering degree and became a U.S. Army second Lieutenant in 1941.

Fox would then serve in the military under the segregated African-American division until his patriotic death on 26th December 1944 at the World War II waterfront in a small Italian village, Sommocolonia, Italy. Fox went against all odds to become a hero in his country, having been denied many rights for the sole reason of being black.

Sommocolonia, Italy

Known as the land of seven hills, Italy has many beautiful and attractive villages located on the hilltops. Sommocolonia is one of those hilltop villages. Located in Barga, Italy, Sommocolonia was heavily damaged and affected during the Second World War.

With less than 50 inhabitants, Sommocolonia is a lonely village with winding roads. When you visit, you will be met with a commemorative tombstone of John R. Fox, who sacrificed his life in a bid to stop the German Nazis who had overpowered his infantry division in 1944.

What Happened in Sommocolonia?

Imagine being at the war front against an enemy who has outnumbered you both in strength and aggression. You notice that your infantry squad needs time to reorganize themselves before attacking; else, they will all be killed. This situation is what made John R. Fox sacrifice his life for the sake of his fellow soldiers.

On Christmas night, 1944, there was an increase of enemy soldiers in civilian clothes. By morning the following day, the town had been placed under the enemy command. On 26th December, uniformed German soldiers launched several attacks against the Americans, pushing them away and putting the area under the German shell.

Even so, Fox and his fellow observation members remained behind in a building directing his American comrades’ attacks. The German soldiers surrounded the building, and Fox instructed his battalion commander to run the artillery fire in his direction.

Pressing forward in large numbers, the Germans continued to move closer to the building, exactly where Fox wanted them to be. He then ordered his battalion commander to move the artillery fire closer by a few yards, after which he ordered them to fire the barrage in his direction.

This act led to Fox’s death, along with eight Italian soldiers. But the attacker killed over 100 German soldiers, weakening the enemy and ultimately delaying their advances in the area.

Military Awards and Honours

After his burial in Colebrook Cemetery in Whitman, Massachusetts, Fox was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1982.

His wife received the Medal of Honour (MOH) from president Bill Clinton in 1997. The MOH has always been considered the highest military decoration of great courage against all odds.

In Italy, a monument was erected in Sommocolonia in commemoration of Fox and the other eight soldiers killed in the artillery fire attack of 1944. Lastly, a peace park in Sommocolonia was dedicated in memory of John R. Fox.

Other military awards and honors that John R. Fox received:

  • Bronze Star Medal.
  • Combat Infantry Badge.
  • Purple Heart Award.
  • World War II Victory medal.
  • American Defence Service Medal.
  • Hasbro’s 12-inch action figure.

Final Thoughts

Sacrificing your life to save others requires a heart of gold and a winning spirit guided by a positive mentality. These are the virtues that John Robert Fox stood for, thus continuing the military’s highly valued traditions. John R. Fox deserved the Medal of Honor his wife received later in his name and is revered as an American hero.