|JOHN C. SQUIRES
Medal of Honor
|MAN AGAINST MAN ….. With MACHINE GUNS!
Article from Battle Cry Magazine by Charles Belser
Bellycrawling over barbed wire and through the minefield, Squires blasted the "Supermen" into whining jellyfish!
Anzio---April, 1944! The long, wide, blood stained mudflats were slowly drying out. But to the American troops stationed there, it was still the nearest thing to hell on earth. True, anyone could see that plenty of action was in the offing. The long winter's quiet was coming to an end in increasing bursts of gunfire. And new men, replacements, together with huge quantities of equipment, were literally pouring into the beachhead.
To the 30th Infantry, 3rd Division, holding the Padiglione sector of the perimeter, there were still other signs. Probing actions against the enemy were on the increase. While these served the dual purpose of both testing the German positions and giving the green men a chance to become accustomed to combat, they were still nasty jobs. Attacks-even small local attacks---mean bloodshed. Men can die just as easily in a small fight as a big one.
On the night of April 23-24, 1944, Able Company received their orders simply and directly. Attack! Move toward Spaccasassi Creek and establish an outpost. Then hold on!
For PFC John C. Squires, a Kentucky boy, this was the first offensive action. He'd had plenty of training, and even some time in the line, but there's a lot of difference between being around trouble and actually going out and hunting for it.
Assigned to the duty of platoon messenger, the first hour or so of the attack was comparatively quiet for him. He stuck fairly close to his platoon leader, ready for any small job that might be given to him.
And after a while, a job was given to him. As the advance elements of the Company ran into the forward German positions, they began to meet increasingly heavy mortar, artillery, and small arms fire. And then they hit the German mine field. They were anti-tank mines but either because of extra-sensitive detonators or the weight of equipment moving over them, a series of devastating explosions rocked the forward squads of the neighboring platoons.
"Hey Squires!" the voice of his platoon leader rang out, "get up there and find out what the hell's holding up the Army!"
The boy turned tersely and crawled off. The Jerries' defensive fire was getting even heavier now. In addition to their other weapons, they were now bombarding the company position with antitank guns! In whining arcs, the deadly shells landed directly in the minefield, setting off huge secondary explosions.
Wriggling, forward inch by inch, Squires negotiated the fifty yards across the open field. Mortar shells were dropping all around him, several bursting within only a few feet of his body. To those watching him, it seemed almost miraculous that he survived!
Arriving at the forward position, Squires discovered complete and utter chaos. The leading platoon bad been cut to pieces. Most of the officers and NCO's were either dead or seriously wounded. Those men who had survived were pinned down tightly in shallow hellholes, unable to move, and even worse, completely without leadership.
It was glaringly obvious that he couldn't expect help from these men. They had all they could do to hold their own. Men fighting for their lives weren't about to start chaperoning a raw, green soldier through his initiation.
But John Squires wasn't a fellow to worry about such things. He'd been given an order, and to his way of looking at things the order was to be carried out. He started crawling again. Then, off to one side, he found a slight rise in the ground. It wasn't much, but it did enable him to take in a slightly larger perspective.
He saw immediately that the rise would offer some measure of protection to a flanking advance. Coming in from that angle, the entire front of Spaccasassi Creek could be brought under direct fire. Not only would it give his platoon a chance to reach the creek, at the same time, it would relieve the pressure on the forward squads who were now taking such terrible punishment.
Getting back to report was as tough as moving forward had been. As soon as he came out into the open, the Germans did everything they could keep him from reaching comparative safety. Mortars and machine guns followed him every yard of the way. But Squires was a man with a mission; he bore a charmed life.
As he reported to his C.O., Squires could see a gleam of hope return to the harried officer's eyes. The platoon leader nodded, looked carefully at the terrain as Johnny pointed out the new route, and quickly made the necessary dispositions to take advantage of the situation. He dismissed the PFC and set about preparing to move up.
Squires, left alone for a few minutes, began itching with impatience. Better than anyone else, he knew how desperate the condition of the men ahead really was. And he understood completely, from first hand observation, the strength of the German defenses. It was going to take everything that Able Company had to finish the job.
He noticed, with surprise, that men from other platoons were drifting back, lost, half-shocked from the terrible effects of the artillery. He waited for someone to take charge of these men, to reorganize them and to give them a chance to find new strength through leadership. But no one seemed to even be aware of them. Every officer and non-com was completely occupied with his own job, far too harassed to take on new responsibilities.
Squires glanced down at his sleeve at the one, pitiful stripe sewn there. It wasn't much. By all standards, it was damn little. Yet, simple logic told him that one stripe is certainly better than none. If no one else was going to do the job, it was up to PFC John Squires.
No one told him to do it. But no one stopped him, either. And Squires discovered almost instantly that the cardinal rule of a good leader is to lead. And he found that the by product of leadership followed naturally the willingness to accept responsibility.
The stragglers, the lost and the bone weary men, were only too happy to pass the buck to the PFC. They made it plain that so long as he was taking the rap for it, they'd come along. That was the important thing to them: Squires, not they, had the responsibility.
Johnny shrugged off the thought of any possible "rap." He could worry about that later on. Right now there was a job to be done, and he wanted to get on with it.
By that time, he had the equivalent of a full squad. Noting that his platoon was starting to move out, Squires quickly placed his men in position. He designated the order of march and other duties and immediately led them ahead, joining up with the crawling, running platoon.
The fire was terrific. Even with the slight cover of the rise, there were many casualties. Man after man was chopped down by the withering fire. But despite the murderous rain of lead and jagged steel, the platoon kept going, slowly, steadily.
Time stopped having any meaning for Able Company. Only the next yard of muddy ground, only the next instant of life, only themselves and their enemies were real. And then, suddenly, the ground dipped away. There, right in front of them, was the dirty, sluggish water of Spaccasassi Creek. One could almost hear a sigh of vast relief surge through the platoon. They'd reached the objective! They were still alive!
But something was missing. John Squires, although rushed with his new sense of leadership, was waiting for someone to take over, to arrange for the defense and organization of the outpost. But there was no one. Lieutenants, sergeants, corporals-all were either dead or badly wounded.
He didn't reflect or discuss the matter. Without hesitation, PFC John Squires assumed command. No one questioned him. For they too recognized the principal that a leader can always be recognized by the man, who leads.
Quickly, he assigned eight men, those in the best condition, in position to give immediate defense. The others were put to work setting up the outpost, clearing it, making it defensible and preparing stocks of weapons and ammunition.
The Germans, of course, had seen the outpost immediately, and were now concentrating every bit of fire they could muster on the creek draw. But though the rest of the men were at least partially covered by hastily dug foxholes, poor comfort since they were at least half filled with water, Squires remained in the open. Helping at every spot, he moved from man to man, encouraging them, filling in at holes in the line, bringing up new ammo and replacing those who were wounded.
He even saw to it that the wounded men within reach were brought in and given some measure of protection.
Mortars and grenades were wreaking havoc in the draw. Man by man, the outpost was gradually losing its strength. Finally, there were only fourteen in fighting condition. Reinforcements had to come up quickly, Squires knew, or they'd be completely wiped out.
The PFC looked around for someone to send, but there was no one to spare. So John Squires went himself. "I'll be back," he grunted, then crawled off.
Once outside the draw, he was in an even more precarious position. Now he could be seen by the enemy. And they, instinctively understanding his mission and the essential necessity of its completion to the outpost, tried everything to stop him. They had plenty of opportunity, for Squires took the most direct route back-straight through the mine field and across a mesh of barbed wire! Machine gun bullets screamed past him by the thousands as he inched through the terrible barrier. Then artillery and mortar fire joined in, plastering the field with explosions, setting off mines in every direction.
Squires ignored it as if it were a field problem in a training area back home! Calmly and deliberately, he kept going.
There weren't too many men to spare back at the main line of resistance, but they gave the PFC what they could, and he led them back to his outpost through the boiling hell of steel.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. The steady attrition continued, and late in the afternoon, Johnny had to make still another trip to the rear for reinforcements.
As night fell, the outpost was still there-barely. Feverishly, Squires set up sentries and rearranged his firepower to cover all eventualities.
Enemy fire continued in deadly barrage, completely zeroed-in on the position.
In the early hours before dawn, the Germans counter attacked three times. Squires was everywhere, his rifle barking out at every target. When the BAR man was hit, he jumped to replace him, pouring out hundreds of rounds at the enemy. Every bit of testimony of the men with him attests to the fact that but for Squires' tireless efforts, the outpost would have been decimated a dozen times over.
It was past dawn when the last of the counter attacks had been repulsed. But then a new threat was posed against the shaky outpost. Under the cover of darkness, the Nazis had moved up twenty-one machine guns, at a point hardly more than a hundred yards south of the battered platoon! The Germans were right in the draw, literally looking down the throats of the Able Company men.
Johnny Squires got mad. After all the blood and sweat of the previous day, he was damned if he'd let the Germans stop him now! He was ready to stop thinking, stop caring, stop feeling--stop waiting. He had to act!
Seizing a machine gun, literally dragging it from its emplacement, Squires crawled off south toward the German position, firing short bursts as he went.
The Germans must have thought he was stark raving mad! One man, one gun against twenty-one. Impossible! One human being daring the force of twenty-one times 500 bullets a minute!
It may have been unbelievable, it may have even been impossible, but John Squires, native of Louisville, Kentucky, was doing it. He crawled through the No Man's Land as if he were Moses crossing the Red Sea. To the incredulous Germans, it was as if he were a wraith. Bullets by the thousands seemed to pass right through him! To his own men, it was a miracle, as if he were strolling through a driving rainstorm without getting wet.
Fifty yards from the outpost line, he stopped and deliberately set his gun in position. Then, huddled over it, he began to sweep the enemy area. The hail of bullets tore and ricocheted through the Nazi position, caroming off gunstocks, lashing into flesh, destroying, wounding and panicking the supermen of the "master race."
For five solid minutes, 300 seconds of eternity, 52,500 enemy rounds were answered by a measly 2500! It was the strangest duel in the entire history of war. One man against twenty-one at point-blank range, hardly over fifty yards apart. Man against men in a duel with blazing machine-guns!
With every passing second, with every fired round, the Germans became more hysterical. How can you fight a man that can't be killed?
Their aim became erratic. Their hands began to shake, and the sweat broke out. Then they couldn't take it any more. In a single gesture of supreme abjection, like one man, the Germans jumped to their feet. Their arms shot straight overhead!
"Kamerad! Kamerad!" they shouted in whimpering surrender.
Keeping the enemy in his sights, Squires waved back to his men. Several dashed over to help him, and the Germans were quickly disarmed. Thirteen of their Spandau machine-guns, plus thousands of rounds of ammunition, were hauled back into the outpost position.
But now the intrepid PFC had a new problem. All the captured equipment was strange to him. Yet it was obvious that the platoon, at least those who had survived, would have to make use of it. They were far too low on their own weapons and ammo.
So Squires began questioning his prisoners. One of them, an officer, was finally forced to explain how the guns functioned. Squires kept right on top of him as he demonstrated, following every move, watching every touch of every gun part.
When he was certain he understood, he called up his men one by one and gave them instruction on the operation of the Spandau. The thirteen weapons were placed in position on the outpost's perimeter.
Squires kept one gun himself, plus a good supply of German potato masher grenades.
All during the day of April 24th, the Germans stayed at a respectable distance, satisfied to keep up their comparatively long-range fire. But that night, they counter attacked again in strong force.
The Americans met the challenge. Possibly the Nazis were surprised at the new strength of the outpost. Certainly they had never expected the amount of machine-gun fire they met!
Once again, Squires was everywhere, smiling, eager, encouraging, showing up where the fighting was the hardest. Using his spandau and his captured grenades, he killed at least three Germans and wounded countless others.
It was the outpost's last ordeal. With morning came relief.
PFC Squires was promoted, naturally. But unhappily, Sgt. Squires did not survive long enough to receive his wellearned reward. He was killed in a subsequent action, and received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Third division had more than its share of heroes in the long march from Africa to Munich. But of all those brave men, of all the great fighters living and dead who gave it its reputation and its pride, none outshine the quiet young man from Kentucky, John Squires. They can't. He was every inch a first-class fighting man.
I am in the process of raising funds to pay for the monument and in finding an ideal location to have the monument placed. I would greatly appreciate any help that the citizens of America can provide in erecting this monument to Sergeant Squires. Please contact me at:
P.O. Box 3164
Frankfort, KY 40603-3164
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