Tuesday, June 19, 2018

From B&O Messenger
Medal of Honor Recipient

John Charles Squires was born in Louisville, Kentucky on May 19, 1925. In high school he participated in Army JROTC. He continued his education through his junior year, when he left Louisville Male High School to work for Jeffersonville Bolt & Machine Company. For reasons related to his young age of only seventeen, he left that company and began working as a messenger for the B&O Railroad on April 15, 1943. He worked out of the office of J.E. Hubbard, a freight agent in Louisville. Squires was well liked and respected by his fellow workers.  

John C. Squires worked for the B&O out of the freight office in Louisville, Kentucky. Here is the office and inbound station, ca. 1900-1920.[B&O Railroad Museum Collection, P1.17.119-005]
The B&O Railroad Employee Record for John C. Squires, noting important details about his time with the company including rate of pay, location, and position. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]
On July 24, 1943, Squires enlisted in the Army, following in the footsteps of his father who served in the Army during WWI. John’s brothers, Leroy and Steven, ultimately served in the army during the war as well. He trained as an infantryman at Fort McClellan in Alabama. The last time he went home was on furlough for Christmas that year. On December 29 he left for Fort Meade, Maryland. In January 1944, he embarked for Europe with Company A, 30th Infantry, 3rd Division. Just like in his job with the B&O, Squires served as his platoon’s messenger. 

John C. Squires, ca. 1943-1944.
[Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Collection]
The Third Division was a hardened fighting unit by the time Squires joined them. They had been fighting since 1942, taking part in the invasions of North Africa and Sicily. By wars end, they would have the distinction of being the only U.S. army division to fight the enemy on all European fronts. Along the way, the unit would suffer more than 25,000 casualties. 

When Squires arrived, the division was taking part in “Operation Shingle,” the invasion of Italy. The 30th Infantry Regiment landed with the Third Division at Nettuno, known to the allies as “X-Ray Beach,” a coastal village east of Anzio. Over the next few months, the allies were largely on the defensive, fighting off German counterattacks. Just like in the previous conflict, trench warfare became the way that the two sides faced off against one another. Throughout these counteroffensives, the soldiers of the Third Division held the line. The fighting reached a stalemate from early March until April 23. 

For more than a month, the allies faced off against the Germans making little progress. In a bid to advance their position, the 30th Infantry Regiment, launched two operations nicknamed “Mr. Green” and “Mr. Black.” Squires, serving with the 1st Battalion, moved forward with his platoon on the evening of April 23. His platoon began taking on heavy artillery and mortar fire. Squires turned to his platoon commander, 2nd Lieutenant Randolph Bracey, and said, “Lieutenant, wait here while I go forward and see how the first platoon is making out.” Bracey agreed, as Squires voluntarily crawled out to a forward position fifty yards ahead. 

Medal of Honor Citation:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. At the start of his company’s attack on strongly held enemy positions in and around Spaccasassi Creek, near Padiglione, Italy, on the night of 23-24 April 1944, Pfc. Squires, platoon messenger, participating in his first offensive action, braved intense artillery, mortar, and antitank gun fire in order to investigate the effects of an antitank mine explosion on the leading platoon. Despite shells which burst close to him, Pfc. Squires made his way 50 yards forward to the advance element, noted the situation, reconnoitered a new route of advance and informed his platoon leader of the casualties sustained and the alternate route. Acting without orders, he rounded up stragglers, organized a group of lost men into a squad and led them forward. When the platoon reached Spaccasassi Creek and established an outpost, Pfc. Squires, knowing that almost all of the noncommissioned officers were casualties, placed 8 men in position of his own volition, disregarding enemy machinegun, machine-pistol, and grenade fire which covered the creek draw. When his platoon had been reduced to 14 men, he brought up reinforcements twice. On each trip he went through barbed wire and across an enemy minefield, under intense artillery and mortar fire. Three times in the early morning the outpost was counterattacked. Each time Pfc. Squires ignored withering enemy automatic fire and grenades which struck all around him, and fired hundreds of rounds of rifle, Browning automatic rifle, and captured German Spandau machinegun ammunition at the enemy, inflicting numerous casualties and materially aiding in repulsing the attacks. Following these fights, he moved 50 yards to the south end of the outpost and engaged 21 German soldiers in individual machinegun duels at point-blank range, forcing all 21 enemy to surrender and capturing 13 more Spandau guns. Learning the function of this weapon by questioning a German officer prisoner, he placed the captured guns in position and instructed other members of his platoon in their operation. The next night when the Germans attacked the outpost again he killed 3 and wounded more Germans with captured potato-masher grenades and fire from his Spandau gun. Pfc. Squires was killed in a subsequent action.”

Following the gallant efforts by the 30th Infantry Regiment, the allies continued to probe and push forward over the next month. On May 19, Squires celebrated his nineteenth birthday in a trench with his comrades. The following day he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Just three days later, Squires was killed in action while taking part in the action around the town of Cisterna. 

His parents received notice of their son’s death in the form of a letter written by the regimental chaplain. This notice came with the orders that they were not to publicly disclose any details related to their son’s death. John C. Squires was initially buried in Italy with full military honors. At some later date, Squires was moved from Europe to a grave at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. 

On June 1, Lt. Bracey, Squires commander, was also killed in action. In the time since the “Mr. Black” operation, Bracey had written a formal report on Squires heroics. On October 2, 1944, John Squires was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. On October 7, Major General Charles L. Scott presented the medal to his parents at Fort Knox. Friends and family were in attendance in a somber ceremony that lasted only ten minutes. Scott said of Squires, the first Kentuckian of WWII to receive the medal, “Your son has set an example for this nation…Heroic action like this is what leads to the inevitable defeat of our enemies.”  

In 2001, John Squires was honored once again with the unveiling of the Kentucky Medal of Honor Memorial on the grounds of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville, Kentucky. The memorial features a six-foot statue of Squires as he would have appeared on the night of April 23, 1944. 
For the February 1945 issue of the B&O Employee Magazine, the cover featured this photograph of Mary Squires, John’s younger sister, looking up at a poster of her honored brother. John Squires was the first of two B&O employees to earn the Medal of Honor during WWII. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]

B&O Railroad Employee Magazine, February 1945
[B&O Railroad Museum Collection]
The grave of John C. Squires,
Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, Louisville, KY.
[Find A Grave]

The Kentucky Medal of Honor Memorial in Louisville, KY. The statue is a rendering of Sgt. John C. Squires. [Wikimedia Commons]


By Harrison Van Waes
Curator, B&O Railroad Museum


Hays T. Watkins Research Library & Archives, B&O Railroad Museum

“Louisville Captor of 14 Machine Guns Wins Medal of Honor.” Louisville Courier Journal, October 2, 1944. 

MG. Untitled. March, 29, 2013. Find a Grave.

Morris, Jeff. Untitled. June 11, 2010. Find a Grave.

Quadell. KY Medal of Honor. September 29, 2004. Wikimedia Commons.

“Sgt. Johnnie Squires First B&O Man to Receive Congressional Medal of Honor.” Baltimore & Ohio Employee Magazine, February 1945. 

Third Infantry Division: Medal of Honor Recipients. “Squires, John C.” Accessed May 15, 2018.