MoH Recipient’s Last Stand During WWI Helped Break German Spirits

By Katie Lange, Department of Defense

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

This fall marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, a major World War I battle that helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. Army Cpl. James Heriot was part of it, and his actions earned him a Medal of Honor.

Army Cpl. James Heriot

Heriot grew up in Providence, South Carolina, at the turn of the century. After high school, he went to Clemson University to study agriculture, then returned home to work on the family farm. Heriot also joined the South Carolina Army National Guard.

When the U.S. entered World War I in June 1917, Heriot was brought up to active duty. About a year later, he found himself stationed in France, assigned to the American Expeditionary Force’s 118th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division.

The 30th ID played a major role in the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, one of two key battles that took place during the war’s 100 Day Offensive. The 30th ID and the U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division joined British and Australian troops in a fight to gain a crossing point over the canal, which was part of the heavily defended Hindenburg Line, where Germany had begun its offensive earlier that year.

Heriot’s 118th Infantry Regiment was tasked with leading the charge to break the Hindenburg Line beginning in late September 1918. They were quite often on the front lines of battle, and that’s where Heriot found himself on Oct. 12, 1918.

That day, Heriot and four other soldiers decided to organize a combat group to attack an enemy machinegun nest that had been hitting his company hard. But as they approached, heavy fire came at them from all sides. Two of the four men were killed, so the remaining two had to find shelter.

Heriot didn’t want to stay put, though. Despite the gunfire flying all around, he put his bayonet on his gun and charged the enemy machine gun nest, running about 30 yards through fire to get there. He was able to get the gunners there to surrender.

Heriot suffered several wounds to his arms from the charge, but he continued fighting. Later that day, he charged another machine gun nest – a move that killed him.

The Battle of St. Quentin Canal achieved all its objectives, including the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line, and in a war where battlefield progress was often measured in yards, the fact that the 30th Division penetrated more than 10 miles of territory did the right amount of psychological damage.

The Allies’ success in that campaign convinced the German high command that there was little hope for a victory in its favor. Less than a month later, on Nov. 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice, ending the war.

Heriot was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1919. His mother accepted it on his behalf. Five other South Carolina Army National Guard soldiers who were part of the 118th Infantry Regiment were awarded the medal, too – the most of any regiment in the American Expeditionary Forces.

May we never forget their sacrifices!

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MoH Recipient’s Last Stand During WWI Helped Break German Spirits