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.
Having massive amounts of artillery land all around you must be terrifying, but for Army 2nd Lt. Lee Hartell, it didn’t keep him from doing his job in Korea. He lost his life, but his actions saved a lot of others, and they earned him the Medal of Honor.
Hartell was born in Philadelphia on Aug. 23, 1923, and raised in Danbury, Connecticut. He joined the Connecticut Army National Guard in 1940 and went active-duty during World War II, serving in the South Pacific. He was discharged after the war but rejoined the Guard as a second lieutenant pretty quickly, returning to active duty in 1948. A few years later, he found himself deployed to Korea.
Early on the morning of Aug. 27, 1951, Hartell was serving as the forward observer of Battery A of the Army’s 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, when his unit was attacked by enemy soldiers near Kobangsan-ni in South Korea.
The unit was on a rugged, mountainous ridge, so when the attack began, Hartell quickly moved the radio he used to call for artillery fire to an exposed vantage point on the ridgeline so he could get his soldiers to return fire in the appropriate direction.
Hartell decided they would do better if the area was lit up to see the enemy approaching, so he called for his soldiers to use flares. He then directed artillery fire into the enemy soldiers running toward them.
The enemy continued forward, however; a huge force of them charged up the slope, getting within 10 yards of Hartell’s position on the ridgeline. He was seriously injured during the fight but still managed to get back to his radio to direct fire, which helped protect parts of his company.
The enemy troops dispersed and fell back, but not for long. They outnumbered U.S. troops and eventually overran a nearby outpost, closing in on Hartell’s position. Instead of running, Hartell stayed where he was and called for artillery fire on his radio one last time, urging his soldiers to fire both batteries continuously until the enemy backed down.
Hartell died during the ensuing firefight, but by giving his life, his unit was able to maintain its strategic strongpoint.
For giving his life, Hartell was awarded the Medal of Honor the following February.
The memory of Hartell’s heroic actions hasn’t faded, either. A ceremonial 75 mm M1Ai Pack Howitzer gun belonging to the 2nd Infantry Division was named in his honor in 2013. The Connecticut National Guard also named its installation in Windsor Locks after him.
Thank you, Lieutenant Hartell, for your devotion and sacrifice.
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