By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity
This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
American Indians and Alaska Natives have greatly contributed to our national defense since the Revolutionary War. Because November is National American Indian Heritage Month, we thought we’d highlight some of the brave Native Americans who earned the Medal of Honor.
Army 1st Lt. Jack Montgomery was one of them. A Cherokee from Oklahoma, Montgomery grew up during the “Roaring ‘20s” and the Great Depression. He made his mark on the world during World War II, when he killed nearly a dozen enemy soldiers and took many more as prisoners in just a few hours – all by himself.
Montgomery was 20 when he joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard in 1937. He was eventually called up to active duty and joined the 180th Regiment, 45th Infantry Division “Thunderbirds.”
Montgomery commanded a rifle platoon in Italy during the months-long Battle of Anzio. In the early-morning hours of Feb. 22, 1944, German troops spread themselves out in three tiers in front of the platoon’s position near Padiglione and attacked with heavy fire.
Montgomery sprang into action, immediately grabbing a rifle and several hand grenades. He headed into the morning darkness toward the first enemy position, which was within 50 yards and was armed with four machine guns, one mortar and 12 men. Montgomery didn’t waver, jumping into a ditch with his weapons. He got within a few yards of the enemy, propped himself up in full view and began shooting and tossing his grenades. His aim was so spectacular that he killed eight enemy soldiers and took the remaining four as prisoners.
Next, Montgomery went back to his platoon and ordered them to fire artillery on a house about 300 yards in the distance, which he suspected was being used as an enemy stronghold. Between his platoon and the house, however, was another enemy line. Montgomery headed back into the fray to clear it, despite heavy rifle and machine gun fire trained largely on him.
Armed with a carbine rifle, Montgomery attacked the line with such fury that seven Germans on that line surrendered, and three were found dead the next morning.
But his mission wasn’t over – the house still loomed in the distance. At this point, the sun had come up, which gave him a better line of sight to get there across the open terrain. But it also gave him away to the enemy.
Regardless, after his platoon’s artillery barrage had lifted, Montgomery ran toward the strongly defended house, despite concerns of sniper fire. Surviving Germans troops began streaming out of the building to run away, so the first lieutenant gathered those willing to surrender and sent them back to the platoon.
In all, Montgomery single-handedly took 32 prisoners, killed 11 enemy fighters and injured countless more.
Later that same evening, as a resurgence in the fighting began, Montgomery was hit by mortar fragments and was seriously injured while helping another unit push back a counterattack. He survived and was able to make it home.
Because of his bravery and selflessness that day, Montgomery inspired his men immensely. For that, he was awarded the Medal of Honor on Jan. 15, 1945.
Montgomery left the service after the war and went on to live a long life. He died in June 2002, about a month before his 85th birthday, and was buried in Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Oklahoma. The Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma, was later named in his honor.
Fun fact: Montgomery went to the same high school as another Medal of Honor recipient, Ernest Childers. They both graduated from Chilocco Indian Agriculture School in Chilocco, Oklahoma. They were two of only five Native Americans to receive the Medal of Honor during the 20th century.
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