Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
Sergeant Harold O. Messerschmidt
October 20, 1923 - September 17, 1944
On Tuesday evening November 10, 2014 the Mahanoy Area Historical Society presented a program in remembrance of an American hero - Sgt. Harold O. Messerschmidt. The speaker for the program was Mahanoy Area High School graduate Michael Messerschmidt. Mike, a teacher in the Parkland School District, is the great nephew of Sgt. Messerschmidt.
In 2011 Mike and his mother, Edith Messerschmidt of Grier City traveded to Raddon, France for a memorial ceremony in honor of the American soldiers who fought to liberate France in the months after the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944. A video of that ceremony produced by the Armed Forces Network was shown and a question and answer period followed. The historical society would like to thank:
Jim Shaup and the members of the Heckman, Isganitis,Messerschmidt American Legion Post 973 from Quakake for their support of the program and for bringing a display case containing replicas of Sgt. Messerschmidt's medals.
Tom Ward for his research on Sgt. Messerschmidt and the informative poster display.
Margaret Symons for the picture of Harold outside the Grier City School house.
Edith and Mike Messerschmidt for Sgt.Messerschmidt's picture in military uniform and for bringing the Medal of Honor.
To view the AFN video from Luxeuil Les Bains, France click the link below.
The following article appeared in the Sun Ships Magazine
Of the 18,302 patriotic young men who left Sun Shipyards to join the armed forces during World War II, one was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, highest military honor the nation can bestow. It was given after he died heroically on the field of battle in Europe.
Former Sgt. Harold O. Messerschmidt, who stands at the top of Sun Ship’s notable list of men who fought and men who died for their Country, was a helper in the Pipe Shop when on May 3, 1943 he joined the Army. A little more than a year later, September 17, 1944, he fell on the field of battle leading his little squad against overpowering odds near Radden, France.
Sgt. Messerschmidt was not yet 21 when he was killed. He had fought in Italy and France. His former associates at Sun Ship recall him as a quiet young chap.
He came here from Barnesville, Pa. and the medal was handed to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Messerschmidt, on August 2, at the Carlisle, Pa. Barracks.
When Messerschmidt entered the Army he was assigned to the 69th Infantry Division, at Camp Shelby, Miss., and was later transferred to the Replacement Depot at Fort Meade, for shipment overseas. He left New York for Casablanca in November, 1943, and was assigned to the 30th Regiment in December. At Anzio, Italy, on May 9, 1944, he was presented the Combat Infantry Badge.
In September 1944, the 30th Infantry Regiment of the Third Division was fighting in the Vosges Mountains. Narrow passages and soft ground ruled out extensive use of armor. A forward platoon of Company L reached a ridge near Radden and began defensive preparation along a low rock wall, expecting enemy action.
At noon on Sept. 17, intensive enemy tank and 20 mm fire swept the ridge. Immediately following a force of nearly 100 Germans counter attacked the position. The brunt of the attack was borne by the right flank of the platoon, with Sgt. Messerschmidt in charge.
“In the face of this heavy, direct fire, Messerschmidt moved fearlessly from man to man along the entire length of the squad front,” says Major Robert B. Pridgen, of Henderson, N.C., commander of Company L. “he encouraged and instructed his men, meanwhile firing his Thompson submachine gun. The Germans charged up the hill under storm of fire. They could be heard shouting insults in English and chanting that they wanted to die for Hitler. They rushed into our fire in an insane frenzy.”
“The Germans were running forward like madmen, paying no attention to their casualties,” reported Sgt. Bob J. Tucker, of Wellston, O., another member of Company L.” With the Krauts practically on top of us and starting to rush in with hand grenades and bayonets, Messerschmidt was hit hard by automatic fire. After he was knocked to the ground, shot in both the shoulder and chest, he got up. Telling the others to hold the line, he opened up with his tommy gun. Although he was badly wounded, he laid burst after burst of fire on everything moving up that hill. I saw Krauts falling all around him. In a matter of seconds, he killed about five and wounded many more.
“Messerschmidt shot his entire 180 rounds. He didn’t have time to get more ammo and reload. I saw him grab his tommy gun by the barrel and crash the stock down on the head of a German was closing in to kill him.
“By now, there wasn’t a man in the squad who wasn’t killed or wounded. The Germans had broken through our position and were all around us, trying to finish off those they hadn’t already killed. Messerschmidt dashed about ten yards through the melee just as a Kraut was about to kill one of our wounded. He clouted the German with his tommy gun.”
Captain Glenn Shuler, of Columbia, S.C., then a Company L platoon leader, repulsed the attack and regained the disputed ground. “As we emerged on the crest,” he reports, “ I saw Messerschmidt chasing a fleeing Kraut down the hill. The sergeant’s body was found with head wounds and powder burns on the face about 200 yards down the slope.”
Sgt. Messerschmidt’s last stand, without ammunition and after he was wounded, enabled his outnumbered squad to hold the ridge position until reinforcements arrived. He was later buried at the Third Division collection point, a half mile north of Pomoy, France.
The official citation for the Medal of Honor says that Sgt. Messerschmidt “displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Braving the fire of machine guns, machine pistols and rifles, he moved fearlessly from man to man along his 40 yard squad front, encouraging each to hold against the overwhelming assault of the fanatical foe surging up the hillside.”
“Ignoring his grave wounds, virtually surrounded by a frenzied foe, and all of his squad now casualties, he elected to fight on alone, using his empty gun against the foe in new attack, and was thus that he made the supreme sacrifice. Sergeant Messerschmidt’s sustained heroism in hand-to-hand combat with superior enemy forces was in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service.