Monday, August 05, 2013

TFH 8/5: PVT James W. Reese, USA

In the closing days of July 1943, the Allied forces on Sicily had pounded the remaining German and Italian enemy defenders back to the mountainous region surrounding Mount Etna and from there, back towards Messina. The Nazis and their fascist Italian cohorts dug themselves in deep. If they had a hope of surviving the Allied onslaught, they would have to make their stand on the high ground.

James William Reese was born in 1920 at Chester, PA. He was drafted into the United States Army in November 1941, right before the United States' entry into World War II. He was part of the 1st Infantry Division's 26th Infantry Regiment, and fought with the division in North Africa before the Sicily Campaign.

On July 31, 1943, the US II Corps (the 1st Infantry Division and the 9th Infantry Division), Lieutenant General Omar Bradley commanding, began their assault on the city of Troina. The city was defended by the German 16th Panzergrenadier Division and the Italian 28th Infantry Division Aosta. Resse's regiment was given the assignment of flanking the city and cutting off the enemy's escape route.

As it happens, it would be the Americans who would get cut off.

The 26th Infantry attacked on August 2, 1943 to cut off the enemy's path of retreat. They had over five full battalions of artillery supporting them with indirect fires. The Germans quickly recognized the threat to their rear areas, and poured on artillery fires of their own. The 116th Panzergrenadier Regiment counter-attacked, and the American infantry's supply lines became entirely threadbare.

By the morning of August 5, 1943 - seventy years ago today - the 26th was dangerously low on supplies, particularly ammunition. Attempts to resupply them by air were ineffectual. One rifle company in the 26th was reduced to just 17 men remaining able to fight.

Private James Reese was, at this point in the battle, the acting squad leader of a 60mm mortar team. Like everyone else on the line, they were low on ammo. As his company faced yet another enemy counterattack, he repositioned his squad to a position where they could best rain hell on the attackers. When the squad was down to their last three shells, he told his men to withdraw to a safer position...while he carried on the fight alone in an action deemed worthy of our nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):


Rank and organization. Private, U.S. Army, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date. At Mt. Vassillio, Sicily, 5 August 1943. Entered service at: Chester, Pa. G.O. No.: 85, 17 December 1943. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life. above and beyond the call of duty in action involving actual conflict with the enemy. When the enemy launched a counterattack which threatened the position of his company, Pvt. Reese, as the acting squad leader of a 60-mm. mortar squad, displaying superior leadership on his own initiative, maneuvered his squad forward to a favorable position, from which, by skillfully directing the fire of his weapon, he caused many casualties in the enemy ranks, and aided materially in repulsing the counterattack. When the enemy fire became so severe as to make his position untenable, he ordered the other members of his squad to withdraw to a safer position, but declined to seek safety for himself. So as to bring more effective fire upon the enemy, Pvt. Reese, without assistance, moved his mortar to a new position and attacked an enemy machinegun nest. He had only 3 rounds of ammunition but secured a direct hit with his last round, completely destroying the nest and killing the occupants. Ammunition being exhausted, he abandoned the mortar, seized a rifle and continued to advance, moving into an exposed position overlooking the enemy. Despite a heavy concentration of machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire, the heaviest experienced by his unit throughout the entire Sicilian campaign, he remained at this position and continued to inflict casualties upon the enemy until he was killed. His bravery, coupled with his gallant and unswerving determination to close with the enemy, regardless of consequences and obstacles which he faced, are a priceless inspiration to our armed forces.

James Reese rests in peace today at the Chester Rural Cemetery in his hometown.

One battalion, the 1st, of the 26th Infantry Regiment is currently active. They are part of the present day 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division. Their home is Fort Knox, Kentucky; 1-3IBCT is scheduled to deploy for combat in Afghanistan later this year.

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