Thursday, January 30, 2014

TFH 1/30 Part 1: Staff Sergeant Jesse R. Drowley, USA

Jesse Ray Drowley was born on September 9, 1919 in St. Charles, Michigan. His family moved often as he was growing up, and he was living in Spokane, Washington when he enlisted or was drafted into the United States Army (extensive searches don't turn up his enlistment record!).

Drowley was assigned as an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 132nd Infantry Regiment as part of the Americal Division. The Americal was unique in World War II as it carried a name and not a numerical designation. The division got its name from "American, New Caledonia", the South Pacific island on which the unit was provisionally formed for defense in May 1942. While officially known later as the 23rd Infantry Division, the Americal name stuck.

The Americal, with then Staff Sergeant Jesse Drowley in its ranks, arrived on Bougainville as part of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns on Christmas Day 1943 to relieve the 3rd Marine Division who had been fighting there since November 1, 1943.

On January 30, 1944, Drowley was a rifle squad leader and assigned a defensive role within his platoon and company as a neighboring company launched an attack against Japanese defensive positions. While maintaining their defensive positions, Drowley witnessed three of his fellow soldiers from the other unit fall wounded while continuing intense enemy fire prevented their rescue.

Staff Sergeant Drowley disregarded his own safety and headed into the field of fire to rescue the wounded. He carried two of them to safety, and then identified an enemy strongpoint that was inflicting grievous casualties on our troops. Drowley climbed aboard a tank and directed its crew to a position where they could destroy the enemy bunker. Twice wounded, he refused care until the enemy positions had been destroyed.

When he finally returned for care, his platoon leader threatened him with reprimand or court martial for leaving his post. Instead, when the full story of why he left his defensive position was learned, Jesse Drowley received our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

Photo from Military Times' Hall of Valor

Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Americal Infantry Division
Place and date: Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 30 January 1944
Entered service at: Spokane, Wash.
G.O. No.: 73, 6 September 1944

Citation: For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy at Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 30 January 1944. S/Sgt. Drowley, a squad leader in a platoon whose mission during an attack was to remain under cover while holding the perimeter defense and acting as a reserve for assaulting echelon, saw 3 members of the assault company fall badly wounded. When intense hostile fire prevented aid from reaching the casualties, he fearlessly rushed forward to carry the wounded to cover. After rescuing 2 men, S/Sgt. Drowley discovered an enemy pillbox undetected by assaulting tanks that was inflicting heavy casualties upon the attacking force and was a chief obstacle to the success of the advance. Delegating the rescue of the third man to an assistant, he ran across open terrain to 1 of the tanks. Signaling to the crew, he climbed to the turret, exchanged his weapon for a submachine gun and voluntarily rode the deck of the tank directing it toward the pillbox by tracer fire. The tank, under constant heavy enemy fire, continued to within 20 feet of the pillbox where S/Sgt. Drowley received a severe bullet wound in the chest. Refusing to return for medical treatment, he remained on the tank and continued to direct its progress until the enemy box was definitely located by the crew. At this point he again was wounded by small arms fire, losing his left eye and falling to the ground. He remained alongside the tank until the pillbox had been completely demolished and another directly behind the first destroyed. S/Sgt. Drowley, his voluntary mission successfully accomplished, returned alone for medical treatment.

Later that same day, half a world away in Italy, fellow soldier Lloyd Hawks also joined the ranks of our greatest heroes for saving his fallen comrades.

Jesse Drowley survived his wounds and the war. By all accounts he lived a humble, unassuming life and sought not fame or fortune for his wartime heroics. It was just last year that St. Charles, Michigan realized one of their native sons was a Medal of Honor recipient and recognized him with memorial activities on Patriots' Day, September 11.

Jessy Ray Drowley passed away at age 76 in Spokane, Washington on May 20, 1996. He was laid to rest in the Fairmount Memorial Park. Neither the 132nd Infantry Regiment or the Americal/23rd Infantry Division are active units today.

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