From a Rifleman who braved machine gun firing in the No Man’s Land to a solitary scout who took down dozens of enemy troops, meet these five unsung servicemen whose gallantry efforts during World War I deserve more praise.
1. Sgt. William Shemin
Serving as a Rifleman, Shemin was among the men who participated in the Aisne-Marne Offensive in 1918. On three separate occasions, he would leave the safety of his cover and bravely cross an open space of 150 yards to rescue wounded comrades trapped in No Man’s Land while exposing himself to heavy machine guns and rifle fire. He would do this heroic act repeatedly. For his courageous effort, Shemin would receive the second highest valor honor instead of the Medal of Honor because “he was a Jew,” according to Shemin’s daughter Elsie. Shemin died in 1973, and more than four decades later, the Rifleman would finally receive his well-deserved Medal of Honor awarded by President Barrack Obama to Elsie on June 2, 2015.
2. Sgt. William Henry Johnson
Like Shemin, Johnson received his Medal of Honor award a hundred years later. Then-Private, Johnson showed fearlessness in hand-to-hand combat against enemy soldiers on the front lines of the Western Front in France. According to his official citation, Johnson and another soldier were on duty at a forward outpost when at least 12 German soldiers raided them. Shrugging off his critical wounds, Johnson fought tooth-and-nail not just to secure the front but also to save his comrade who was being captured by the enemy, sustaining 21 combat injuries. He couldn’t work after the war due to his injuries; by 1929, he would eventually pass away. Johnson became one of the first Americans to receive the French Croix de Guerre Avec Palme for his valiant action. He was initially denied a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross awards by the U.S. Army but eventually received them posthumously in June 1996 and February 2003, respectively. Alongside Shemin, Johnson received his Medal of Honor on June 2, 2015, which will be added to his tombstone.
3. Sgt. Maj. Daniel Joseph Daly
Daly is one of the nineteen service members who received the Medal of Honor twice, making him a legend among Marines. He first received one as a Private during the 1900 battle of Peking, China, and the second as a Gunnery Sargeant during the 1915 Haitian Campaign. Daly is also known for yelling, “Come on, you sons of b*tches, do you want to live forever?” before launching an attack on the Germans at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. His undeniable courage had given the enemy troops hell as he fearlessly charged at a German machine gun nest, killed their commander, and took all 14 soldiers as prisoners—alone. That same day, he’d brave the notorious No Man’s Land to bring wounded Marines back to safety. These are just some of the stories of Daly’s exemplary gallantry in action. He died in 1937 at age 63.
4. Lt. Col. Charles W. Whittlesey
An esteemed lawyer turned into an uncompromising commander, Whittlesey led the Lost Battalion in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive during the Great War. On October 2, 1918, a failed coordinated offensive trapped Whittlesey and his troops right into the German territories, leaving them with little-to-no supplies for five days. On the fourth day, the Germans sent “a written proposition to surrender, which he (Whittlesey) treated with contempt, although he was at the time out of rations and had suffered a loss of about 50 percent in killed and wounded among his command and was surrounded by the enemy.” Of the initial 554 troops Whittlesey led in the advance, only 194 were able to walk out of the ravine, together with 190 wounded men. The massive loss might have taken a toll on him as later in November 1921, Whittlesey would take out his own life by jumping overboard from a ship bound for Havana Cuba, his remains forever lost in the Atlantic Ocean.
5. Pvt. Marcelino Serna
Serna has been heralded as Texas’ most decorated WWI soldier and the first Hispanic to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest battlefield honor, despite being a Mexican immigrant and noncitizen. His official citation for the Distinguished Service Cross marked Serna for “single-handed charging and capturing 24 Germans” in action near Firey, France, on September 12, 1918. He received several battlefield medals for his courageous efforts during the war, except for the Medal of Honor. Some accounts attested to Serna’s boldness on the battlefield, including a successful solo mission he volunteered after twelve fellow soldiers died in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, France. During that solo mission, he killed six German soldiers while eight others he brought back as prisoners. Unshaken, Serna went on another solitary scouting mission two weeks later, tracking down a sniper in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. In this mission, the private killed around 26 enemy soldiers and captured another 26 as prisoners. Unfortunately, Serna would be hit by a sniper on both legs four days before the war ended. He’d survive his wounds, though, and live a long life until his passing in 1992 at the age 95.
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