Are you willing to risk your life if it means saving several others? To Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. George D. Libby, it was a no-brainer, and his actions proved just that when he did not hesitate to use himself as a defensive armor to ensure that his wounded comrades would be safely brought to the hospital, even if it meant dying.
A War Veteran
George Dalton Libby was born in Bridgton, Maine, on December 4, 1919. Libby was already a war veteran when he joined the Korean War. When the United States entered World War II, George Libby found himself enlisting, along with the stream of other men wanting to fight for the country. He enlisted in the US Army in Waterbury, Connecticut. He served in the European Theater and stuck until he saw the war’s end.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean forces marched across its southern border to invade South Korea after a series of clashes along the wall and rebellions in South Korea. China and the Soviet Union supported North Korea, while the United Nations, especially the United States, tried to hold the line along with the South Korean forces in what was known as the Korean War.
As for Libby, he was assigned to C Company of the 3rd Engineer Battalion, 24th Infantry Division which was stationed near the city of Taejon, to try to make and stand and buy some time for the other American troops who were to set up a defensive perimeter further to the south.
Offering Himself So Others May Live
Libby’s troops were forced back into the city, where they engaged in an intense fight for three days. They then decided that Sergeant Libby, along with some of the last elements, would be left behind. At that time, the North Korean forces had almost taken over the city and manned all the south exits, which translated to them having to fight their way south.
On July 20, 1950, Libby boarded a truck, ready to leave the city and among the last ones to leave. As they were moving, they ran into a North Korean roadblock set up to ambush the Americans going. What ensued next was an intense exchange of bullets. Libby jumped and took cover in a ditch to engage with the enemy while providing aid to his wounded comrades. When he noticed an M-5 artillery tractor passing, he hailed it so his wounded comrade could come aboard.
Upon noticing this, some North Korean soldiers directed their intense small-arms fire at the tractor driver rendering the vehicle immobile and the wounded helpless. Sgt. Libby realized it, too, and he did not hesitate for a second. As his citation wrote,
…placed himself between the driver and the enemy thereby shielding him while he returned the fire. During this action he received several wounds in the arms and body. Continuing through the town the tractor made frequent stops and Sgt. Libby helped more wounded aboard. Refusing first aid, he continued to shield the driver and return the fire of the enemy when another roadblock was encountered. Sgt. Libby received additional wounds but held his position until he lost consciousness. Sgt. Libby’s sustained, heroic actions enabled his comrades to reach friendly lines. His dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself and uphold the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army.
Did Not Die in Vain
Sadly, Sergeant George Libby succumbed to his wounds and never woke up again, but his gallantry and selflessness did not go unnoticed. On August 2, 1951, the United States Army awarded him the Medal of Honor posthumously. A bridge across the Imjin River in South Korea was also dedicated to him on July 4, 1953. During the Korean War, Libby was among the first two soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor. The other was commander Major General William F. Dean of the 24th Infantry Division, who lost his life in the same encounter.
Sergeant Libby’s sacrifice in Taejon was also not in vain. The US forces managed to set up a defensive perimeter around Pusan that allowed them to push back northward. He also left behind a story that would inspire future generations.