Lieutenant Jack L. Knight entered the military during World War II as a National Guard officer but was assigned to the Special Operations Mars Task Force in the China-Burma theater. In February 1945, during heavy fighting on a strategic hill near Loi-Kang, on the Burma Road, Knight would fall. His valor was such that he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Knight was the only Army Special Operations soldier and the only soldier in the China Burma Theater to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Knight was born Garner, Texas, on May 29, 1917. He graduated from Garner High School, and in 1938 from Weatherford Junior College, in Weatherford, Texas. In October 1940, Jack and his two brothers, Curtis and Lloyd, enlisted in the 124th Cavalry at Mineral Wells, Texas. The 124th Cavalry Regiment (Texas National Guard) was mobilized for active duty on November 18, 1940. It was the last horse-mounted regiment in the U.S. Army.
In late August 1944, the regiment was shipped to Bombay, India. There, the regiment was augmented by the 613th Field Artillery Battalion and became part of the Mars Task Force. The Mars Task Force was officially designated as the 5332d Brigade (Provisional). The unit was a long-range special operations unit similar to the then-disbanded Merrill’s Marauders.
The Mars TF consisted of three regiments. One regiment was staffed with the survivors of Merrill’s Marauders, who had been reorganized, brought up to strength with replacements from the United States, and redesignated as the 475th Infantry Regiment. The second regiment was the elite U.S.-trained and equipped 1st Chinese Regiment (Separate). The 124th Cavalry Regiment was the third regiment in the TF, now fighting as dismounted infantry.
The Mars TF was deployed into the mountains of northern Burma in mid-December, 1944. Its mission was to clear northern Burma of the Japanese and open the Burma Road for truck traffic to China.
To do so, Mars troops, much like the Marauders, were forced to move more than 200 miles by marching over mountainous jungles, steep trails, swift streams, and more. The unit was forced to rely completely on air-dropped supplies to keep going.
According to ARSOF’s History page, on February 2, 1945, Knight and his men moved 1,500 yards through the Hosi Valley jungle, then up a 250-foot slope towards their objective. They encountered only two Japanese soldiers in their advance; Knight killed both with his weapon.
After achieving their objective, Knight’s troops dug in. Knight went out to recon the reverse slope and found three Japanese pillboxes. He moved on them and took them all out, one by one, using hand grenades.
After bringing up his men, Knight realized that his Troop was right in the center of a nest of pillboxes that were arranged in a horseshoe formation. Knight took out a fourth pillbox with a grenade and then finished off the survivors with his weapon.
An enemy soldier then launched a grenade at Knight. The blast hit him in the face. But Knight went back to retrieve more ammunition while bleeding. Another Japanese soldier leaped to his feet and tried to bayonet Knight, but he was cut down by American fire.
His Troop came under concentrated and accurate fire from the remaining pillboxes and was suffering mounting casualties. Knight, once again, moved forward and using grenades took out a fifth Japanese pillbox. He was wounded a second time by a Japanese grenade when he saw his brother, 1SG Curtis Knight, go down with a serious bullet wound.
After ordering his men to evacuate his brother, he crawled toward a sixth enemy pillbox when he was killed by Japanese fire. His men rallied and knocked out the remaining pillboxes. His brother, Curtis, survived.
His posthumous Medal of Honor was presented on June 25, 1945, to his father, Roy, at Camp Wolters, Texas.
Jack Knight’s body was returned from Burma and buried at the Holders Chapel Cemetery in Cool, Texas.
In 1999, Jack Knight was awarded the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. The medal was given to his sister who forwarded it to Curtis.