It is a common theme among Medal of Honor recipients that they had no idea they were earning one in the midst of their gallant actions. They simply set out to do their duty as they saw fit, and, before they knew it, they had the nation’s highest military honor around their neck.
When 1st Lieutenant Cecil Bolton found his men pinned down by excessive machine gun and mortar fire, he simply did what he perceived was his duty as a leader. Setting on with his task, he was oblivious to the fact that, by the time he returned, he had committed one of the most remarkable gallant acts of leadership in the war.
When his men were taking heavy fire in the dark of night, Bolton attempted to call in fire until he was wounded in the legs and knocked unconscious by a German artillery shell.
When he awoke, he did so with an anger and determination to eliminate the threat. Wading through ice-cold water with a two-man volunteer team, he alone then charged the machine gun and killed both Germans. On his way back, they took out an enemy sniper, and when he noticed an 88-mm artillery gun firing on his men, he decided to eliminate them too.
Wounded again on the way back and unable to walk, Bolton ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to cause their deaths. With his men heading to safety, he began his long, slow crawl to friendly lines. When he arrived, he passed out and woke up as the newest recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Ready to Lead
Cecil Bolton was born in 1908 in Crawfordville, Florida. Despite coming of age for military service in the 1920s, Bolton forwent military service as he sought to make a living like any American wading through the Depression. However, when his nation came under attack, despite being well into his 30s, Bolton didn’t hesitate to answer the call. In July of 1942, Bolton joined the United States Army with little idea he would emerge from the war as a national hero.
Perhaps due to a natural maturity for his age, Bolton quickly established himself as a capable leader amongst a sea of 18-year-old recruits. By November of 1944, Bolton found himself a 1st Lieutenant with E Company, 413th Infantry Regiment of the 104th Infantry Division. As the Allies were pushing closer to Germany, the 413th was in Netherlands near the Mark River. The Germans were continuing to put up a stiff resistance, and on the evening of November 2nd, Bolton and the men of E Company learned that first-hand.
Stubborn Resistance Meets Stubborn Determination
Cecil Bolton had just led his men across the Mark River in the Netherlands in the dark of night when two German machine guns located their position. The enemy fire was remarkably accurate and began to take their toll on the men of E Company. Making matters worse, the area in which they were pinned down began to be rocked by accurate and pre-set artillery fire. Bolton did his best to call in for fire upon the enemy machine guns preventing his advance, but the darkness of the night concealed their position and only the flashes of the muzzles were visible to guide them.
While attempting to get a fix on the enemy, a German shell landed nearby knocking Bolton to the ground. His legs were severely wounded, and when he woke up, he had to crawl to the forward positions. Somehow able to regain the strength to walk, Bolton had a stubborn determination to give violence back to the enemy. He organized a two-man bazooka team that was taken on a volunteer basis given the risk of action. He then proceeded to wade through freezing waters to reach the enemy undetected.
With the two-man team providing cover fire, Bolton then charged the enemy emplacement alone. With hand grenades thrown with accurate precision, he quickly dispatched the first machine gun alone. He then led the other two men on a blistering assault of the 2nd. An enemy sniper attempted to prevent their advance but quickly found out that this was a group that would not be stopped. With the sniper now KIA, Bolton killed the first gunner with the carbine while the other two men killed the rest.
A Little More Gallantry Required
Having accomplished enough, it would had have been understandable for the gallant men to return to friendly lines. However, when they noticed an 88-mm gun wreaking havoc on their friends, they didn’t hesitate to act. Once again, they waded through the icy canal to line up a shot with the bazooka. With just the silhouette of the gun to guide them, Bolton directed a perfect shot and took out the gun.
On their return, Bolton was again the recipient of enemy fire that struck him in the legs. Now unable to walk at all, Bolton refused to allow himself to be the cause of his men’s deaths. He ordered them to return without him over their objections, and they reluctantly left him. Bolton, as it turns out, decided he wasn’t quite ready to die. Alone and under fire, he crawled his way back to friendly lines. Upon reaching relative safety, he finally collapsed.
Remarkably, Bolton survived his wounds. For his actions that day under intense fire and at great risk to himself, Cecil Bolton received the nation’s highest military honor. While German fire ended his combat experience in World War Two, Bolton proved that he still had a little fight left in him. He went on to serve one more time in the Army, this time reaching the rank of Colonel.
He eventually passed away at the young age of 56 and is now buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Military history will forever record the fact that while the Germans took out his legs, they simply couldn’t keep Cecil Bolton down.