It’s a common theme among Medal of Honor recipients that they have no idea they’re earning one in the middle of their gallant actions. When 1st Lt. 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’d have committed one of the most remarkable gallant acts of leadership in the Second World War.
Cecil Bolton was born to lead
Cecil Bolton was born in 1908 in Crawfordville, Florida. Despite coming of age for military service in the 1920s, he forwent it, as he sought to make a living like any American wading through the Great Depression.
When the nation came under attack, despite being well into his 30s, Bolton didn’t hesitate to answer the call. In July 1942, he joined the US Army with little idea he would emerge from the conflict as a national hero.
Perhaps due to his age, Bolton quickly established himself as a capable leader among a sea of 18-year-old recruits. By November 1944, he found himself a first lieutenant with E Company, 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division. As the Allies were pushing closer to Germany, the 413th was in Netherlands, near the Mark River. The Germans continued to put up stiff resistance, and on the evening of November 2, Bolton and the men of E Company learned that firsthand.
Stubborn resistance meets stubborn determination
Cecil Bolton had just led his men across the Mark, in the dark of night, when two German machine guns located their position. The enemy fire was remarkably accurate and began to take its 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, but the darkness concealed their position and only the flashes of the muzzles were visible. While attempting to get a fix on the enemy, a German shell landed nearby, knocking him 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 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. He then led the other two men on a blistering assault. An enemy sniper attempted to prevent their advance, but quickly found this was a group that wouldn’t be stopped.
Taking out the sniper, Bolton killed the first gunner with the carbine, while the other two took out the rest.
A little more gallantry was required on Cecil Bolton’s part
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 artillery gun wreaking havoc on their comrades, 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, Cecil Bolton directed a perfect shot and took out the gun.
On their return, Bolton was, again, the recipient of enemy fire that struck his legs. Now unable to walk at all, he refused to allow himself to be the cause of his men’s deaths. Over their objections, he ordered them to return without him and they reluctantly left him behind.
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, he survived his wounds. For his actions that day, he received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.
While German fire ended his combat experience in World War II, Bolton proved he still had a little fight left in him. He went on to serve once more, this time reaching the rank of colonel. He eventually passed away at the young age of 56, and is buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. Military history will forever record the fact that, while the Germans took out his legs, they simply couldn’t keep Cecil Bolton down.