On December 26, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, Private James Hendrix was instrumental in allowing American troops to break through to the besieged American garrison in Bastogne, disabling a tank and two field guns and forcing the surrender of 13 German troops. He received the Medal of Honor on August 23, 1945.
Growing up in the small city of Lepanto, Arkansas, as the eldest of 14 children born to a sharecropper, James Richard Hendrix may have thought little of the possibilities of traveling the world, or having his name etched on the stones of Lepanto, or entering history as a man of “superb courage and heroism.”
Scroll down for video
After his third grade, Hendrix left elementary school at West Side to help his family farm his father’s rented fields. During this period, he actively hunted animals for food, a pursuit which would naturally polish his marksmanship skills.
In 1943, after being drafted into the military, he was sent to Florida for the Initial Entry Training (IET) where he was physically and mentally prepared for service.
By then, he was 18 years old, and his journey to Florida marked the first time he had ever traveled far outside his hometown.
By the end of his IET, he was assigned to the 4th Armored Division where he served with Company C, a subset of the 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion.
The 4th Armored Division was on the sidelines, waiting aboard ship in the English Channel as the invasion of Normandy occurred on June 6, 1944.
Five days after D-Day, the 4th Armored Division landed on the Cotentin Peninsula at Utah Beach. There, they joined up with General George Patton’s Third Army as the leading element on the drive to Belgium through France.
Following the success of the invasion, there were towering expectations that Germany would fall to the seemingly overwhelming power of the Allied forces and that the country would capitulate by Christmas.
However, the Germans had not run out of motivation, and the overconfidence of the Allies would cost them dearly.
The Wehrmacht achieved a surprise counteroffensive just as the sun was rising on the 16th of December 1944. Following this unanticipated attack, the Battle of the Bulge began.
This intensely hostile exchange would become the last major offensive of the German forces. But this incident, spanning a period of 40 days, incurred many heroic acts enabling the Allied forces to withstand the maelstrom.
It was during this time that 19-year-old Private Hendrix ensured his place as a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
On the 26th of December, 1944, Hendrix’s unit led the assault force towards Bastogne in an attempt to break through the German lines there.
As they approached Assenois, just a few miles to the south of their destination, they were suddenly ambushed and their advance was halted.
In the midst of the fighting, Hendrix sighted two German 88mm artillery gun positions and two enemy soldiers peeking from a foxhole. The 88mm gun was one of the most renowned weapons of the Second World War.
Upon seeing this, Hendrix jumped off his half-track and advanced towards the enemy, shooting them with rifle fire. His attack forced them to take cover and ultimately surrender. Hendrix took charge of the 88mm guns and 13 German soldiers were captured.
Later that night, Hendrix found himself braving German fire again when two comrades got injured. He successfully shut down a pair of German machine guns for long enough for his comrades to be moved to safety.
Later during the same attack, another soldier was wounded and alone in a burning vehicle. But Hendrix raced through blasting mines, roaring machine guns, and sniper fire to come to his rescue. Hendrix pulled him to safety and extinguished his burning clothes.
Despite being only 19 years old, Private James Robert Hendrix showed true heroism and dedication to his comrades. On August 23, 1945, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.
Hendrix remained in the army when the Second World War ended and would later serve as a paratrooper during the Korean War. He served briefly in the Vietnam War before retiring from military service in 1966 as a master sergeant.
Before the Korean War, he was involved in an accident while training as a paratrooper in Fort Benning, Georgia. His main parachute failed to activate 1000ft off the ground. When he hit his emergency chute, it got caught up in his main parachute.
He found himself plunging downward, but somehow he came out of it alive by landing in a plowed field and suffering minor injuries. The press termed this incident a miracle fall.
After a truly amazing life, James Robert Hendrix died, at the age of 77, after losing the battle against cancer.