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Home : News
NEWS | March 24, 2022

134th Infantry’s lone WWII Medal of Honor recipient a ‘One Man Army’

By Staff Sgt. Sherri Maberry, 105th Military History Team, Nebraska Army National Guard

LINCOLN, Neb. – Staff Sgt. Junior James Spurrier was born in Castlewood, Virginia, Dec. 14, 1922, as James Ira Spurrier Jr. to Ira and Ruby Spurrier. When Spurrier enlisted into the Army on Sept. 25, 1940, he filled out the paperwork incorrectly so was known as “Junior” Spurrier throughout his military career. Spurrier had three sisters, Lyla Lee, Edith, and Hope, as well as two brothers, George, who served with the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, and was killed in action in France July 28, 1944, and Joe, who was too young at the time of World War II to enlist.

Staff Sgt. Spurrier volunteered for overseas duty and joined the 134th Infantry in France July 19, 1944, as a replacement for the regiment after St. Lo. 

Spurrier, though, is most known for his award of the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, the two highest and most prestigious awards given out to military personnel, even today. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Sept. 16, 1944, and the Medal of Honor for his actions on Nov. 13, 1944.

The Medal of Honor may be awarded to Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen for distinguished acts of valor. It is the oldest continuously issued combat decoration of the U.S. armed forces.

The Medal of Honor is presented by the president on behalf of, and in the name of, Congress, which is why it is often referred to, erroneously, as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” 

Since 1980, the president has personally decorated nearly all Medal of Honor recipients, or in the case of posthumous awards, the next of kin.

There are two protocols for awarding the medal. The most common is nomination and approval through the chain of command of the service member. The second method is nomination by a member of Congress.

On July 25, 1963, Public Law 88-77 was enacted giving set criteria for awarding the Medal of Honor. It required that the service member had “distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” The service member had to be engaged in action against an enemy of the United States or in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States was not a belligerent party. Although this law took effect after the Medal of Honor was awarded to Spurrier, by those standards, Spurrier still would have received his award.

The morning of Sept. 16, 1944, Spurrier and his unit, Company G, 134th Infantry, were on the offense to take a well-fortified hill south of Lay Saint-Christopher in France. Spurrier climbed onto a tank destroyer and used the attached 50-caliber machine gun to suppress enemy fire and make them retreat to a dugout. Spurrier then jumped out of the tank destroyer, moved to the dugout, threw several hand grenades in and took out the enemy. He jumped back onto the destroyer, continued to a second fortified position and cleaned it up in a similar manner. According to the Distinguished Service Cross citation, he made it to the summit of the hill, kept this precarious position, and managed to take 22 prisoners, earning his reputation as a “one-man Army.”

The citation for Spurrier’s Medal of Honor reads as follows:
“S/Sgt. Junior J. Spurrier, while serving with the Army of the United States, in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 

“At 1400 on 13 November 1944, Company G, 134 Infantry, as part of the 2nd Bn. action, launched an attack against the enemy; its objective being the taking and holding of the village of Achain, France. The attack involved the battalion’s crossing 1500 yards of open ground, 700 yards of which was subjected to direct enemy small arms fire, in addition to concentrations of artillery and mortar fire. 

“On approaching the outskirts of the village, G Company, entered from the East, but S/Sgt. Spurrier, attached to Company HQ, Company G, moving out alone, entered the village from the west. 

“The streets were filled with Germans; S/Sgt. Spurrier moved in and with his M-1 killed 5 of the enemy, causing the others who had been taken by surprise, to withdraw. S/Sgt. Spurrier then, single handedly started to clean out buildings, alternately using his M-1, a BAR, hand grenades, and both American and German bazookas.

“He reduced 1 German strong point by killing 3 of the enemy with his BAR and destroyed the building by setting it on fire, using both American and German bazookas. Out of the enemy strong point, he captured 1 Capt, the Garrison Commander, 1 lieutenant, and 14 men. Turning the prisoners over to his company, he moved forward and reduced another strong point, killing its 2 occupants, while so engaged, he noted that 4 Germans were firing from a building across the way. S/Sgt. Spurrier was out of ammunition, but he saw a German percussion grenade on the street; he picked the grenade up, threw it onto the window where he had noticed the 4 Germans and their firing ceased. 

“Moving from the street, he advanced into a tall building and from its roof proceeded to snipe at enemy in the vicinity. The Co. had now captured and occupied 2/3d’s of the village. At 1630, outposts were set up in the occupied 2/3d’s section and S/Sgt Spurrier was placed in charge of them. Just as it was getting dark, he made his way along the lines for purpose of checking his outposts. While doing so, he heard 4 Germans talking in a barn; this barn contained, in addition to hay, a quantity of oil. S/Sgt. Spurrier crept up to the barn, set the hay and oil on fire, driving the 4 Germans into the open, where they surrendered to him. Turning his prisoners over to Co. personnel he continued on his inspection.

“Approaching 1 of the posts, he noticed a figure crawling up towards the sentry. He challenged the figure and when he failed to receive a reply, he shot and killed it. It turned out to be another German. At 0900 on 14 November 44, the Co., as part of the Bn. action advanced against the enemy occupying the remaining third of the town, successfully routing them. During this advance, S/Sgt. Spurrier rode down the street on a motorcycle, firing at the fleeing Germans with an M-1 rifle. S/Sgt. Spurrier is rightly called a ‘one man Army’; his proficiency and skill with all types of weapons; his agility and almost unbelievable ability to cover great distances in a minimum period of time; his devastating effect on the enemy, resulted in his killing a minimum of 25 Germans in addition to capturing 18 German enlisted men and 2 officers. There is no doubt that this enlisted man played a major part in the capture of the village.”

On June 19, 1945, Spurrier was discharged from the Army. After attempting to play professional baseball, Spurrier re-enlisted into the Army in 1947 but was given a general discharge in 1951 after deserting his post in Korea. Spurrier had difficulty adjusting to civilian life, more than likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He turned to alcohol and had numerous run-ins with the law, resulting in three jail sentences, one for attempted murder. After his last stint in jail, Spurrier became a teetotaler and started a radio/television repair shop. He retired to a cabin in Tennessee, where he died on Feb 25, 1984, at the age of 61.

It was thought that Spurrier’s awards were lost, but they were found in a safe in November 2011. The Medal of Honor and some of his other awards were presented to his two surviving sisters, (Lyla) Lee and Hope.

Spurrier was the only Soldier to receive the Medal of Honor who served in the 134th Infantry Regiment, one of 473 to receive one during World War II, and one of only 3,511 since its inception in 1862.

In 1990, Congress designated March 25 every year as “National Medal of Honor Day.” Today, we honor Staff Sgt. Junior J. Spurrier for his actions that led to his Medal of Honor.