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Lightning at Bourheim

Technical Sergeant Joseph A. Farinholt, known as "Lightning Joe" to his buddies, had already earned three Silver Stars in the five and a half months since his unit had landed on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944. A Guardsman from Baltimore, Maryland, Farinholt was acting platoon leader for the anti-tank platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 175th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division when he earned his fourth and final Silver Star in late November, 1944. No known enlisted man in the U.S. Army earned four Silver Stars during the entire war, much less over such a short span of time.

On November 26, 1944 the 175th Infantry was spread thin around the outer perimeter of the town of Bourheim, which it had captured three days earlier. For the sixth time in those three days, a German armored column attempted to recapture the town, a key to their defense of the strategic city of Julich on the Roer River. The enemy attack opened with such an intense artillery barrage that the 29th Division's After Action Report cites as it as "...the worst suffered by the division during the war." Then the German infantry and their supporting tanks pushed forward. Men in the outlying areas fell back toward the town and it looked as though the enemy might finally break through.

Farinholt quickly went into action. One of his three 57 mm antitank gun crews, after firing several rounds at the enemy, all became casualties when a German shell hit a tree near their position. Knowing that the 57 mm gun did not have the penetrating power to pierce a Tiger's armor, Farinholt loaded, aimed and fired at the tread of the lead Tiger tank, disabling it and halting the advance of the column. However, the tank returned fire with armor-piercing machine gun bullets, wounding Farinholt in more than 20 places and shattering the bones in his right leg below the knee . Despite his wounds he managed to drag himself to his jeep and drive to the battalion headquarters to alert them of the strength and direction of the German attack. Weakened by his injuries and unable to control both the clutch and the gas pedal, Farinholt crashed his jeep into the Headquarters building but refused first aid until he gave his report. Because of his actions and those of his platoon, the German advance was stalled for almost an hour and then diverted to another sector, buying time for the 29th Division to move troops and summon air support to successfully defeat the attack.

The Germans never recaptured Bourheim. Farinholt's wounds were so severe that he was returned home and spent nearly two years in the hospital. Though he lived nearly 60 more years, he never fully recovered from his injuries. He is depicted here as he fought the war, with several days' growth of beard, toting his preferred weapon, the M-3 "Grease gun" on his back, and wearing the boots he "liberated" from a dead German soldier in Normandy because they were far more comfortable than the U.S. issue gear.

Farinholt's remarkable bravery was emblematic of the courage displayed by over 300,000 National Guardsmen who were called to active duty during peacetime in 1940 and 1941, more then doubling the size of the U.S. Army before America entered World War II. While some 75,000 Guard enlisted men went on to become officers during the war, those who – like Farinholt – remained in the enlisted ranks served an equally valuable role by providing the solid core of experienced non-commissioned officer leadership that every unit needs to be successful in combat.

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Images of these paintings may also be used for educational purposes with an appropriate permission statement, such as: "[name of painting], a National Guard Heritage Painting by [name of artist], courtesy the National Guard Bureau." The U.S. Government retains all copyrights to these paintings. No commercial use is authorized without prior approval.