Valor at Normandy: 'I Am a Common Man... None of Us Considered Ourselves Heroes'
John Hawk, an Army sergeant in World War II who was awarded the Medal of Honor for a single-handed exploit that led to the capture of more than 500 German troops in northern France in 1944, died on Monday in Bremerton, Wash. He was 89.
He had been in failing health since a stroke more than a year ago, his daughter, Marilyn Harrelson, said in confirming his death.
Two months after the Allies landed in Normandy in the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, they trapped thousands of retreating Germans near the town of Falaise, some 20 miles south of Caen, in what became known as the Falaise Pocket.
Sergeant Hawk, a 20-year-old squad leader in a 90th Infantry Division rifle company, was dug in with his men at the edge of an apple orchard outside Chambois, near Falaise, when German infantrymen, supported by tanks, staged a dawn attack on Aug. 20.
“My God, the sky was falling down, the earth was blowing up, and if ever there was a hell on earth, this was it,” he told The Boston Globe in 1995. “I thought, honest to God, I won’t survive. My philosophy was, they may get me, but I ain’t gonna make it easy. It was absolute carnage: animals, people, equipment, an incomprehensible slaughterhouse.”
Sergeant Hawk rallied his men to keep the Germans from escaping the Falaise Pocket. His squad’s machine-gun fire sent several German tanks retreating while two American tank destroyers — armored vehicles with big guns designed specifically to wipe out enemy tanks — were called in.
“I am a common man who did the best I could in the time and place I found myself,” he told The Chicago Tribune at a gathering of Medal of Honor recipients in Chicago in 1990.
“I was home on R and R and had been wounded four different times when I got a phone call saying they were considering me for the Medal of Honor. I said, ‘Medal of Honor? For when? For what day? What place? What time? Are you sure you mean me?’ You see, none of us consider ourselves heroes.”
Read the rest of the obituary at NYTimes.com.