John Robert Fox (May 18, 1915 – December 26, 1944) was a United States Army first lieutenant who was killed in action after calling in artillery fire on the enemy during World War II. In 1997, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for valor, for his actions on December 26, 1944, in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy.
Fox and six other Black Americans who served in World War II were awarded the Medal of Honor on January 12, 1997. The Medal of Honor was posthumously presented to Fox by President Bill Clinton on January 13, 1997 during a Medals of Honor ceremony for the seven recipients at the White House in Washington, D.C. The seven recipients are the first and only Black Americans to be awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II
Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 18, 1915, the eldest of three children. He was raised in Wyoming, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University. He transferred to Wilberforce University, participating in ROTC under Captain Aaron R. Fisher, a highly decorated World War I veteran. Fox graduated with a degree in engineering and received a commission as a U.S. Army second lieutenant in 1941.
Fox was 29 years old when he called artillery fire on his own position the day after Christmas in 1944. In 1982, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his heroic actions that day. More than 50 years after his death, Fox’s DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He is buried in Colebrook Cemetery in Whitman, Massachusetts.
The 92nd Infantry Division (colored), known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was a segregated African-American division that fought in World War II. Lt. Fox was a forward observer of the 598th Artillery Battalion, 366th Infantry Regiment of the division when he sacrificed his life to defeat an enemy attack and save the lives of others. On December 26, 1944, Fox was part of a small forward observer party that volunteered to stay behind in the Italian village of Sommocolonia, in the Serchio River Valley. American forces had been forced to withdraw from the village after it had been overrun by the Germans.
From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox directed defensive artillery fire. Wehrmacht soldiers were attacking in strength, greatly outnumbering the handful of Americans. Fox radioed the artillery to bring its fire closer to his position. As the attack continued, he ordered the fire directed onto his own position. The soldier who received the message was stunned, as there was little chance that Fox would survive it. Fox simply replied, “Fire it.” Fox’s sacrifice gained time for the U.S. forces to organize a counterattack and retake the village. He was posthumously awarded the DSC on April 15, 1982 (award recommendation was lost).
Medal of Honor citation
Fox’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
First Lieutenant John R. Fox
United States Army
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: First Lieutenant John R. Fox distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism at the risk of his own life on 26 December 1944 in the Serchio River Valley Sector, in vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy. Lieutenant Fox was a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry, 92nd Infantry Division, acting as a forward observer, while attached to the 598th Field Artillery Battalion. Christmas Day in the Serchio Valley was spent in positions which had been occupied for some weeks. During Christmas night, there was a gradual influx of enemy soldiers in civilian clothes and by early morning the town was largely in enemy hands. An organized attack by uniformed German formations was launched around 0400 hours, 26 December 1944. Reports were received that the area was being heavily shelled by everything the Germans had, and although most of the U.S. infantry forces withdrew from the town, Lieutenant Fox and members of his observation party remained behind on the second floor of a house, directing defensive fires. Lieutenant Fox reported at 0800 hours that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength, He called for artillery fire increasingly close to his own position. He told his battalion commander, “That was just where I wanted it. Bring it 60 yards! His commander protested that there was a heavy barrage in the area and bombardment would be too close. Lieutenant Fox gave his adjustment, requesting that the barrage be fired. The distance was cut in half. The Germans continued to press forward in large numbers, surrounding the position. Lieutenant Fox again called for artillery fire with the commander protesting again stating, “Fox, that will be on you!” The last communication from Lieutenant Fox was. “Fire it! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!” The bodies of Lieutenant Fox and his party were found in the vicinity of his position when his position was taken. This action, by Lieutenant Fox, at the cost of his own life, inflicted heavy casualties, causing deaths of approximately 100 Germans, thereby delaying the advance of the enemy until infantry and artillery units could be reorganized to meet the attack. Lieutenant Fox’s extraordinary valorous actions exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.