John Hawk: US Army sergeant who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Normandy campaign


John “Bud” Hawk was a US Army sergeant who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Normandy campaign during the Second World War. On 20 August 1944 he was manning a light machine-gun near Chambois, a critical point in the encirclement of Germans that became known as the Falaise Pocket.

Positioned near an apple orchard, Hawk and his machine-gun squad came under an early-morning attack. He fired until the German infantry pulled back, and until enemy shelling destroyed his weapon and struck him in the thigh. Despite his wound, he moved toward a ditch and found a comrade with a bazooka. The two men forced the remaining German tanks to take cover in the woods. Hawk then regrouped two machine-gun squads and led the refashioning of two broken guns into a working one.

The Germans attacked again, and Hawk “was forced to pull back from the pressure of spearheading armor,” according to the Medal of Honor citation. Two US tank destroyers arrived but were unable to see the targets through the orchard trees. Hawk, still suffering from his wound, climbed a hillock. Fully exposed to enemy fire, he made himself a “human aiming stake for the destroyers.” He recalled, “The idea was that if you don’t catch them here you’re going to have to chase them clear to Berlin, and that wasn’t a pleasant prospect.”

Because of the noise, the Americans arming the tank destroyers could not hear Hawk’s instructions. Continuing to expose himself to fire, he hurried back to relay the information then went back to the knoll and went on directing the destroyers until two German tanks were taken out. A third retreated. He continued leading the attack until the Germans emerged from the woods and surrendered.

“Sgt Hawk’s fearless initiative and heroic conduct,” the citation read, “even while suffering from a painful wound, was in large measure responsible for crushing two desperate attempts of the enemy to escape from the Falaise Pocket and for taking more than 500 prisoners.” Hawk refused to be taken to hospital because he did not want to be separated from his men.

He went on to fight at the Battle of the Bulge and received further decorations including Purple Hearts. After the war, he graduated in biology and became a teacher.

John Druse Hawk, soldier and educator: born San Francisco 30 May 1924; married 1958 Natalene Crandall (one daughter, one son, and one son deceased); died Bremerton, Washington 4 November 2013.

© The Washington Post