In the early morning hours of September 12, 1944, Technical Sergeant Francis J. Clarke and his fellow soldiers of Company K, 109th Infantry Regiment, crossed the Our River into Germany’s vaunted Siegfried Line. During the crossing fog covered the soldier’s assault boats, keeping them out of view from German eyes. But when Company K reached the shore they were met with withering enemy fire, killing Clarke’s platoon leader and platoon sergeant and pinning down his company.  

Francis J. Clarke was born in Whitehall, New York on April 22, 1912. He enlisted into the Army in March of 1942 and was assigned to the 28th Infantry Division’s 109th Infantry Regiment. The 28th Division was a National Guard outfit originally comprised of men from Pennsylvania. It landed in France on July 22, 1944 and fought through the hedgerows of Normandy and towns of Northern France before being given the honor of parading down the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Now the 28th Division would be one of the first Allied units to enter Germany through the seemingly impenetrable fortifications of Hitler’s West Wall.

Francis J. Clarke

Francis J. Clarke

After watching the American attack stall under deadly German machine gun and small arms fire, T/Sgt. Clarke left a relatively safe position to lead his men out of danger. Once his men were safe, he returned to the killing field to rescue a wounded soldier who was left behind.

Later that day, T/Sgt. Clarke led assaults on German positions, knocking out a machine gun nest and killing and wounding enough Germans around his Company’s position to force the enemy to withdraw.

Five days later, on September 17, T/Sgt. Clarke personally took out another German machine gun nest and took command of two K Company platoons during a German counterattack.

Although wounded on September 18, T/Sgt. Clarke was not done fighting. After refusing medical evacuation, he destroyed two more German machine gun positions before volunteering to take food and ammunition to an isolated platoon while under small-arms fire.

Francis J. Clarke

Insignia of the 28th Infantry Division

On September 10, 1945 Technical Sergeant Francis J. Clarke was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for bravery.

After WWII, Francis J. Clarke returned to New York where he farmed and worked in a furniture factory before entering local politics.

He died on October 20, 1981 at the age of 69.

Francis J. Clarke’s Medal of Honor Citation reads:

Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company K, 109th Infantry, 28th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Kalborn, Luxembourg, 12 September 1944; near Sevenig, Germany, 17 September 1944. Entered service at: Salem, N.Y. Birth: Whitehall, N.Y. G.O. No.: 77, 10 September 1945.

Citation: He fought gallantly in Luxembourg and Germany. On 12 September 1944, Company K began fording the Our River near Kalborn, Luxembourg, to take high ground on the opposite bank. Covered by early morning fog, the 3d Platoon, in which T/Sgt. Clark was squad leader, successfully negotiated the crossing; but when the 2d Platoon reached the shore, withering automatic and small-arms fire ripped into it, eliminating the platoon leader and platoon sergeant and pinning down the troops in the open.

Francis J. Clarke

Patrols of the 28th Infantry Division move through the Siegfried Line into Germany

From his comparatively safe position, T/Sgt. Clark crawled alone across a field through a hail of bullets to the stricken troops. He led the platoon to safety and then unhesitatingly returned into the fire-swept area to rescue a wounded soldier, carrying him to the American line while hostile gunners tried to cut him down. Later, he led his squad and men of the 2d Platoon in dangerous sorties against strong enemy positions to weaken them by lightning-like jabs. He assaulted an enemy machinegun with hand grenades, killing 2 Germans. He roamed the front and flanks, dashing toward hostile weapons, killing and wounding an undetermined number of the enemy, scattering German patrols and, eventually, forcing the withdrawal of a full company of Germans heavily armed with automatic weapons.

On 17 September, near Sevenig, Germany, he advanced alone against an enemy machinegun, killed the gunner and forced the assistant to flee. The Germans counterattacked, and heavy casualties were suffered by Company K. Seeing that 2 platoons lacked leadership, T/Sgt. Clark took over their command and moved among the men to give encouragement.

Although wounded on the morning of 18 September, he refused to be evacuated and took up a position in a pillbox when night came. Emerging at daybreak, he killed a German soldier setting up a machinegun not more than 5 yards away. When he located another enemy gun, he moved up unobserved and killed 2 Germans with rifle fire. Later that day he voluntarily braved small-arms fire to take food and water to members of an isolated platoon. T/Sgt. Clark’s actions in assuming command when leadership was desperately needed, in launching attacks and beating off counterattacks, in aiding his stranded comrades, and in fearlessly facing powerful enemy fire, were strikingly heroic examples and put fighting heart into the hard-pressed men of Company K.

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