The Grey Beard Biker loves sharing stories about members of our Armed Forces. He considers all who have served to be heroes. Today’s Profile of Courage tells the story of Private First Class (Pfc.), Joe E. Mann. Mann was killed in action during World War II and is one of only two 101st Airborne Division soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor during that terrible conflict.
Your lovable Grey Beard Biker reads a great deal of military history. Living in Clarksville, Tennessee – home of the 101st Airborne Division – he has read a great deal about this unit. Having just finished reading Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose (for probably the 10th time), Grey Beard remains amazed that only two 101st Airborne Division paratroopers were awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Europe during WW II. This being the division which heaped glory upon itself behind the lines during D-Day, in Operation Market Garden and at Bastogne (Battle of the Bulge) – makes it that much more surprising this unit had only two Medal of Honor recipients in its ranks.
Joe E. Mann – Profile of Courage
Joe E. Mann, Private First Class (Pfc.)
Unit: Company H, 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne Division
Hometown: Reardan, Washington
Date of Birth: 8 July 1922
Date of Death: 19 September 1944
Place of Death: Best, the Netherlands
Final Resting Place: Spokane, Washington
Early Life and Military Service
Joe E. Mann was born in Reardan, Washington on July 22, 1922, to John and Anna Mann. Mann would grow up on a farm with eight siblings. Shortly after graduating from Reardan High School, he would enlist in the U.S. Army at Seattle, Washington, in August 1942. After basic training at Fort Lewis, he would be assigned to Company G, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division. Like most of the 101st Airborne Division, he would receive his jump wings after training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. Prior to embarking for England, to prepare for Operation Overlord, Mann would be reassigned to Company H, 502nd PIR. While he would miss his first combat jump at Normandy, due to back issues, he would be reassigned to his unit in time to participate in Operation Market Garden, parachuting behind German lines in the Netherlands. The 502nd (5 O-deuce) PIR would fight on the southern flank at Best – just north of Eindhoven. It was here that Mann would wrap himself in glory, giving his last full measure, for his teammates, his regiment, his division and the United States Army.
Joe E. Mann – Medal of Honor Citation
He distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. On 18 September 1944, in the vicinity of Best, Holland, his platoon, attempting to seize a bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal, was surrounded and isolated by an enemy force greatly superior in personnel and firepower. Acting as lead scout, Pfc. Mann boldly crept to within rocket-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, destroyed an 88-mm. gun and ammunition dump. Completely disregarding the danger involved, he remained in his exposed position, and, with his M 1 rifle, killed the enemy one by one until he was wounded 4 times. Taken to a covered position, he insisted on returning to a forward position to stand guard during the night. On the following morning the enemy launched a concerted attack and advanced to within a few yards of the position, throwing hand grenades as they approached. One of these landed within a few feet of Pfc. Mann. Unable to raise his arms, which were bandaged to his body, he yelled “grenade” and threw his body over the grenade, and as it exploded, died. His outstanding gallantry above and beyond the call of duty and his magnificent conduct were an everlasting inspiration to comrades for whom he gave his life.
Besides earning the Medal of Honor, Private First Class Mann earned many other honors:
- Bronze Star with “V” device
- Purple Heart (5 times – 4 with bronze oak leaves)
- Army Good Conduct Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- Europe-Africa ME Medal (with bronze arrow and star)
- WW II Victory Medal
- French Croix de Guerre medal (with bronze star)
Legacy and Memorial
After the war, a memorial would be placed at the site of Mann’s mortal wounding, between Best and Son, the Netherlands. In addition to the the statue, an open air theater there was named in his honor. It is still in use today. The plaque on his memorial reads:
The American paratrooper Joe Mann was involved with the capture of the bridge over the Wilhelminakanaal. He saved the lives of his comrades, by intercepting a grenade with his back. For this act he posthumously received the highest American military distinction: the Medal of Honor.
The Grey Beard Biker salutes PFC Mann! Your unselfish service to your brothers-in-arms, your company, your battalion, your regiment, your division and your country knew no bounds. May you forever rest in peace, knowing a loving country still remembers what you did for our freedom – and the freedom from Nazi tyranny for the people of Europe!