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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.

Pfc. Joe E. Mann

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.

U.S. Army – Medal of Honor

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

Joe E. Mann Memorial
Best, the Netherlands

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!

Grey Beard Biker

Your lovable Grey Beard Biker loves military history. You know this, because you are in the know. To the Grey Beard it doesn’t matter if a soldier was given any specific award, they are still a hero because they signed their name in blood on a contract with the United States government – a contract which is due-and-payable, if necessary, with their life. But those brave souls who have been awarded the Medal of Honor have a very special place in my heart. You see, less than 3,500 soldiers have been given this award since its inception during the Civil War. Until World War II, the vast majority of MoH recipients received their award while still alive. Since WW II, greater than 60% received the medal posthumously.

The basis for receiving our country’s highest military award is stringent, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation:

Awarded by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, to a member of the armed forces who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:”

  • while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
  • while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • while serving with friendly forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Grey Beard Biker’s Medal of Honor Profile:

Gunnery Sergeant, John Basilone, United States Marine Corps

Gunnery Sergeant, John Basilone, USMC

John Basilone
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
Date of Birth: November 4, 1916
Died: February 19, 1945, Iwo Jima, Japan
Age at Death: 28
Final Resting Place: Arlington National Cemetery

John Basilone was the sixth of ten children born to Salvator and Colle Basilone (nee Sannita). Although he was born in Buffalo, Basilone moved to Raritan, New Jersey as a toddler. Before joining the armed forces, Basilone worked as a golf caddy at a local country club.

In 1934 Basilone entered the United States Army, completing his enlistment in the Philippines after a three year stint. He may have been best known at that time as a champion caliber boxer. Leaving the military, he returned to the U.S. and a short career as a truck driver in Maryland.

In 1940, Basilone enlisted in the Marine Corps at Baltimore, Maryland. After training at Marine Corps Base Quantico, he would be assigned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba until the United States declared war on Japan, after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Assigned to Dog “D” Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, Sergeant Basilone’s first duty assignment would be to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, South Pacific. It would be here that young Basilone would display undaunted courage, through his actions, at the Battle of Henderson Field, earning him the Medal of Honor.

Official Medal of Honor Citation:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machineguns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only two men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

1943 would mark a homecoming for Basilone. He would be brought home to tour the United States on a War Bonds Tour – essentially urging civilians to purchase war bonds to fund the ongoing hostilities around the world. Feeling uncomfortable in the limelight, he would request to return to action, twice, before being approved to return to the Pacific Theater.

On 19 February 1945, assigned to “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, Basilone would storm the beaches of Iwo Jima, Japan, fighting his way inland to Airfield Number 1. Assisting a Marine tank, which was stuck in an enemy minefield, Basilone was killed by enemy mortar shrapnel. His gallant actions greatly assisted the Marines in expanding their beachhead at Iwo Jimo on that D-Day. His actions at Iwo Jimo would lead him to receive the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps’ second highest decoration for valor, posthumously.

Gunnery Sergeant, John Basilone, thank you for your courage, intrepidity and valor in the Pacific Theater during World War II. You remain, to this day, an inspiration to so many.

Semper Fi, Marine!
Grey Beard Biker

Note: John Basilone was portrayed in the HBO’s miniseries, The Pacific, by Jon Seda. While not as inspiring as Band of Brothers, this program is still highly recommend by The Grey Beard Biker.

Medal of Honor, United States Navy