Lt. Jimmie “Punk” Monteith was a big, bluff, fun-loving 26-year-old from Low Moor, Va. He had been in the Army since a few months before Pearl Harbor and had seen action in Sicily, where he received a field promotion. On the morning of June 6, 1944, he was in a landing boat with his men of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, destination Normandy.
Company L was slated to land in the Fox Green sector of Omaha Beach in the first wave, but the fog of war pushed the landing boats east beyond the designated landing zone. They wound up on a thin strip of beach at the base of an unscalable cliff face. The only way off the beach was the Cabourg draw, 500 yards west, blocked by a 6-foot embankment. A German strongpoint squatted on a bluff just east of the draw, and the area was laced with barbed wire and studded with pillboxes.
The landing force came under immediate fire. Company commander Capt. John Armellino directed fire from two amphibious tanks that had made it ashore until he fell, seriously wounded. Lt. Monteith took over. “When the troops were pinned down, I saw Lt. Monteith go to the same place where [Capt. Armellino] was struck down,” Sgt. Hugh Martin recalled months later. “He went right through the thick fire to the tanks and got them into action.”
Exposed to enemy fire, Lt. Monteith led the two tanks through a minefield to a firing position, where they silenced the nearest enemy machine guns. He and others clambered over the embankment and - using a Bangalore torpedo - blew a gap through the wire. He then returned to the beach and rallied his men to charge up through the gap and seize the high ground. “He paid no attention to the shells and machine-gun fire when he went to the wire and afterward led us through the minefields,” Sgt. Martin said.
Lt. Monteith deployed his men in a defensive screen along a 200-to-300 yard front. He moved up and down the line, fighting and encouraging his men. German reinforcements were coming on the scene, and the unit was slowly being surrounded. Still Lt. Monteith continued to lead his men, exposing himself to fire, heedless of his personal safety. At some point during the engagement, he was struck down.
Lt. Monteith was nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. His courage impressed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who penned a note to his Chief of Staff, Walter Bedell Smith: “I must say that the thing looks like a Medal of Honor to me. This man was good.”
On March 29, 1945, Lt. Monteith was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, one of just four recipients of the nation’s highest award for actions on that fateful day 65 years ago. He is buried with other men of his regiment not far from where they fell, at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. This man was good indeed.
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