Medal of Honor Monday: Army Capt. James Burt

By Katie Lange

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Capt. James Burt
Army Capt. James Burt poses in his Army dress uniform wearing his Medal of Honor.

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- While the Invasion of Normandy was the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime in Europe, the Battle of Aachen further solidified that. Aachen was the first major Germany city to fall to Allied forces during World War II — due in large part to the actions of young Army Capt. James Burt.

Burt was born in Massachusetts in July 1917 and, at 22, he graduated from Norwich University, the nation's oldest private military college and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

The new graduate was commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant and began active duty in 1941, as U.S. concern over World War II was increasing.

Once the U.S. entered the war, Burt took part in major campaigns over the next few years in North Africa, Sicily and at D-Day, but he earned his Medal of Honor during the Battle of Aachen.

In September 1944, the U.S. Army pushed across Germany's Siegfried Line along Germany's western border near Aachen, the country's westernmost city, which borders Belgium and the Netherlands.

President Harry S. Truman places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Army Capt. James Burt.

Army Capt. James Burt Awarded the Medal of Honor
President Harry S. Truman places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Army Capt. James Burt during a White House ceremony, Oct. 12, 1945.

The battle for the city lasted a little more than a month. On Oct. 13, Burt was commanding Company B of the 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division in Wurselen, just north of Aachen. They were part of a coordinated attack to surround the Germans hunkered down inside the city.

On the first day of the mission, U.S. infantrymen were heavily bombarded by gunfire. Burt, who was in a tank about 200 yards behind them, calmly got out, walked in front of the infantrymen through a hail of gunfire, and waved his tanks into good firing positions.

He eventually got back on his tank and directed fire from its rear deck before being wounded. But even then, he didn't run for cover. He stayed in position out in the open until artillery knocked those weapons out, and he was able to move his tanks forward. The next day, Burt left his cover to help a wounded battalion commander 75 yards away.

A street view of buildings in ruins.

After the Battle of Aachen in Germany
After the Battle of Aachen in Germany, the city, which had already been heavily bombed earlier in the war, was 85 percent destroyed.

For the next eight days, through miserable rain and heavy shelling, Burt held the combined forces together, ”dominating and controlling the critical situation through the sheer force of his heroic example,” according to the award citation.

At one point, Burt took his tanks 300 yards into enemy territory, dismounted and then stayed on the ground for an hour to direct artillery fire. He went into enemy territory twice more that day for reconnaissance. Even when two tanks he was in were knocked out by the enemy, he hopped onto a third and pushed onward.

Despite the wounds he suffered, Burt continued to rescue wounded soldiers at great personal risk. He also continued to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.

The Battle of Aachen was bitter, and the conditions were awful. But Burt's courage and leadership served as a rallying point for his soldiers and others.

Two rows of eight soldiers stand at attention on the White House lawn wearing Medals of Honor.

Army Capt. James Burt, center, receives the Medal of Honor at the White House in a ceremony with 14 others, on Oct. 12, 1945, nearly one year to the date of the start of the action at Wurselen, Germany, that closed the Aachen Gap.
Army Capt. James Burt, center, receives the Medal of Honor at the White House in a ceremony with 14 others, on Oct. 12, 1945, nearly one year to the date of the start of the action at Wurselen, Germany, that closed the Aachen Gap.

The capture of Aachen psychologically crushed the Germans and gave U.S. troops hope that the end of the war was in sight.

For his courage under fire, Burt received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman on Oct. 12, 1945, along with several other men.

After the war, Burt returned to civilian life. After a career in the paper industry, he earned a master's degree in education from New Hampshire's Keene State College in 1969 and worked as a mathematics and business instructor at Franklin Pierce College, also in New Hampshire.

He continued to be active with Norwich University throughout his life. In 1990, the university dedicated James M. Burt Drive near the Plumley Armory in his honor.

Burt had four children with his first wife, Edythe, whom he married during the war. He remarried in 1976. He died in February 2006 in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, at the age of 88.

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.


Department of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

The Department of Defense provides the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security. The foundational strength of the Department of Defense is the men and women who volunteer to serve our country and protect our freedoms. Visit www.defense.gov/ to learn more.

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Deplorable Bill
Deplorable Bill
1 year ago

All who served gave some, some gave all. Thankfully and sadly at the same time, most people have no idea about the cost in blood, body parts and lives it takes to give the living a chance for freedom. I don’t know of anyone who would avoid war more than a combat vet but I don’t know anybody who will heed the call to arms faster than a combat vet. It is a good thing to recognize the heroic acts of very brave men. It is a good thing that their lives and deeds are put into print and film… Read more »

Vern
Vern
1 year ago

Those who placed their lives on the line for the defense of this country, are being betrayed by those who have never had to worry about their freedom because of those who were not afraid to stand in front between them and their enemy. Those betrayers are being conned in the worst of ways and won’t have a clue of what they are willing to give up until they have done so. When their freedom is gone, they will have nothing of what they were promised, and that is all they deserve. Those of us who have placed our lives… Read more »

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
1 year ago

The English language lacks adjectives sufficient to explain and extoll this kind of suicidal valor!

tomcat
tomcat
1 year ago

It is amazing that brave men went the extra mile to bring and keep freedom for those in this country that piss on all of it. If they would bring back the draft it would change some of these pisssants but I sure wouldn’t want to be the supervisor of them, or I should say babysitter. Maybe they would get some intelligence that is not available to them at home.

TG
TG
1 year ago

What a courageous hero of the war! Unfortunately these are the types of people that the Democrats are spitting in the face of while trying to rip up the Constitution that these heroes have fought so valiantly for…

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  TG

@TG,the man was a hero for sure ! Patriots will remember him for that exact reason too.