Medal of Honor: Melvin E. Biddle
Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
MELVIN E. BIDDLE
Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company B, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment
After parachuting into southern France two months after D-Day, Melvin Biddle fought with the 517th Infantry Regiment as it made its way toward Germany. Enemy resistance appeared to be collapsing, and members of the 517th had begun practicing the victory parades they expected to be having back home, when on December 16, 1944, the German Army suddenly launched the counterattack that initiated the Battle of the Bulge.
On the morning of December 23, Pvt. First Class Biddle’s battalion was near the Belgian town of Soy, trying to rescue a company made up primarily of cooks and clerks that had been encircled by the German advance. Things got off to a very bad start. The two lead scouts of the battalion were injured and taken out of action when one of them stepped on a mine. The commanding officer then pointed at Biddle and barked, “You! Out front!” Crawling through the snowy underbrush of a densely wooded area, Biddle ran into a German outpost. He killed three snipers who appeared one after the other, then moved forward until he saw an enemy machine-gun nest, which he took out with hand grenades. Signaling his company to advance, he destroyed two more German machine-gun positions.
After he returned to his position, his commanding officer instructed Biddle to go back behind enemy lines to try to take a prisoner. As he was moving through a field, he heard a large number of German soldiers approaching and hid in a drainage ditch until they had passed by. Then -— it seemed almost a dream -— he saw a lone German officer all dressed up in a hat with a shiny bill, a greatcoat, and polished jackboots, looking as if he was about to attend an official review. Biddle stood and pointed his rifle at the man in hopes of capturing him, but the officer pulled out a Luger, fired a wild volley, and ran off.
Biddle continued to scout enemy positions, then returned to his unit and hunkered down for the night, so cold that he feared that his finger would freeze on the trigger of his rifle. Sometime after midnight, he heard a roar above him and saw flashes of light as an American P-38 night fighter shot down a Junkers bomber. The following morning, Christmas Eve, he found the dead pilot and copilot of the downed German plane frozen in their cockpit.
Shortly afterward, he heard the command again: “Biddle, out front!” When he had advanced several hundred yards into enemy territory, he saw 13 German soldiers running hunched over across a field right in front of him. He opened fire and killed them all. Then moving forward, he saw a boy, perhaps 14 years old, in a German uniform. He had been tied to a tree to keep him from retreating, and there were hand grenades and a rifle at his feet. Another GI who had come up behind Biddle yelled at him to shoot; instead, Biddle took the boy prisoner.
A week later, in the middle of another battle, Biddle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel, which narrowly missed his jugular. He was sent to England to recuperate. Several weeks later, on a train headed back to his outfit, he read in Stars and Stripes that he would be receiving the Medal of Honor.
On October 12, 1945, when President Harry Truman presented the medal to Biddle, he whispered to him, “People don’t believe me when I tell them that I’d rather have one of these than be president.”
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