LOCAL MILITARY HEROES
A memorial plaque in the town square lists the names of hundreds of Jeff Davis County men and women who served their county with pride, valor, and honor, in all segments
of the military. Stories of two men follow.
Local VFW Post 7867 is named for Sgt. Manuel Gonzales who served with F Co. 2nd Battalion, 142 Inf. Regiment, 36th Inf. Division. DOD book “Hispanics in America” describes his feats...”Soon after landing in Salerno, Sgt. Gonzales located the position of a German 88mm gun which was placing effective fire on U.S. landing craft struggling for shore. He moved toward the gun but was spotted by the Germans who fired at him with a machine gun. Tracers from the Germans' gun set Gonzales' field pack afire on his back but he continued to advance. When he had gotten close enough, he threw hand grenades at the German gun and crew. The Germans threw their own grenades at Gonzales. Though wounded, Gonzales continued the attack until he had killed the entire crew and had blown up their ammunition. For his courage, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.” (The DSC is the second highest award our nation can bestow.)
His biography also reads that he alone eliminated four machine gun nests and one motor squad at Salerno and at Cassino a Mark IV tank with a bazooka. In addition to the DSC he was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, European Theater Ribbon with Battle Stars, American Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and Victory Medal.
Captain Robert L. Withers, USAAF, graduated from Fort Davis High School as Valedictorian in 1937, from Baylor University in 1941, and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the U.S.Army Air Forces in 1943. He was assigned as the first pilot to the 533rd Bomb Squadron of the 381st Bomb Group then forming at Pyote Field, Texas. In May of that year, he and his crew flew their B-17F to England. In Sept. he was promoted to Captain, and on Oct. 9, he was flying his 15th mission, destination Anklam, Germany. On the return flight a German rocket bomb hit his aircraft, disabling the number three engine, which reduced speed dramatically. Since he was flying the lead aircraft the disabled plane was slowing the entire group. After notifying the deputy group leader, he dropped out of the formation and fell behind.
The return route was over the North Sea. The official report of what happened next is not clear but it appears that the bomber was attacked by German Fw-190 fighters and spiraled in to the sea. Six parachutes were seen but there was no way to rescue the crew even if they were able to leave the plane. It was assumed that B-17F No. 42-30012, with a crew of ten, was gone
with the loss of all hands. Captain Withers was 24.
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If you would like to add your family's military hero to the roster, send picture and story to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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