Military and Defense

Medal of Honor Monday: Army 1st Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith Jr.

Of all the men who fought and died on D-Day, Army 1st Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith Jr.’s actions might have been the most crucial toward the Allies gaining a foothold in Europe. Through the chaos that ensued on Omaha Beach, Monteith led his soldiers through minefields and heavy fire, fighting their way up steep bluffs to cut past German defenses until they reached vital inland positions. Monteith didn’t survive the day, but his efforts earned him the Medal of Honor.


Monteith was born July 1, 1917, in rural Low Moor, Virginia, to Caroline and James Monteith Sr. He had two older siblings, Robert and Nancy.  

When Monteith was 9, his family moved to the state capital, Richmond. Growing up, he was an active student who was involved in several clubs, and his 6-foot-2-inch frame made him good at sports like basketball and football.  

After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1937, Monteith attended Virginia Tech University, where his father and brother both went. He studied mechanical engineering and was a member of the Corps of Cadets, where he was known to have a good sense of humor. However, after two years, he decided he didn’t want to pursue college anymore, so he dropped out and went to work at a coal company where his father served as vice president.  

A little more than two years later, in October 1941, Monteith was drafted into the Army. He earned a commission as an infantry officer by June 1942 and was sent to serve at Fort McClellan, Alabama. While there, he learned that his father had died and that his brother had received a commission into the Navy. 

In April 1943, Monteith was shipped overseas to Algeria with the 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Within a few days, though, enemy troops in Africa surrendered, ending the campaign there. A short time later, Monteith’s unit was sent to fight in Sicily, where Monteith received a promotion to first lieutenant.  

By December 1943, the 1st Infantry Division was on its way to England to prepare for the Invasion of Normandy — an effort that would include more than 160,000 Allied forces to become the largest air, land and sea assault ever executed.  

On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — Monteith landed in the initial wave of troops near Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, known as Omaha Beach. But a lot of problems hampered their arrival.  

Omaha Beach was the most heavily defended of the five beaches attacked by Allies that day. Its cliffs and high bluffs were expected to be difficult for troops to traverse, but it turned out to be even worse than expected. Soldiers encountered pillboxes surrounded by barbed wire and were hammered by artillery, machine guns and flamethrowers as they tried to gain a foothold on the beach.  

According to the Medal of Honor Museum, of the 36 amphibious tanks sent to support the 16th Infantry Regiment’s assault, only five made it to the beach. Heavy seas and various underwater obstacles threw off the landings, and many men were killed by the barrage of gunfire before they made it to shore. A lot of the supporting equipment, including tanks, were swamped in waist-deep water.  

Monteith and his fellow soldiers in L Company were on one of the boats that didn’t hit their mark, instead landing 500 yards to the left of its targeted landing zone. However, according to the museum, the company was still one of only eight in that initial wave to remain operational as a unit. And under Monteith’s leadership, they excelled despite the odds.  

As soon as they landed, Monteith disregarded his own safety to move up and down the beach, reorganizing men before leading an assault through heavy fire over a ledge and across exposed terrain before reaching the comparative safety of a cliff. A letter from a soldier in Monteith’s platoon later said that the first lieutenant led them through heavy barbed wire and two minefields to get there.  

As those men regrouped, Monteith retraced his steps across the field to the beach, where he saw two operational Sherman tanks being bombarded by enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Monteith made his way to them and banged on their sides, telling the men inside to follow him. Despite intense fire, he led them on foot through a minefield and into firing positions, where they were able to destroy an enemy pillbox and two machine gun nests.  

From there, Monteith rejoined his company and led them on an assault on a German strongpoint leading off the beach. After heavy fighting, his men captured an important position on a hill.  

According to his Medal of Honor citation, Monteith supervised the defense of the position against repeated counterattacks, and continuing to ignore his own personal safety, he repeatedly crossed several hundred yards of embattled open terrain to strengthen links in his company’s defensive chain and fight off new threats. 

Eventually, enemy troops completely surrounded the unit. While leading the fight out of the situation, Monteith was struck by machine gun bullets and killed.  

Monteith’s intense valor and will to lead in a dire situation helped the Allies find an important pathway to push further into Normandy and seize inland objectives. His Medal of Honor citation said his gallantry and courage were “worthy of emulation.”  

On D-Day, American troops suffered the worst losses of all the Allied troops involved. About 2,400 casualties were reported on Omaha Beach alone — more than the other four beachheads combined.  

According to a collection of records regarding Monteith’s life kept at Virginia Tech’s archives, Monteith was initially slated to get the Distinguished Service Cross. However, when Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — the Allied supreme commander during World War II who led the Normandy invasion — was given Monteith’s recommendation, the honor was adjusted.   

“I must say that the thing looks like a Medal of Honor to me. This man was good,” Eisenhower wrote his chief of staff about Monteith.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Monteith’s mother during a ceremony at her home in Richmond on March 19, 1945. Afterward, his mother hung the medal across a picture of her son on her mantel. Monteith’s brother, who served in the Navy, survived the war and went on to become an electrical engineer.  

Monteith is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery in France, which overlooks Omaha Beach and the English Channel.  

Monteith’s memory lives on. When the war ended, a 15,000-seat amphitheater at Fort McClellan, where Monteith initially served, was renamed in his honor. Barracks for housing at the 16th Infantry Regiment headquarters in Furth, Germany, were also given his name.  

In 1949, Virginia Tech named a new residence hall Monteith Hall. Other places that bear his name include a road at Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning) and an Army Reserve center in Richmond. As recently as 1999, a Kosovo Security Force base taken over by U.S. Marines was named Camp Monteith in his honor. 

Monteith’s Medal of Honor is on display at Virginia Tech’s Corps of Cadets Museum.  

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.

Source: Department of Defense

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Katie Lange

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Katie Lange

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