10 of the Most Heroic Acts of Self Sacrifice in History

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John Robert Fox

During the Second World War, countless Allied soldiers put their lives on the line for the good of their country. Others simply offered themselves up in order to save comrades. But still, even in this time of true heroism, the story of John Robert Fox stands out. The artillery officer added his names to the history books – and earned himself a posthumous Medal of Honor – for the sacrifice he made one December day in 1944, when he was thousands of miles from home.

Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May 1915. By all accounts, he was a smart, diligent young man and he earned a place at Wilberforce University. Here, he signed up for the Reserve Officer Training Corp, meaning he not only finished college with a graduate degree, but with a rank of Second Lieutenant. When war broke out, then, he took his commission and joined the 92nd Infantry Division, a segregated division for African-American soldiers that fought with distinction throughout the conflict.

With his unit, Fox was sent to the European theater of war. In 1944, he found himself fighting the Nazis in Italy. It was here where, in December of that year, he was tasked to stay behind in the small village of Sommocolonia, in Tuscany. The village had been overrun by Nazis, and Americans were in retreat. Fox found a house to hide in and, from the second floor, he used his radio to contact his colleagues. He called for artillery fire to be directed at the village in order to give the US forces time to retreat, regroup and then launch a counter-attack. Fox even specifically ordered a barrage of fire on his exact position. The gunner who received the message pointed this out to him, assuming it must be some mistake. Fox, however, simply said: “Fire it. There’s more of them than there are us”: famous last words of a true American hero.

Fox’s act of sacrifice was not in vain. As he planned, the artillery barrage did indeed give his comrades the chance to regroup and launch a successful counterattack. When the US army entered Sommocolinia, they found Fox’s body surrounded by the bodies of around 100 Germans. It wasn’t until 1997 that his bravery was truly recognized, however. President Bill Clinton awarded Fox the Medal of Honor, with his widow, Arlene, picking it up. The citation noted it was awarded for Fox’s “gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life”. He was a true American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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