Master Sergeant Homer L. Wise, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fell into a crowded foxhole and roared, “Don’t give me any crap about signed orders! Just gimme an M-1 and a batch of anti-tank grenades so I can get us to hell outa this mess!”
Wise was a ragged scarecrow in bullet-stitched uniform, drenched in the blood of his comrades. The captain, who happened to be sharing the shallow pit at the moment, took these matters into consideration when he handed over the rifle and the grenades.
The scene was set on the 14th of June, 1944, near Magliano, Italy, when American forces were ramming inland from a bloody beachhead against fanatical Nazi resistance.
Early in the day they were pinned down by savage small-arms fire and forced to dig in. From a comparatively safe cover, Sergeant Wise looked out and saw a comrade writhing on the ground some yards in advance, blood pouring from his wounds. The place where he lay was fully exposed to concentrated German fire, but Wise leaped out of his hole and ran to the wounded man. At the same moment a medic came crawling from the side. “Can he be moved?” Wise asked the corpsman.
At the medic’s nod, the two men caught up the wounded man and ran back to cover through a hail of death. How any of the three escaped being hit is one of the miracles of the Italian campaign.
Sergeant Wise was out in front as the advance surged forward. Suddenly he saw a Nazi officer and two men with automatic weapons pouring in a withering fire from a position on the right flank.
“I’ll get them,” he yelled. He ran toward the three Germans, holding his fire.
All three were shooting desperately at him when at last he opened fire. The three Germans fell in a heap.
But Wise was in trouble. He could find no more ammo. Ahead, a Nazi machinegun nest was blazing a trail of death across the advancing front. The tracers of the machinegun winked across the rising ground. Wise ran up the slope. A startled German raised his head and died with an M-1 slug just under his helmet. A second tried to pull the dean man off the gun barrel. He died instead.
Then Wise was where he wanted to be, on a rise that gave him a clear look into the gun pit. His M-1 roared and the rest of the German gun crew died in their tracks.
Suddenly, from the ridge ahead came flanking fire cutting in from both sides. Wise saw an abandoned American tank, one tread shattered by shellfire. Its guns were silent, its turrent gaping open.
“Cover me,” he yelled to men around him.
Running furiously, he scrambled up the back of the shell-marked tank and threw himself over the rim of the open turret. The dead body of the gunner was just below, jamming the narrow turret. One hand still clutched the butt of a hopelessly jammed machine gun. Sergeant Wise saw the twisted shell case causing the jam and grabbed it. Lying on the turret’s lip, fully exposed to a concentration of enemy fire, he freed the feed belt. Then, still exposing most of his body, he swung the machinegun around and opened a murderous hail of .50-caliber death onto the ridge.
In the words of the citation that presented Master Sergeant Homer L. Wise with this nations’ highest honor for valor above and beyond the call of duty, “he used the machinegun so effectively that the enemy fire from the adjacent ridge was materially reduced, thus permitting his battalion to occupy its objective.”