Once Called a One-Man Army.
Now Honored with the Highest Decoration of the US Military
"You're a one man army," said a beachhead General to Pfc Alton W. Knappenberger, 20, Spring Mount, Pennsylvania, shown here cleaning his fondest possession, an automatic rifle. With it, he neutralized approximately 40 enemy combatants. Along with two soldiers (killed in this action) 'Knapp' (now single-handedly) fired 600 rounds of ammo returned for more- then stopped more Germans, including an officer and 7 men who ordered him to surrender during the Battle of Cisterna in Italy. Pfc Knappenberger served in the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
Private First Class Knappenberger's official Medal of Honor Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action involving actual conflict with the enemy, on February 1, 1944, near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy. When a heavy German counterattack was launched against his battalion, Pfc. Knappenberger crawled to an exposed knoll and went into position with his automatic rifle. An enemy machinegun 85 yards away opened fire, and bullets struck within 6 inches of him. Rising to a kneeling position, Pfc. Knappenberger opened fire on the hostile crew, knocked out the gun, killed 2 members of the crew, and wounded the third. While he fired at this hostile position, 2 Germans crawled to a point within 20 yards of the knoll and threw potato-masher grenades at him, but Pfc. Knappenberger killed them both with 1 burst from his automatic rifle. Later, a second machinegun opened fire upon his exposed position from a distance of 100 yards, and this weapon also was silenced by his well-aimed shots. Shortly thereafter, an enemy 20mm. antiaircraft gun directed fire at him, and again Pfc. Knappenberger returned fire to wound 1 member of the hostile crew. Under tank and artillery shellfire, with shells bursting within 15 yards of him, he held his precarious position and fired at all enemy infantrymen armed with machine pistols and machine-guns which he could locate. When his ammunition supply became exhausted, he crawled 15 yards forward through steady machinegun fire, removed rifle clips from the belt of a casualty, returned to his position and resumed firing to repel an assaulting German platoon armed with automatic weapons. Finally, his ammunition supply being completely exhausted, he rejoined his company. Pfc. Knappenberger's intrepid action disrupted the enemy attack for over 2 hours.
Knappenberger was then promoted to Staff Sergeant. His Medal of Honor Ceremony was held on May 26, 1944.
Alton returned to Pennsylvania after the war. He owned a potato farm and later changed careers; working for a blacktop pavement company. Knappenberger was also an avid hunter. Alton passed on June 9, 2008 at the age of 84. Lest We Forget.
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