Killed in Action: 7 January 1945
Location: Tillet, Belgium
Hometown: Oswego, NY
Curtis Shoup was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States highest military award. He was the only soldier in the 87th Division to be so honored during World War II.
I knew this man – Curtis Shoup – very well. We lived near one another and graduated together from Oswego, New York High School, our birthdays and ages were only three months apart.
Curtis was a quiet, unassuming person, his boyish looks reflecting his age. He was an excellent student and while he did not participate much in sports, he was strong and graded well in strength tests. Curtis Shoup’s father was a Baptist minister and the son hoped some day to emulate his father.
After our graduation in 1940, our paths split for several years. So it must have been fate that brought us together again in August 1944 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. That month he was assigned to my unit, Company I, 346th Regiment.
We had many memories to share and warmly renewed our acquaintance. Although he hated war, Curtis proved to be a fine soldier. He was trained as a Browning Automatic Rifleman, carrying and firing the weapon both in training and in combat. His proficiency and dedication brought him promotions to staff sergeant and he became an assistant squad leader. Although war was not to his liking, he realized that someday he might have to kill or be killed.
On 7 January 1945 seven days before his 24th birthday, the temperature in Belgium dived to near zero. In fact for five days before 7 January, the temperature and visibility consistently stayed around zero. In this situation, we Americans were at a terrible disadvantage. That’s because the Germans had selected their area of concentration and did not need much additional observation. Day after day, they rained down tank and machine-gun fire from the east-end of the village steadily depleting our forces and keeping us pinned down.
Unable to dig in, the heat of our prone bodies melted the snow, penetrating our clothing and actually freezing us in place. Our weapons operated erratically, while German snipers picked off anybody who raised his head. Under these conditions, our advance was painfully slow, exacting an exorbitant cost in blood.
On the fourth day of being pinned down in the snow and bitter cold, Company I was achieving a small advance when it encountered withering fire from two German machine guns and some mortars. Curtis Shoup was able to spot one of the machine guns but because of the terrain, was unable to draw a bead on it with his BAR.
He tried to run to a more advantageous position but ran into a hail of machine-gun fire. Then, to the amazement of all of us, he stood up straight and fired from the hip at one machine gun. Hit again, he somehow managed to crawl toward the machine gun and drop a grenade, destroying the nest. Although mortally wounded, he was actually attempting to destroy the second machine gun when a sniper took his life.
Those who saw it all will never forget this incredible, unselfish act. Inspired by his sacrifice, our company fought house to house under extremely heavy fire and finally captured Tillet. Our five-day siege had started with ninety enlisted men and five officers. At the end, we had thirty-five enlisted men and one officer, myself.
Why does one person sacrifice his life to save others? That question has preyed on my mind for over half a century. We will never have answers and we certainly will never know how many fatalities would have been caused if Staff Sergeant Curtis Shoup had never risen up and sacrificed his life.
Other courageous Americans played key roles in overcoming the tenacious enemy in this battle. They included but were not limited to 1st Lt. Glen Doman, a fine officer from K Company, who won the Distinguished Service Cross for exceptional bravery in the battle. Lt. Bill O’Donnell, now a Monsignor of the Catholic Church, who jumped on a disabled German tank and directed fire at the enemy, winning the nation’s third highest award, the Silver Star. Erasmus Pistone of the Third Battalion medical detachment, who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for administering first aid under fire.
Curtis Shoup was the only member of the 87th Infantry Division to have received the United State’s highest military award as American troops fought to lift the yoke of Nazi tyranny.
Curtis, I know that God has already blessed you.
S/Sgt. Shoup’s Medal of Honor Citation