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By Katie Lange, Department of Defense
By spring of 1945, the end of World War II was imminent. The Allies had pushed into Germany, and that momentum may be what pushed Army 1st Lt. Jack Treadwell to single-handedly clear out six enemy bunkers and take 18 prisoners as his battalion hammered the Siegfried Line, Germany’s last major defensive fortification. His actions inspired his men and earned him the Medal of Honor.
Treadwell was born in Ashland, Alabama, in March 1919, but his family moved to Snyder, Oklahoma, a few years later. He graduated high school in 1937 and went to college for a year before enlisting in the Army in January 1941.
He received a battlefield commission on March 23, 1944, after participating in the amphibious assault on Sicily in July 1943 and Salerno in September 1943 and the Battle of Anzio.
On March 18, 1945, a 25-year-old Treadwell found himself in the 45th Infantry Division commanding F Company near Nieder-Wurzbach, Germany. His unit was pinned down by heavy fire and artillery at the base of a hill along the Siegfried Line, which consisted of interlocking trenches and concrete bunkers known as pillboxes.
After eight soldiers were gunned down trying to attack a single point, Treadwell decided to clear a path for his company — alone.
Armed with a submachine gun and hand grenades, Treadwell pushed forward over the terrain, which offered no cover from the hail of gunfire coming his way. He fired at the tiny opening in the first pillbox and launched grenades at it. When he got close enough, he shoved his muzzle inside, forcing four Germans to surrender. A fifth was found dead inside.
After sending those prisoners back to the American line, Treadwell continued on through an onslaught of gunfire to the next pillbox, where he did the exact same thing — even capturing the commander of that defensive position. That caused confusion and havoc among the ranks of the Germans, who continued to aim machine gun and sniper fire in his direction. But the lieutenant continued his whirlwind of assaults and took four more pillboxes.
Treadwell’s intensity inspired his men, who stormed after him and overwhelmed the rest of the Germans on the hillside. Their successes drove a wedge into the Siegfried Line, making it possible for their battalion to take its objective.
Treadwell faced impossible odds when he chose to charge those pillboxes alone, but he did it anyway. That bravery and selflessness vastly helped the Allied cause, and it earned him the Medal of Honor, which he received — as a newly minted captain — from President Harry Truman on Sept. 14, 1945.
By the end of the war, he had taken part in eight major campaigns with the 45th ID.
He continued his Army career for nearly 30 more years while earning a college degree in between. During Vietnam, Treadwell was the chief of staff of the 23rd Infantry Division and eventually commanded the 11th Infantry Brigade. He retired as a colonel in February 1974.
Treadwell died at age 58 on Dec. 12, 1977, from open-heart surgery complications. He was buried in Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma.