Medal of Honor Monday: Army Pvt. Donald Lobaugh

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Pvt. Donald Lobaugh

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By Katie Lange, U.S. Department of Defense

A lot of men who earned the Medal of Honor did so knowing they were about to lose their lives, but they pressed on with what they were doing anyway. Army Pvt. Donald Lobaugh was one of them, giving his life for his comrades in the jungles of the South Pacific during World War II.

Lobaugh was born on Feb. 7, 1925, in Freeport, Pennsylvania, and was a bit of a troublemaker growing up. According to reports, he was sent to a reform school at 16 after stealing a car. He fought the schooling tooth and nail, but with the help of the school's superintendent, he turned his life around. He tried to join the Navy shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, but he was quickly discharged because, ironically, he lacked school credits. Two months later, in May 1942, he successfully joined the Army.

When Lobaugh was fully trained, he was sent to the Pacific. By July 1944, he found himself in the jungles of western New Guinea with the 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division, trying to push out Japanese forces that had a grip on the island and were threatening to invade south toward Australia, an Allied partner. 

On July 21, 1944, Lobaugh's company was trying to pull out of an area called Afua when they were attacked. His platoon of about 40 men was cut off from the rest, so they were forced to regroup and defend their position throughout the night.

By the next day, the enemy had begun to close in. Lobaugh's platoon was about ready to escape through the only route available when the Japanese pinned them, laying a machine gun and other weapons along the route to block them.

Lobaugh knew the key to the platoon’s escape was knocking out that machine gun, so he volunteered to try to destroy it — despite knowing he would have to work his way through about 30 yards of open field totally exposed.

The private crawled halfway across that open space, then stood up and threw a grenade when he got close enough. He was immediately wounded by enemy fire, but he kept going, firing his gun as he rushed forward. The Japanese were forced to focus all their fire on him. 

"Lobaugh was hit and wounded several times, but he kept on blasting at those Japanese," said 1st Lt. Leonard Lowry, who was with the platoon that day. "He made it so darned hot for them that they got the hell out."

"His action forced the other Japanese to withdraw the gun, and as they attempted this, the rest of our unit went ahead and broke through," explained Lobaugh's platoon leader, Army Lt. John Kerlizyn, in a newspaper interview. "At least 10 more enemy were killed and others wounded, and the platoon did not lose a man — except Lobaugh."

"What guts that kid had," Lowry said.

Lobaugh died where he fell, but his heroism and selflessness inspired his fellow soldiers and earned the 20-year-old soldier the Medal of Honor. It was presented to his mother in Pittsburgh on May 9, 1945.

Lobaugh was initially buried overseas, but his body was repatriated and reinterred in 1949 at Rimersburg Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Over the many decades, his sacrifice has been remembered. A bridge across the Allegheny River near his hometown was named in his honor in 1965. In 2004, he was inducted into the Hall of Valor at the Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial in Pittsburgh.

Lobaugh's Medal of Honor was donated by his family and is currently on display at the Freeport Library in his hometown.

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