Trio Earns Medals of Honor Saving Tank Soldiers in WWI
By Katie Lange, Defense Media Activity
This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
It’s been 100 years since the United States fought in World War I, and therefore a century since any of our service members earned the highest medal for valor for their efforts there. While Medal of Honor Monday usually highlights the actions of just one brave soul per blog, today’s honorees are an exception.
From left: Army Sgt. John C. Latham, Sgt. Alan Eggers, Cpl. Thomas O’Shea
Army Sgt. John C. Latham, Sgt. Alan Eggers and Cpl. Thomas O’Shea should be honored together because the actions that earned them their medals were performed together. All three entered service in New Jersey, and they were together when they saved the lives of several men in France in 1918.
Latham was born in Windermere, England, in 1888, but eventually immigrated to the U.S. to join the Army. Eggers grew up in Saranac Lake, New York, before attending Cornell University. He and O’Shea, who grew up in New York City, both joined the Army from the New York National Guard.
The three men were in Machine Gun Company, 107th Infantry Regiment, 27th Division, when they found themselves fighting alongside the Allies in September 1918.
Latham, Eggers and O’Shea were part of the assault on the Hindenburg Line at the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel near Le Catelet, France, when, on Sept. 29, they became separated from their platoon. They took cover where they could, which ended up being in a shell hole within enemy lines.
It was there that they heard a cry for help. Realizing it was coming from a disabled American tank only about 30 yards from them, all three left the safety of their shelter and headed toward the tank, despite the heavy machine-gun fire and trench mortars the Germans rained down on them.
The 23-year-old O’Shea was hit along the way. He died shortly thereafter.
Latham and Eggers made it to the tank, where they were able to rescue a wounded officer and help two other soldiers find cover in a nearby trench. They headed back to the tank, despite the heavy fire, and wrestled the Hotchkiss machine gun off it, taking it back to the trench with the wounded men in it. They were able to use that gun to fend off German attackers for the rest of the day.
An Mle 1914 Hotchkiss machine gun is displayed at the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center. Army photo by David Vergun
When darkness fell, all of the surviving men were able to make it back to Allied lines – with the gun in tow. Their actions played a key role in the eventual success of the attack on the Hindenberg Line.
For their bravery and quick thinking, Latham, Eggers and O’Shea all earned the Medal of Honor and were presented it on Dec. 31, 1919. O’Shea’s family accepted it on his behalf.
It was the only time during the Great War that three medals were given for the same action.
Eggers left the Army after the war and returned to Cornell for law school. He went on to work on Wall Street until 1959.
Latham went on to become a warrant officer in the Army. He died in 1975, at age 87, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside other military heroes – including his dear friend Eggers, who died a few years before him.