We have a guest blogger for this post. HSMC volunteer Eleanor Jones researched and wrote about a Medal of Honor recipient from Spring Mount, Montgomery County. Thank you Eleanor!
The One-Man Army - Alton Warren Knappenberger
by Eleanor Jones
What do you think of when someone mentions military achievement? In serving and protecting, The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor against enemy forces. The receivers have filled newspaper articles, remembrance anniversaries, and walls of lists. However, the personal undertaking can still be lost on many.
Alton W. Knappenberger is one such individual to receive the Medal of Honor. In World War II, Knappenberger was stationed in Europe in early 1944, during the Anzio Campaign. Born on December 31, 1923 in Coopersburg, PA, at the age of twenty, he was recognized by his familial dispatches to be, "chiefly responsible for preventing serious losses to his outfit in a battle in which every officer and non-commissioned man in his company became a casualty." One man's influence in tragedy cannot be ignored even in our modern times.
Copy of a Newspaper Article in the Family Files at HSMC
In Cisterna di Latina, a town 30 miles from Nazi-Occupied Rome, Knappenberg's unit was moving from Italy's beaches to an open field. With bodies on either side of him being shot down, he felt unattended and exposed. Assuming none of his superiors were left to give commands, Knappenberger was left to act on his own will against the enemy ahead of him. He ran forward in a zig-zag for up to forty yards as bullets shot passed him. He avoided grenades and shot down Germans. He stood his ground for several hours finding security behind a knoll, laying flat or occasionally kneeling. Six survivors remained and joined Knappenberger on the knoll. The remaining company's commander ordered them to return to their regiment, unaware there was no regiment to return to. Sixty Nazis were found dead after the Unites States troops took the ground. The 20-year old private did not have a scratch on him. Knappenberger's Medal of Honor Action date was February 1, 1944. When he was presented with the medal he was called, "a blasted one-man army," by General Mark Clark.
Alton W. Knappenberger, Photo from Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Knappenberger reminisced about the shift in response to his medal. He said, "Everybody wanted to talk to me about the medal. Now very few people know I have it." Locally, the medal lost its significance once the threat itself diminished. His life carried on when he returned home in August of 1944. He quickly married his first wife Ruth. Eventually he married his second wife, Mary. He had six children. Alton Knappenberger died on June 9, 2008 in Pottstown, PA. In World War II, 464 people were awarded the Medal of Honor. While he is proud of his service to earn the medal, he admits, "I was scared all the time I was over there. I just did what I had to do. You go in there and just try to get them guys before they get you." Alton Knappenberger's service in one day saved countless lives. The horrors of war and the strength of veterans must remain remembered and not be overlooked.
Stories of Sacrifice. “Alton W Knappenberger: World War II: U.S. Army: Medal of Honor Recipient.” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 2022. https://www.cmohs.org/recipients/alton-w-knappenberger.
Venditta, David. “A Reluctant Hero.” The Morning Call, 30 Jan. 2019. https://www.mcall.com/news/all-altonknappenbergerhero-story.html.
Last, First. “Salford Medal of Honor Man Modest About his Exploits.” The Times Herald, July 26, 1962.