Alton Warren “Knappie” Knappenberger MOH

b. 31/12/1923 Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. d. 09/06/2008 Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 01/02/1944 near Cistorna di Littoria, Italy.

Alton W Knappenberger MOH

Alton Warren Knappenberger, known as “Knappie,” was born Dec. 31, 1923, in Coopersburg, Pa. His father was a moonshiner during Prohibition and died of a heart attack when his son was 5. As a child, Knappenberger supported the family by doing odd jobs at farms around the area. He was working on a pig farm when he was drafted in 1943. The Army private first class landed at Anzio, on Italy’s west coast, in January 1944 as part of the effort to dislodge the Germans from Rome.

Knappenberger single-handedly disrupted a German attack Feb. 1, 1944, near Cisterna di Littoria, a market town with a medieval castle about 30 miles from enemy-held Rome. Armed with a Browning Automatic Rifle, Knappenberger was credited with killing 60 German soldiers over a two-hour span that day. An American general called him a “one-man army.”

He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor, for his skill with the rifle, but he dismissed the publicity that came with the decoration as “the worst darn ordeal” of the war. He was presented with his Medal on June 8, 1944 in Rome, Italy by General Mark W. Clark. After the standoff, he was treated at an Army hospital for his only wound: a blister on one foot. He was sent back to his mother, who asked, “What are you doing home?”

Altogether, he spent 11 days in combat and spoke with distaste of efforts by the military to place him in cushy jobs, such as recreation room attendant at a military base near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He went absent without leave and was arrested by state troopers but was later released after they discovered his identity. “The war is over, so there is no longer any reason for my staying in,” he told a reporter at the time.

He owned a potato farm for a while but settled into a long career laying blacktop for paving companies. He retired in the late 1970s on the advice of his heart specialist, who cited the blacktop fumes and Knappenberger’s three-pack-a-day cigarette habit.

His first marriage, in 1944 to his 16-year-old childhood sweetheart Ruth Eickhoff, ended in divorce. His second wife, Mary Knappenberger, died of cancer in 1970, and twin daughters from that marriage died as young girls. Another daughter from that marriage died the year before Alton passed away.

Knappenberger was survived by his third wife, Hazel Hamlin Knappenberger, three children from his second marriage and three stepchildren.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action involving actual conflict with the enemy, on 1 February 1944 near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy. When a heavy German counterattack was launched against his battalion, Pfc. Knappenberger crawled to an exposed knoll and went into position with his automatic rifle. An enemy machine gun 85 yards away opened fire, and bullets struck within six inches of him. Raising to a kneeling position, Pfc. Knappenberger opened fire on the hostile crew, knocked out the gun, killed two members of the crew, and wounded the third. While he fired at this hostile position, two Germans crawled to a point within 20 yards of the knoll and threw potato-masher grenades at him, but Pfc. Knappenberger killed them both with one burst from his automatic rifle. Later, a second machine gun opened fire upon his exposed position from a distance of 100 yards, and this weapon was also silenced by his well-aimed shots. Shortly thereafter, an enemy 20-mm antiaircraft gun directed fire at him, and again Pfc. Knappenberger returned fire to wound one member of the hostile crew. Under tank and artillery shellfire, with shells bursting within 15 yards of him, he held his precarious position and fired at all enemy infantrymen armed with machine pistols and machine guns which he could locate. When his ammunition supply became exhausted, he crawled 15 yards forward through steady machine-gun fire, removed rifle clips from the belt of a casualty, returned to his position, and resumed firing to repel an assaulting German platoon armed with automatic weapons. Finally, his ammunition supply being completely exhausted, he rejoined his company. Pfc. Knappenberger’s intrepid action disrupted the enemy attack for over two hours.



SECTION 59, SITE 3193.