b. 10/02/1914 Denver, Colorado. d. 08/12/1944 Leyte, Philippines.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 08/12/1944 Leyte, Philippines.
Elmer was born on February 10, 1914, in Denver, Colorado to George Franklin Fryar (age 30) and Martha Mary Mathews (Fryar) (age 24). The family, including Elmer’s older brother Donald and sister Dorothy, later moved to Maple Grove then Edgewater, Colorado. At some point Elmer’s family moved back to Denver where they lived on 3913 Ocola Street.
Elmer attended Prospect Valley and Wheatridge High School, and was a farmer and coal miner prior to entering military service. At age eighteen, the 5′ 6″ Elmer joined the United States Army and served three years (1932-35) before leaving the service then joining the Marines in 1939 at age 25 for four years. Before World War II broke out, the 147-pound Elmer registered for the draft on October 16, 1940 then worked for the Union Pacific Railroad before volunteering for the parachutes in 1942. In January of 1943 he was assigned to Captain Hobart B. Wade’s Company E, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Camp Toccoa, Georgia (the 511th PIR would later become part of the 11th Airborne Division).
After a few months, Elmer and E Company were sent to Fort Benning’s Jump School where he graduated and became a full-fledged paratrooper. Returning to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, the 511th PIR was involved in the historic Knollwood Maneuvers in December of 1943, then traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana for more training and manoeuvres.
On May 2, 1944, the regiment disembarked from Camp Stoneman, California for Dobodura, New Guinea where the 11th Airborne underwent theater training for several months before being committed to combat on the island of Leyte in November of 1944. Their main task was to head into the island’s mountains and destroy Japan’s main supply line while eliminating the enemy’s 16th and 26th Infantry Divisions.
After several weeks of intense combat, on December 7, 1944, 2/511 moved out westward toward Anas to cut the enemy supply trail. 2/511’s LTC Norman Shipley ordered E-511 under CPT Hobart Wade to remain behind for one day to act as battalion rear guard.
As dawn broke on December 8, 1944, a stirring E Company was startled when Japanese soldiers opened up with machine guns near Maloney Hill outside Mahonag. With bullets zipping through the banana trees over their heads, the paratroopers smoothly engaged, only to find that once again the enemy held the high ground.
“There was no call for anyone to do anything but sit in his foxhole and shoot along previously planned lanes of fire,” one of the troopers noted later. Considering it “a normal morning Banzai attack”, when the enemy pressed in, thirty-year-old PVT Elmer E. Fryar (he was the oldest trooper in E Company) called in mortar bombardments and directed machine gun fire to break the first Banzai charge.
When an E Company trooper had his head “creased” by an enemy sniper, the dazed sergeant stood and began staggering towards the enemy line in confusion. PVT Fryar jumped up from his firing position behind a fallen log and rushed out to haul the stumbling sergeant back to safety as Japanese snipers continued to fire on them both.
Elmer also used his own M1 Garand rifle with devastating accuracy during the fierce assault, but when he noticed an enemy platoon of 40-50 trying to flank their position, Fryar quickly moved to the top of a ridge to reposition himself and opened fire, leaving at least 26 enemy dead around him. The survivors of the flanking enemy platoon withdrew, and Fryar’s buddies later noted that evidence indicated they had carried several other dead or wounded away before the official count of Elmer’s actions occurred. As newspapers across the nation later described it, “(Fryar) fired fast and accurately. But he was drawing all the enemy fire on himself. During the fight he was hit in the left arm (above his tattoo) and shoulder, but that didn’t stop Fryar.”
E Co’s bloodied T/5 Neal A. Retherford of Wadsworth, Ohio, was near Fryar when the Japanese first attacked. He said, “I had been wounded by a hand grenade and was bleeding quite badly. Private Fryar was on the extreme right and he yelled and pointed out that the Japs were trying a flanking movement. There were between 40 and 50 of them”. “(Fryar) and his machine gun gave us time to pull out and climb the steep bluff to safety,” noted SGT Wilbur Wilcox of D Company. “I think the whole battalion could have been wiped out.”
T/5 Retherford continued his account:
“Fryar went forward alone to the top of of a ridge and took up his position there to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the company. He opened up with his M1 rifle. There was a lot of firing and soon he came back and found me. He put a tourniquet on my arm and leg while the lead was flying all around us. He said he got plenty of them. He figured about half of them, anyway. He helped me down the trail and we met the lieutenant leading a wounded man.”
The officer was West Point-graduate and regimental transportation officer 1LT Norvin L. “Stinky” Davis of Wells, Nevada and the wounded man was PFC Marvin D. Douglas of Oakville, Tennessee. Douglas later pointed out, “Fryar was wounded, too. I had been nicked by a Japanese .25 caliber bullet and the lieutenant was helping me. As we helped each other down the trail, the Jap jumped up from behind some bushes and aimed his rifle at the lieutenant. The other wounded man and I hit the ground, but Private Fryar moved past us and threw himself in front of the lieutenant.”
1LT Norvin L. Davis noted that when the Japanese soldier rose from the bushes with rifle in hand, “I had no chance to move. But Private Fryar came from behind me and threw himself into the line of fire. There were seven bullet holes in his chest and stomach, but he drew a hand grenade as he fell to the ground and pulled the pin. He threw it and the Japanese was blasted all over the trail.”
It was the twenty-seventh enemy Elmer killed that day. 1LT Davis added, “He died before aid could be brought to him. But as he lay there with a smile on his face, he asked us to write his to his folks and tell them he’d got a mess of Japs before they got him.”
PVT Elmer Fryar’s valiant stand would posthumously earn him the 11th Airborne Division’s first Medal of Honor on May 4, 1945 (at age 30, Elmer was the oldest American paratrooper to earn the medal in World War II). He was later awarded the Silver Star on June 20, 1945, by US Sixth Army’s General Walter Krueger. His Medal of Honor was later presented to Elmer’s parents on May 12, 1945, in Denver, Colorado by MG Willam A. Danielson. Elmer’s father Franklin said that Elmer “always loved adventure and he probably was having the time of his life before he was killed on Leyte.”
For reasons lost to history, PVT Fryar’s remains were recovered from the 511th PIR’s cemetery on Rock Hill outside Mahonag, but Elmer’s body was then “lost in recovery.” He is listed with 36,286 of his comrades on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery on Luzon situated on grounds that his fellow paratroopers later liberated. Today the Fryar Field Drop Zone at Fort Benning is named for the Angel who stood and immoveable made the ultimate sacrifice for his friends, as is the Elmer E. Fryar US Army Reserve Center located in Denver, Colorado. There is also an Elmer-Fryar-Ring in Stadtbergen, Germany.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Pvt. Fryar’s battalion encountered the enemy strongly entrenched in a position supported by mortars and automatic weapons. The battalion attacked, but in spite of repeated efforts was unable to take the position. Pvt. Fryar’s company was ordered to cover the battalion’s withdrawal to a more suitable point from which to attack, but the enemy launched a strong counterattack which threatened to cut off the company. Seeing an enemy platoon moving to outflank his company, he moved to higher ground and opened heavy and accurate fire. He was hit, and wounded, but continuing his attack he drove the enemy back with a loss of 27 killed. While withdrawing to overtake his squad, he found a seriously wounded comrade, helped him to the rear, and soon overtook his platoon leader, who was assisting another wounded. While these 4 were moving to rejoin their platoon, an enemy sniper appeared and aimed his weapon at the platoon leader. Pvt. Fryar instantly sprang forward, received the full burst of automatic fire in his own body and fell mortally wounded. With his remaining strength he threw a hand grenade and killed the sniper.
BURIAL LOCATION: MANILA MEMORIAL TO MISSING, MANILA, PHILIPPINES.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.