b. 23/11/1919 Dwight, Nebraska. d. 19/12/1993 McDaniels, Kentucky.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 31/08/1950 Agok. Korea.
Ernest Richard Kouma was born on November 23, 1919, in Dwight, Nebraska, to a farming family. He spent much of his early life on the family farm before enlisting in the United States Army in June 1940.
When the United States entered World War II, Kouma was trained as an armor crewman. He was assigned to the 9th Armored Division. The division landed in Normandy late in September 1944 and moved to the front lines on October 23. Its first mission was patrol duty in a quiet sector along the Luxembourg-German frontier. When the Germans launched their winter offensive, the 9th Armored Division was quickly involved in the Battle of the Bulge with next to no experience. The division saw very heavy action at St. Vith, Echternach and Bastogne, its units, unprepared to counter the offensive, fighting in widely separated areas.
The 9th Armored Division made a stand at Bastogne and held off the Germans long enough to enable the 101st Airborne Division to dig in for a defense of the city, resulting in the Battle of Bastogne. After a rest period in January 1945, the 9th Armored Division made preparations for a drive across the Roer River. The offensive was launched on February 28, and the unit smashed across the Roer to Rheinbach, sending patrols into Remagen. The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen was found intact, and was seized by elements of the 9th Armored minutes before demolition charges were set to explode on March 7, 1945. The division exploited the bridgehead, moving south and east across the Lahn River toward Limburg, where thousands of Allied prisoners were liberated. The division drove on to Frankfurt and then turned to assist in the closing of the Ruhr Pocket. In April, it continued east, encircled Leipzig and secured a line along the Mulde River. The division was shifting south to Czechoslovakia when the war in Europe ended on V-E Day in May 1945.
Following the end of the war, Kouma decided to stay in the Army. He was moved to South Korea for occupation duties before being moved to Japan for the post-war occupation of that country. Eventually, Kouma was assigned as a tank commander in A Company, 72nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. By this time, he had a home in Penobscot County, Maine, when he was not at Fort Lewis.
In August 1950, Kouma, who was then a sergeant first class, sailed for Korea along with much of the 2nd Infantry Division. It arrived there in late August and was moved into the line at the Pusan Perimeter, where American troops were holding a tight defensive line around the port city of Pusan.
Following the actions on August 31, 1950 near to Agok, Korea, he returned to duty three days later. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to master sergeant, and evacuated to the United States to be presented with the Medal of Honor. Originally, Kouma had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but that award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
On May 19, 1951, Kouma was presented the Medal of Honor by US President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony at the White House. He got his medal alongside Carl Dodd and John Pittman, two other 2nd Infantry Division soldiers who were awarded the medal. Afterward, Kouma served as a recruiter in Omaha, Nebraska. Kouma then spent the remainder of the Korean War as a tank gunnery instructor for the US Army Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Following the end of the war, Kouma remained in the Army. He served a second tour of duty as a recruiter, and then two tours as a tank commander, first at a unit in Fort Carson, Colorado, and then with a second unit in Germany. Though he remained in the Army for 31 years, Kouma did not see combat after his time in Korea.
Kouma retired in 1971 at the age of 52, and lived a quiet life in McDaniels, Kentucky, after retirement. Kouma died on December 19, 1993, and was buried in the Fort Knox post cemetery. The Tank Platoon Gunnery Excellence competition at Fort Knox was subsequently named in Kouma’s honor. There is also a dining facility named in his honor at Fort Knox on Eisenhower Road and a dining facility at Fort Benning.
M/Sgt. Kouma, a tank commander in Company A, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. His unit was engaged in supporting infantry elements on the Naktong River front. Near midnight on 31 August, a hostile force estimated at 500 crossed the river and launched a fierce attack against the infantry positions, inflicting heavy casualties. A withdrawal was ordered and his armored unit was given the mission of covering the movement until a secondary position could be established. The enemy assault overran two tanks, destroyed one, and forced another to withdraw. Suddenly M/Sgt. Kouma discovered that his tank was the only obstacle in the path of the hostile onslaught. Holding his ground, he gave fire orders to his crew and remained in position throughout the night, fighting off repeated enemy attacks. During one fierce assault, the enemy surrounded his tank and he leaped from the armored turret, exposing himself to a hail of hostile fire, manned the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the rear deck, and delivered point-blank fire into the fanatical foe. His machine gun emptied, he fired his pistol and threw grenades to keep the enemy from his tank. After more than nine hours of constant combat and close-in fighting, he withdrew his vehicle to friendly lines. During the withdrawal through eight miles of hostile territory, M/Sgt. Kouma continued to inflict casualties upon the enemy and exhausted his ammunition in destroying three hostile machine-gun positions. During this action, M/Sgt. Kouma killed an estimated 250 enemy soldiers. His magnificent stand allowed the infantry sufficient time to reestablish defensive positions. Rejoining his company, although suffering intensely from his wounds, he attempted to resupply his tank and return to the battle area. While being evacuated for medical treatment, his courage was again displayed when he requested to return to the front. M/Sgt. Kouma’s superb leadership, heroism, and intense devotion to duty reflect the highest credit on himself and uphold the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army.
BURIAL LOCATION: FORT KNOX POST CEMETERY, FORT KNOX, KENTUCKY.
ROW L, near tool shed.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.