b. 26/09/1921 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. d. 29/08/1944 near Brest, France.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 29/08/1944 near Brest, France.
McVeigh was born in 1921 in Philadelphia. He was drafted into the Army in 1942, and within two years, he found himself a sergeant with the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
McVeigh earned the nation’s highest award for valour during the Battle for Brest nearly 80 years ago. It was one of the fiercest battles of World War II’s Operation Cobra, which was the Allied breakout of the Normandy area that began July 27, 1944.
Brest, France, was an important port to the Allies during that summer. To successfully keep their foothold in Europe, it was necessary to capture port facilities across France so enormous amounts of wartime goods could be delivered to supply the invading forces during their push east.
Americans breached the town of Brest on August 7, and after extra reinforcements moved in, they were able to surround the city, trapping thousands of German soldiers who had dug in to fortify their position. A full assault was launched August 25.
Shortly after dusk four days later, on August 29, 1944, McVeigh’s platoon was near the town and had just begun to assume defensive positions along a hedge when the enemy counterattacked. Since McVeigh’s platoon wasn’t dug in, part of their defensive line sagged briefly under heavy fire, leaving a section of heavy machine guns with a lot of space in front of them and no rifle protection.
The Germans moved quickly and were almost on top of one of the machine gun positions where McVeigh was. Without pause, he stood up in full view of the enemy and directed his squad to fire on them, despite the heavy fire that was coming his way. His position was close to being overrun when he pulled out a trench knife — his last remaining weapon — and charged several of the Germans.
McVeigh killed one German with the knife and was headed toward three more when he was shot and killed at point-blank range. But his heroic drive to stop the Germans gave two other soldiers time to kill the three men McVeigh was headed for, then concentrate their machine gun fire on the rest of the attackers. Between the platoon’s two machine guns, they were finally able to stop the flow of men charging at them. It also gave an accompanying rifle platoon time to reorganize and hold the high ground they had gained earlier in the day.
The Battle for Brest ended up being a long and deadly siege. The town was destroyed by the time the Germans surrendered on September 18, and by then, Brest had no strategic value left, as the Allied front had managed to push east nearly to the German border.
But McVeigh’s heroics will always be remembered. The sergeant, who was about a month shy of his 23rd birthday when he died, posthumously received the Medal of Honor on April 6, 1945. The Medal was presented to his daughter, Joan, at Independence Hall, Philadelphia by Brigadier General Malcolm F. Lindsey on April 20, 1945.
McVeigh’s remains were repatriated to the U.S. after the war. He was laid to rest in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Brest, France, on 29 August 1944. Shortly after dusk an enemy counterattack of platoon strength was launched against one platoon of Company G, 23d Infantry. Since the Company G platoon was not dug in and had just begun to assume defensive positions along a hedge, part of the line sagged momentarily under heavy fire from small-arms and two flak guns, leaving a section of heavy machine guns holding a wide frontage without rifle protection. The enemy drive moved so swiftly that German riflemen were soon almost on top of one machine-gun position. Sgt. McVeigh, heedless of a tremendous amount of small-arms and flak fire directed toward him, stood up in full view of the enemy and directed the fire of his squad on the attacking Germans until his position was almost overrun. He then drew his trench knife, and singlehandedly charged several of the enemy. In a savage hand-to-hand struggle, Sgt. McVeigh killed one German with the knife, his only weapon, and was advancing on three more of the enemy when he was shot down and killed with small-arms fire at point-blank range. Sgt. McVeigh’s heroic act allowed the two remaining men in his squad to concentrate their machine-gun fire on the attacking enemy and then turn their weapons on the three Germans in the road, killing all three. Fire from this machine gun and the other gun of the section was almost entirely responsible for stopping the enemy assault, and allowing the rifle platoon to which it was attached time to reorganize, assume positions on and hold the high ground gained during the day.
BURIAL LOCATION: HOLY SEPULCHRE CEMETERY, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA.
SECTION 32, RANGE 21, LOT 13.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.