b. 26/10/1920 Boise, Idaho. d. 11/05/2019 Bend, Oregon.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 07/09/1944 near Besancon, France.
Army Technician 5th Grade Robert Maxwell was born on Oct. 26, 1920, in Boise, Idaho, but he grew up with his grandparents in Kansas. He eventually moved to Colorado, where he became a timber ranch worker. From there, he was drafted into the Army in June 1942.
Maxwell — whose rank was equivalent to corporal, but with technical skills — served as an infantryman in North Africa and Italy before being sent to France with the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, as a noncombatant to set up communications lines for his battalion.
On Sept. 7, 1944, Maxwell and three other soldiers, including his battalion commander, were part of an Allied group liberating Besancon, France. Maxwell was tying wires for communications onto a house that had become their battalion observation post when they were attacked. Armed with only .45-caliber automatic pistols, the four Americans defended the post against the enemy, who had artillery, machine guns and grenades.
“The Germans had apparently infiltrated past the rifle companies and were in the process of surrounding the command post,” Maxwell said in a Library of Congress interview. “It was in danger of being captured.”
Eventually, an enemy hand grenade made it through the chicken wire fence surrounding the post and hit the ground near the four men. “I just figured maybe I could pick it up and throw it back. That was the only thing I had in my mind at the moment,” Maxwell said later. “That only lasted about one or two seconds.” Realizing he had no time for that, Maxwell threw himself on top of the grenade, using a blanket and his body to absorb the full force of the explosion. “It wasn’t intentional. It was just something that happened,” he said.
A lieutenant who was still there helped him to safety as the Germans remained on their tails. “My left arm bicep muscle was torn out, and my left temple was hit about a quarter-inch from my eye. Most of those things I didn’t feel too much, except my foot,” Maxwell said. “The grenade had taken off quite a portion of my instep, just ahead of my right heel.” Eventually, a Jeep came along, picked the pair up and took them to an aid station. Maxwell was permanently injured, but he did survive. His split-second decision saved the lives of his fellow soldiers and helped his battalion maintain vital communications.
For his actions, Maxwell received the Medal of Honor on May 12, 1945, in Denver. He said the citation had been signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt just before he died. Maxwell said he didn’t think about what the medal meant at first, but that it grew on him over the years.
“I’m not wearing the medal for any personal deeds. I’m wearing it because it represents all of the casualties in the war,” he said. “I think it represents all that’s good in the United States.”
Maxwell left the service after the war and dedicated his life to education, establishing various programs at schools in Oregon. He lived a long life and passed away in Bend, Oregon, on May 11, 2019, at age 98 — almost 74 years to the day after he earned the nation’s highest honor.
In September, a plaque was dedicated to Maxwell at a 3rd Infantry Division monument that overlooks the area in France where he saved his fellow soldiers.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 7 September 1944, near Besancon, France. Technician 5th Grade Maxwell and three other soldiers, armed only with .45-caliber automatic pistols, defended the battalion observation post against an overwhelming onslaught by enemy infantrymen in approximately platoon strength, supported by 20-mm flak and machine-gun fire, who had infiltrated through the battalion’s forward companies and were attacking the observation post with machine-gun, machine pistol, and grenade fire at ranges as close as 10 yards. Despite a hail of fire from automatic weapons and grenade launchers, Technician 5th Grade Maxwell aggressively fought off advancing enemy elements and, by his calmness, tenacity, and fortitude, inspired his fellows to continue the unequal struggle. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown in the midst of his squad, Technician 5th Grade Maxwell unhesitatingly hurled himself squarely upon it, using his blanket and his unprotected body to absorb the full force of the explosion. This act of instantaneous heroism permanently maimed Technican 5th Grade Maxwell, but saved the lives of his comrades in arms and facilitated maintenance of vital military communications during the temporary withdrawal of the battalion’s forward headquarters.
BURIAL LOCATION: TERREBONNE PIONEER CEMETERY, TERREBONNE, OREGON.
BLOCK 1, LOT 85, PLOT E.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY, MT. PLEASANT, SOUTH CAROLINA.