b. 01/12/1921 Right, Tennessee. d. 21/05/2013 Memphis, Tennessee.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 16/12/1944 near Krinkelt, Belgium.
McGarity was born December 1, 1921, in rural Right, Tennessee. He worked with the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps before being drafted into the Army on Nov. 24, 1942, a week shy of his 21st birthday.
By late 1944, McGarity was a staff sergeant, fighting his way across Europe as the squad leader of Company L of the 393rd Infantry, 99th Infantry Division.
A lot changed for him on December 16, 1944 — the first day of what became known as the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most decisive and bloodiest battles of the war. The battle began as German forces staged a surprise counteroffensive on exhausted U.S. troops in the frigid, snow-covered hills of Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.
Just before that counteroffensive was launched, McGarity was seriously wounded by an artillery barrage near Krinkelt, Belgium. He got help at an aid station and refused evacuation, instead choosing to return to his company and fight. Their orders were to stand firm at all costs, so that’s what they did, despite the massive German fire that barreled down on them, destroying their communications. McGarity encouraged his men to continuously repulse enemy attacks throughout the night.
McGarity saved two wounded soldiers, and he braved heavy fire to get to a position where he could take out the enemy’s lead tank with a rocket launcher. Those efforts forced several German infantrymen and three tanks to withdraw. McGarity then directed fire on an enemy cannon. When he realized his unit was low on ammunition, he ran under heavy fire to an old ammunition hole about 100 yards away to replenish their supply. The Germans then used two machine guns to cut off the unit’s only escape route, but McGarity refused to let that stand. He ran from cover through the deadly fire and took out the gunners at both positions. He also prevented new men from manning the guns.
The unit held its position until it fired its last rounds and the men were taken as prisoners. Still, their efforts to delay the Germans gave the U.S. enough time to assemble reserve troops and form a line that was eventually able to destroy the enemy offensive and win the battle.
The Battle of the Bulge was an Allied success that solidified the end of Hitler’s Germany, but it came at a heavy cost. The U.S. suffered more than 75,000 casualties — 19,276 were killed in the 41-day conflict, nearly 47,500 were wounded and thousands more were reported missing. McGarity and the other captured men of the 99th Division were taken to a German prisoner of war camp in Moosburg, Germany, where they remained until the camp was liberated in April, 1945.
McGarity was recommended for the Medal of Honor a month later. After attaining the rank of technical sergeant, he received the medal on December 18, 1945, at a ceremony at the White House. McGarity also earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal for his service in World War II. He left active service to join the Tennessee Army National Guard in November 1947. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1974, then worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs for another three decades.
McGarity and his wife, Ethelene, settled down in Memphis, Tennessee, and had two children. His friends and family said the former soldier rarely talked about his service. McGarity died of cancer on May 21, 2013, and was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis. He was 91 years old. The Tech Sgt. Vernon McGarity Army Reserve Center opened in 2010 in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, to honour his memory.
He was painfully wounded in an artillery barrage that preceded the powerful counteroffensive launched by the Germans near Krinkelt, Belgium, on the morning of 16 December 1944. He made his way to an aid station, received treatment, and then refused to be evacuated, choosing to return to his hard-pressed men instead. The fury of the enemy’s great Western Front offensive swirled about the position held by T/Sgt. McGarity’s small force, but so tenaciously did these men fight on orders to stand firm at all costs that they could not be dislodged despite murderous enemy fire and the breakdown of their communications. During the day the heroic squad leader rescued one of his friends who had been wounded in a forward position, and throughout the night he exhorted his comrades to repulse the enemy’s attempts of infiltration. When morning came and the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry, he braved heavy fire to run to an advantageous position where he immobilized the enemy’s lead tank with a round from a rocket launcher. Fire from his squad drove the attacking infantrymen back, and three supporting tanks withdrew. He rescued, under heavy fire, another wounded American, and then directed devastating fire on a light cannon which had been brought up by the hostile troops to clear resistance from the area. When ammunition began to run low, T/Sgt. McGarity, remembering an old ammunition hole about 100 yards distant in the general direction of the enemy, braved a concentration of hostile fire to replenish his unit’s supply. By circuitous route the enemy managed to emplace a machine gun to the rear and flank of the squad’s position, cutting off the only escape route. Unhesitatingly, the gallant soldier took it upon himself to destroy this menace singlehandedly. He left cover, and while under steady fire from the enemy, killed or wounded all the hostile gunners with deadly accurate rifle fire, and prevented all attempts to re-man the gun. Only when his squad’s last round had been fired was the enemy able to advance and capture the intrepid leader and his men. The extraordinary bravery and extreme devotion to duty of T/Sgt. McGarity supported a remarkable delaying action which provided the time necessary for assembling reserves and forming a line against which the German striking power was shattered.
BURIAL LOCATION: MEMORIAL PARK CEMETERY, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE.
WOODLAWN CEMETERY, LOT 1114, SPACE 7.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY, MT. PLEASANT, SOUTH CAROLINA.