Over the next few posts, I’d like to take a closer look at some of the medals listed in Bill’s Honorable Discharge starting with his CIB.
CIB History and Purpose
The CIB was introduced during WWII in October, 1943 and was made retroactive to 7 December, 1941 marking America’s entry into the war after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The idea behind the badge was to give personal recognition to the bravery of individual infantrymen fighting under extremely poor conditions, while sustaining very high casualty rates.
To receive the award a soldier had to be assigned to an infantry unit, hold an infantry related MOS, and had to perform his duty while engaging the enemy in battle on the ground.
At the time a regimental commander was the highest rank eligible for the award. General James Gavin (commander of the 82nd Airborne) was a colonel commanding the 505th PIR when he received his CIB for action in Sicily, 1943. That’s why you’ll see pictures of him wearing one even as a two star Major General.
CIB Design Image Source: Wikipedia Commons
Bill received his CIB in General Order Number 16 (GO #16). It’s dated October 5, 1944 which is fitting because that just happened to be his 22nd birthday!
I’ve scanned in GO #16 from a copy obtained from the National Archives. Pvt William A. Clark is listed forth from the bottom.
WD Cir. #186 and #271 means War Department Circular numbers 186 and 271, respectively. The acronym “EM” just means Enlisted Men.
The listed soldiers are being awarded their CIB’s “for examplary conduct in action against the enemy….” In October 1944, the War Department stated that “action against the enemy” more specifically meant “ground combat against enemy ground forces.” Subsequent, GOs awarding CIBs most likely contained the updated language, although I haven’t seen any examples.
The men were entitled to additional pay as per War Department Circular #271 of $10.00 per month. Since this was effective January, 1944, Bill may have received a nice birthday present of back pay on the order of $90.00 - $100.00.
According to the Military Awards Branch of the US Army Human Resources Command (USAHRC) individuals were only to be awarded the CIB in WWII if they possessed an MOS of the following: Light machine gunner (604); Heavy machine gunner (605); Platoon sergeant (651); Squad leader (653); Rifleman (745); Automatic rifleman (746); Heavy weapons NCO (812), or Gun crewman (864).
Bill’s separation record and discharge papers only list MOS 521 and 620. However, to get the CIB, Bill had to possess at least one of the qualifying MOS’s listed above. During the war and in the years after, at times Bill talked about jumping with his rifle and using it in battle. Sometimes he used the standard issue M1 Garand, but favored the British made Thompson submachine gun, or “Tommy Gun”, and the “Grease Gun” which replaced the Tommy Gun later in the war. They had a larger ammunition capacity and superior rate of fire over the M1 making them indispensable weapons in tight, fluid combat situations particularly after a jump.
Jumping with a rifle and using it in battle goes hand in hand with possession of an MOS of 745 and/or 746. I’ve reproduced them below from The War Department’s 1944 “Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel” (TM12-427).
Bill’s separation record document states that it was prepared using information “from available Army records and supplemented by personal interview.”
Talking about his WWII medals in 2001, Pierre Rinfret has this to say about US Army records:
“I cannot account for the incompetence of the U.S. Army….In many many ways the so-called records of an individual are more often than not totally and completely inaccurate, but what else would you expect. SNAFU (situation normal, all fouled up) was not invented as an acronym without reason!” - Pierre Rinfret, 2001
Renfret was a veteran lead scout in the 26th Infantry Division under General Patton, an economic advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and a 1990 Candidate for New York Governor.
Looking at what we know, there can be only one explanation for the apparent disparity in Bill’s award of the CIB. His Army record seems incomplete in not including a rifleman MOS. It wouldn’t have been all that useful in postwar civilian employment, so it’s probable that he didn’t feel like pushing the issue during his separation interview. Indeed Bill himself said his service record was messed up in a letter home while stationed in Berlin.
Like General Gavin, Bill got his CIB during the Sicily Campaign. To be awarded the CIB was a really big deal because of the additional pay and because it distinguished a man from others who hadn’t been seen combat. Again quoting from Pierre Rinfret:
“The following listing [of medals] is what I believe to be the order of importance BUT I have placed the combat infantry badge first since in my judgment that is the most important medal anyone could ever receive and because it reveals the caliber of a man!” - Pierre Rinfret, 2001
Bill received his CIB for combat in the pivotal battle of Biazza Ridge, Sicily. The 505th PIR were fighting 17 Mark VI Tiger tanks and supporting infantry from the infamous and brutal German Hermann Goring Division. If it wasn’t for the heroism of Gavin’s “boys” (as the then Colonel Gavin referred to his men), the enemy would have succeeded in pushing the Allies back into the sea; dooming the invasion to failure.
The battle of Biazza Ridge was a horrendous engagement and a triumph of the human spirit on the part of the 505 in the direst of circumstances. In a later post, I’ll talk in more detail about what happened to Bill during what he remembered as “one of those dark days.”
Bill’s Bronze Star Medal
BSM Image Source: Wikipedia Commons
After the war, Bill was retrospectively eligible for the Bronze Star Medal (BSM), but he never pursued his entitlement to it.
“The Bronze Star Medal (BSM) was established in February 1944. Announcement of the criteria of the award was made several months later. At the conclusion of World War II, General George C. Marshall, upon reviewing the number of awards received by infantrymen, was disturbed to learn that comparatively few had received recognition and that infantrymen accounted for more casualties than any other branch or element of the U.S. Armed Forces. It was determined that many commanders were unaware of the criteria for awarding the BSM. The reason, combined with the late announcement of award criteria, caused an inequity. In order to rectify this disparity and oversight, the criteria was established for Combat Infantryman Badge and Combat Medical Badge recipients during the period December 7. 1941, to September 2, 1945, to receive the BSM.” - National Records Personnel Center, 2009
So Bill’s CIB is effectively also a BSM.
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