Robert Maxwell, World War II Hero Who Fell on a Grenade, Dies at 98

From The New York Times:

By Richard Goldstein
May 13, 2019

In the early hours of Sept. 7, 1944, Robert Maxwell, an Army communications specialist, made a split-second decision that was virtually certain to bring his death.

Technician Fifth Grade Maxwell and a few other G.I.s were on observation duty outside their battalion headquarters near the city of Besançon in eastern France when German soldiers got within yards of their outpost and opened fire.

The Germans blasted away with automatic weapons and even antiaircraft guns, seeking to destroy the stone house where the battalion commanders were stationed. The G.I.s on sentry duty were armed only with .45-caliber automatic pistols, but they fired back.

And then a grenade was hurled over the fence in front of the house’s courtyard and landed beside Technician Maxwell. Using an Army blanket for protection, he fell on the grenade.

“I could hear it fall right near my feet,” Mr. Maxwell told the cable TV station COTV of Bend, Ore., long afterward. “I didn’t know for sure where it was. This was between 1 and 2 in the morning. I groped to find it and throw it back, but I knew it was too late to do that. I was already crouched down, but I did have my blanket, shoved it down on my chest and dropped where I was.”

The grenade exploded, knocking him unconscious, tearing away part of one foot and peppering his head and left arm with shrapnel. World War II was over for Technician Maxwell, but he received the Medal of Honor. It cited him for inspiring his fellow G.I.s to join with him in a firefight that delayed the German onslaught and then, having “unhesitatingly hurled himself squarely upon’’ the grenade, “using his blanket and his unprotected body to absorb the full force of the explosion.”

The citation called it an “act of instantaneous heroism” that “permanently maimed” him but “saved the lives of his comrades.”

When Mr. Maxwell died on Saturday in Bend at 98, he was the oldest surviving recipient of the medal, the military’s highest award for valor.

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