Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the
Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
SILVESTRE S. HERRERA
Private First Class, U.S. Army Company E, 142nd Infantry, 36th Infantry Division
Silvestre Herrera was twenty-seven years old, married with three children, and working in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, when he was drafted into the Army early in 1944. Men with families were no longer exempt from the service—in basic training, he met another draftee who said he was the father of eight.
Private First Class Herrera's company landed in Italy, by this time largely under Allied control, as part of the 142nd Infantry in the summer of 1944. That fall they invaded France at Marseille and took a troop train to the front. By the end of the year, as his unit reached France, it began to encounter resistance from the retreating Germans. When the fighting became heavy by the spring of 1945, Herrera had to concede a grudging respect for the enemy, regarding them as "muy macho."
On March 15, Herrera's platoon was advancing along a wooded road near the French town of Mertzwiller when it ran into two German machine-gun emplace-ments. Caught in a deadly crossfire between the two guns, the GIs dived for cover. Fearing that his comrades would be cut to pieces, Herrera stood up and ran toward the closest enemy position, firing his rifle from the hip. He tossed two grenades at the machine-gun nest; the concussion knocked the Germans down. Then he was on them, and all eight soldiers threw down their weapons and surrendered to him.
Herrera turned his prisoners over to men in his squad, then started crawling toward the other machine gun, firing as he went. ("My M-1 was talking, and the Germans understood what it was saying," he commented later.) The position was protected by a minefield; GIs were throwing rocks into the area in an effort to explode the mines. Herrera got up and charged the Germans anyway, but as he neared the machine-gun nest, he stepped on a mine. He was thrown to the ground, both of his feet blown off at the ankle. Though bleeding heavily, he lay on his stomach and fired at the Germans, forcing them to stay down and thus enabling his squad to skirt the minefield, flank the enemy, and move in for the kill.
Herrera remained conscious for the next few hours. At the aid station, he said to the examining doctor, "Just try to save my knees, Doc." After two months in an Army field hospital, he was sent to the Army Amputation Center in Utah. During a ninety-day furlough to Phoenix, he was notified that he was to receive the Medal of Honor and traveled to Washington with an uncle who was given time off from his job to help him make the trip. In time, Silvestre Herrera would be fitted with new prosthetic feet, but on August 23, 1945, at the White House, President Harry Truman bent over his wheelchair to present him with the Medal of Honor.