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.
Lewis L. Millett
Captain, U.S. Army Company E, 27th Infantry Regiment
In 1940, Lewis Millett left high school after his junior year to enlist in the Army so he could fight fascism. Assigned to an Air Corps gunnery school, he became increasingly upset with Europe's weak resistance against German aggression, with the Nazis' treatment of the Jews, and especially with the way the United States was paralyzed by isolationism. To get into combat, he deserted, crossed the Canadian border, and enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was sent to London shortly afterward and manned an antiaircraft gun during the Blitz.
When American troops began arriving in England in 1942, Millett took advantage of a provision that allowed American citizens serving with an allied country to transfer into the U.S. military. He served with the American Army in North Africa, where he was awarded the Silver Star and promoted from private to sergeant, then fought at Salerno and Anzio. It was at Anzio that his old records finally caught up with him. He was told he had been court-martialed and found guilty of desertion. His sentence was a fifty-two-dollar fine. The same day, he received a battlefield promotion to lieutenant for his fearlessness in combat.
Millett went to college when the war ended, then joined the Maine National Guard. Soon after the outbreak of the Korean War, he joined the 8th Field Artillery of the 25th Division and was sent to Korea. Not long after his arrival, the commanding officer of an infantry company in the 27th Infantry (the "Wolfhounds") was killed, and Millet took over.
On February 7, 1951, he was in command of an under-strength company of about one hundred soldiers near the Korean village of Soam-ni. They were proceeding up a road in subzero temperatures when they ran into a superior force of Chinese Communist soldiers dug into the hills above. One of Millett's platoons was pinned down by automatic weapons fire; he brought up another platoon for support. A few weeks earlier, he had heard that the Chinese Army was circulating handbills among their troops accusing the Americans of being "afraid of cold steel"—the bayonet—so he had trained his men hard in the use of that weapon. Now, with the Communists raking his position with small arms fire and his men running low on ammunition, he ordered them to fix bayonets and led a charge up the hill.
A conspicuous figure at the head of his company with his large red handlebar mustache, Millett reached the enemy trench line and bayoneted two enemy soldiers. Then, using his rifle as a club against the others, he forced the Chinese to break and run. He was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the position was secured. Later, he explained that he engaged in this action as an homage to his grandfathers, both of whom had fought in the Civil War and had participated in bayonet charges.
Millett was pulled off the line a few weeks later. When he asked why, he was told that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor and his commanders didn't want him to get killed before the ceremony. President Harry Truman presented the medal to him on July 5, 1951.
After Korea, Millett attended Infantry Officers Advanced Course and Ranger school as a major. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and became involved in the Special Operations community. During the war in Vietnam, he helped establish the Vietnamese Ranger school and the Commando training program in Laos. At the time of his retirement in 1973, he was the only colonel in American military history to have been found guilty of desertion.