Medal of Honor Recipient Robert D. Maxwell

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we'll learn about Medal of Honor recipient Robert D. Maxwell and the courageous deed he performed in World War II that resulted in him earning the honor.

Who Was Robert D. Maxwell?

As you may already know, the Medal of Honor award is a military decoration reserved only for those who demonstrate the highest levels of courage and valor on the battlefield. Just think for a moment and think about what type of actions would warrant this kind of award. How about someone who purposefully throws themselves on top of an enemy grenade in order to save the lives of those around him? This level of self-sacrifice is almost unbelievable, but it's exactly what Robert D. Maxwell did in France in 1944 while engaged in fighting against Nazi forces. Let's learn more about this war hero!


Robert D. Maxwell was born in Boise, Idaho in 1920. When the United States entered World War II, Maxwell served as a Technician Fifth Grade, a rank that was often referred to as 'Tech Corporal.' These soldiers were identified by the 'T' insignia worn on their arm. One of Maxwell's main duties was to carry a roll of phone line cable and connect the line from command posts to various locations. Because of this duty, he was the battalion's 'wire man.' Initially Maxwell was armed with an M1 Garand rifle, but with all the tech gear he carried, he was reclassified as a non-combatant and permitted to carry a .45 caliber pistol.

The T insignia worn by Technicians Fifth Grade.

Act of Valor and Medal of Honor

As a member of the 7th Infantry, Maxwell participated in the North African Campaign and the 1943 Invasion of Sicily. During the Battle of Anzio in January 1944, Maxwell was wounded, but after spending a few months in a hospital, he returned to duty. He was also involved in the Allied invasion of Southern France, an offensive code-named Operation Dragoon. Following Operation Dragoon, Maxwell and his comrades found themselves near the city of Besançon. It was here that Maxwell's courageous act of self-sacrifice would earn him the Medal of Honor.

When a platoon-sized group of German soldiers assaulted an American observation post on September 7, 1944, Maxwell and three other soldiers defended the post, armed only with their .45 caliber pistols. The Germans, on the other hand, were well-equipped, conducting their assault with machine guns, the MP-40 sub-machine gun, and grenades.

Instead of retreating, Maxwell and the others continued to defend their position, in spite of the rain of automatic gun-fire. When a grenade was lobbed into their area, Maxwell 'unhesitatingly' threw himself on the grenade, so as to prevent its blast from killing his comrades. Remarkably, he survived the blast. When he came to, his arms and chest were severely wounded, and part of his right foot had been blown off. Maxwell was taken to a hospital in Naples to recuperate. A few months later he received the Medal of Honor from commander General C. W. Danielson.

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