For quite some time now, I’ve been researching my uncle’s World War II military service experiences. One of the most interesting findings was the motto of his unit, but more about that later. Since his and many other veterans’ records were destroyed in the St. Louis repository fire in the 1970s, I’ve had to piece together fragments of his experiences from other sources, tracing his steps through histories of the units of which he was a part.*
In the process, I’ve run across a lot of interesting details showing how and why those units deserve more credit than they have heretofore garnered. For example, the 3rd Armored Division fired the first shells into Germany, was the first unit to set foot on German soil, and advanced an amazing 102 miles in 24 hours, the longest such advance in history, and that against stiff German resistance. The 3rd AD also was responsible for capturing the largest number of enemy soldiers in two separate pincer movements that closed German escape routes in the Falaise Pocket (1944) and the Ruhr Pocket (1945).
The 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 3rd AD spent a record 239 days in active combat and fired 170,100 rounds, the greatest number of any unit in the 3rd AD. The 391st AFA awarded 28 Silver Stars and 133 Bronze Stars, six of them Oak Leaf Clusters (including one to my uncle).
Despite these achievements, the 3rd AD was (and continues to be) overshadowed by the 1st AD, commanded by the flamboyant, bombastic, and self-promoting General George Patton. Patton’s men did achieve much, and he proudly made sure that people knew of those accomplishments. The soldiers of the 3rd AD, on the other hand, quietly went about their deadly tasks and left grandstanding to others. They surely are the unsung heroes of World War II.
But what about that motto, the detail from my research that most profoundly struck my attention? The motto of the 391st AFA Battalion was “Honor Before Honors.” They achieved much as a fighting force, but, overlooked and overshadowed as they were, the men quietly and humbly returned after the war and “got on with life,” never making a big deal of what they had done or experienced. (As a kid, I never recall my uncle’s talking about any of his war experiences, and that despite all the carnage he witnessed and the two Bronze Stars he had won.)
The motto of the 391st AFA Battalion came to my mind as I was reading my Bible recently and came across Proverbs 15:33: “Before honor is humility.”
A lot of people want the honors, but few have the honor (character) or the humility that is prerequisite to it. They want to receive the accolades of men without having done anything worthy of the honors. They want the bragging rights but not the character required to deserve that right or to handle it appropriately. On the other hand, as commentator Matthew Henry stated, “Where there is humility there is a happy presage of honour and preparative for it.”
The men of the 391st won honors because they had learned and prepared themselves to wage a brave fight that would make a difference to the greater cause, regardless of who got the credit. The 3rd AD was called the Spearhead and led the assault into Nazi Germany but only because they had proven themselves in earlier combat. The 391st AFA Btn. was the point of that spearhead. My uncle (kneeling on his M3 Lee medium tank in the photo), was a driver for a forward observer of that unit. Because he took his forward observer to the very front of the battle, the place of greatest danger, he was surely the tip of that point.
If the motto “Honor before honors” is true for a military combat unit, it is even more applicable to the spiritual condition of individuals today. How honorable and humble are we? Are we deserving of hearing our Lord’s “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”? Food for thought!
* [Sources searched include Spearhead in the West (history of the 3rd Armored Division); Combat History of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Battle History of “A” Battery, 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Armored Attack 1944; Armored Victory 1945; volumes 5 and 7 of the “Green Books,” the official government history U.S. Army in World War II; and many lesser-known publications.]
Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson