When asked who the most outstanding soldier of World War I was, commander of the American Expeditionary Force John J. Pershing surprised everyone. There were many names to choose from, many of which had achieved widespread fame by the end of the war.
Pershing's answer was Samuel Woodfill, the soldier to whom Pershing had presented the Medal of Honor. Woodfill was also a Chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur, a knight of Montenegro's Order of Prince Danilo I and had received the French Croix de guerre with bronze palm and the Italian Croce al Merito di Guerra during his wartime service.
The Association of the United States Army's latest edition of its "Medal of Honor" graphic novel series comes from the comic book industry's best designers, illustrators and writers. The minds and hands that bring us "Batman," "The Punisher," "X-Men" and "Iron Man" (among others) bring us the story of Woodfill's life and the action that led to his Medal of Honor.
Woodfill was born into a military family in Indiana in 1883. His father was a veteran of the Mexican War and was a Union veteran in the Civil War. By the time he was of enlistment age, he was a pretty good shot and joined the Army in 1901.
At that time, the U.S. was fighting an insurrection in the occupied Philippine Islands, which it had taken from Spain in the recent Spanish-American War. Woodfill was sent there to fight Filipino guerrillas until 1904. After stints in Alaska and Kentucky, he was sent to the Mexican border to keep Mexico's civil war from spilling into the United States. By 1917, he was back in Kentucky but didn't stay for long.
The United States entered World War I in April 1917, and within a year, Woodfill would earn a commission and promotion before finding himself in the trenches of France with his unit. He had arrived just in time for the final Allied offensive against the Germans on the Western Front: the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Woodfill and his company were pushing forward in a dense fog on Oct. 12, 1918, near the village of Cunel. As they moved, entrenched German machine guns began firing at them. His men took cover, but Woodfill went right for a machine gun nest. He killed the Germans manning the gun, along with their officer.
Thinking the threat was neutralized, he signaled his men to move forward. As they approached, another machine gun opened up on them. This time, his men didn't run. Woodfill ordered them to assault the gun, which they did, taking three prisoners. When they began to move once more, another machine gun started firing at them.
He led the charge against the third machine gun, wounding five enemy soldiers. Woodfill, the first to jump into the machine gun bunker, fired all the rounds in his sidearm and hit no one, so he picked up a pickax to finish off the last two enemy soldiers.
Woodfill and his men had come so far, only to be forced into a retreat due to mustard gas. None of his men were killed by the three surprise machine guns but were hospitalized because of the chemicals in the air.
He received the Medal of Honor for his courage and leadership during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, but sat out the rest of the war. That wasn't the end of his service to the country, however. Learn more about the life of Samuel Woodfill with AUSA's free graphic novel at the AUSA Samuel Woodfill website.
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