In honor of Native American Indian Heritage Month, we’re continuing to put the spotlight on the Native Americans who have earned the Medal of Honor. The recipient we’re highlighting this week: Army Pfc. John Reese Jr., who was awarded the nation’s highest military honor on Veterans Day seven decades ago.
Like last week’s honoree, Reese also grew up in Oklahoma. According to his high school records, he was regarded as quiet and sensible. He joined the Army when he was 19 years old, about a year after the Pearl Harbor attacks that thrust the U.S. into World War II.
Reese was stationed in the Pacific theater in 1945 with the 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division. On Feb. 9, his platoon attacked the Paco Railroad Station in Manila, Philippines, which was a stronghold for about 300 enemy soldiers who were armed with machine guns, rifles and heavy artillery.
Reese’s platoon got to within 100 yards of the rail station when they were stopped by intense enemy fire. Reese and another soldier, Pvt. Cleto Rodriguez, managed to creep forward another 40 feet and hide behind a house. The men were under constant watch by the enemy, but in the span of an hour, they managed to shoot and kill 35 Japanese soldiers and injure many more.
Reese and Rodriguez moved forward a little further, where they found several Japanese soldiers trying to get back to some nearby pillboxes. The pair opened fire again and took out more than 40 additional enemy soldiers, keeping all of them away from the guard posts to which they were returning.
The two soldiers kept moving forward, getting to within 20 yards of the rail station before enemy fire stopped them. The pair then devised a plan — Reese would draw attention to himself so Rodriguez could attack and destroy the enemy’s heavy weapons.
It worked. Reese provided cover for Rodriguez and drew the fire in his direction, giving his fellow soldier time to kill seven Japanese and then blow up two pieces of artillery with grenades.
While they’d made a huge dent in the enemy line, it was time for them to turn back. The pair crawled their way toward the American front line, covering for each other as they withdrew with what little ammo they had left.
Rodriguez made it back, but Reese was shot and killed while reloading his rifle along the way.
Because of their efforts over two and a half hours, more than 80 enemy soldiers were killed. The attack threw the Japanese defense into such disarray that the Americans were eventually able to overrun the rail station, and troops were further able to advance into Manila.
The extreme heroism and selflessness both men displayed inspired their platoon, and it earned them both the Medal of Honor. The award was presented to Reese’s parents on Nov. 11, 1945.
Reese was laid to rest in Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Rodriguez, who survived the war, eventually retired as a master sergeant.
Disclaimer: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information on this website does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.