Army Staff Sgt. George John Hall had been near Anzio, Italy, for about two months in 1944 when he faced one of the most difficult days – and decisions – of his life. After single-handedly shooting down two enemy positions to help his unit advance, Hall had to amputate his leg to survive. His bravery and fearlessness earned him the Medal of Honor.
Hall was born on January 9, 1920 in Stoneham, Massachusetts. He only attended one year of high school before dropping out to help his father, William, work on the family farm. He joined the Massachusetts National Guard in his late teens and was discharged when he joined the United States Army in 1940.
Hall received training in Panama and served at a few American installations, including Fort Hamilton, New York, where he met and married his wife, Elizabeth. He was then sent overseas to fight in the Italian Campaign of World War II, which began in September 1943.
As a member of the 135th Infantry, 34th Infantry Division, Hall saw action at the Volturno River Crossing in October and in the town of Cassino in January 1944. His unit finally landed at Anzio in March, where he remained fighting the enemy for about two months.
Early in the morning of May 23, 1944, the 34th began its push towards Rome. Hall was with Company B, which was attempting to attack the enemy on flat, open ground. Shortly after the assault began, his unit was pinned down by fire from three machine guns and snipers.
Hall was at the front of his platoon, so he volunteered to try and destroy the machine gun nests. Despite heavy enemy fire, Hall crawled about 60 yards along a plowed trench to get within hand grenade range of one of the guns, then threw four into the nest. When the smoke cleared, Hall found two Germans dead and four other stunned enemy soldiers. Hall ordered them to crawl to the American lines to surrender, which he said they did.
Hall found himself within range of the next machine gun position, so he continued. He was out of grenades, but luckily he came across several German explosives, known as “potato mashers” because of their kitchen utensil shape, in the first machine gun nest he cleared.
Thus, Hall engaged the enemies in the second position in a lethal exchange of grenades. Every time he exposed himself to throw one, the Germans fired machine gun bursts at him and threw more grenades at him. The vicious duel ultimately ended in Hall’s favor with five enemies surrendering and five more dead. Hall also returned these prisoners to the American line.
He then turned his attention to the third machine gun nest about 50 yards away. Again Hall crawled along a trench as the enemy fired frantically at him. As he closed in on the last enemy position, the Germans concentrated their artillery in the area. Shrapnel shattered Hall’s right leg. He said in a 1945 War Department press release that it nearly severed his right leg and his left foot was also badly injured.
“As soon as I saw what had happened to my leg, I knew I couldn’t move forward,” Hall explained in the press release. “I turned around and started crawling. It was about 75 yards for our men.
But he said he just couldn’t make it.
“Every time I tried to drag my leg, the pain was so bad that I had to give up. I screamed for a doctor, but there was so much noise that no one could hear me,” said Hall. “I lay there and rested for a while to collect myself. I was still under fire, and I knew I had to do something. … So I pulled out my sheath knife and I cut the two tendons holding my leg together.
To survive, Hall cut his leg.
“I was able to crawl after that,” he said. When Hall finally got to safety, doctors stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet and gave him a sedative.
As Hall was taken away to get better medical treatment, his fellow soldiers said they heard him complaining about not wiping out the enemy third position. So they picked up where he left off. Hall’s platoon knocked out the remaining gunnery nest with minimal casualties and advanced towards their objective. Hall’s fearlessness and determined fighting spirit made this possible.
Hall was first hospitalized overseas and later sent home in mid-July 1944 for treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There, doctors also had to amputate his left big toe.
Hall was discharged from the Army on January 16, 1945. He and his wife lived in Brooklyn, New York, after his return and had two children, William and Ruth, according to his Boston Globe obituary.
On April 6, 1945, Hall received the Medal of Honor from Army Major General Sherman Miles in a ceremony on Boston Common. A few months later, he was named the local contact representative for the Veterans Administration, according to a Boston Globe article.
Unfortunately, Hall’s post-war life was cut short by complications from his injuries at Anzio. He died on February 16, 1946, nearly two years after that day of battle. He was 26 years old.
Hall chose to be buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in his hometown. Three of his four brothers, all of whom also served in World War II, were able to attend.
The town of Stoneham remembers the young Staff Sergeant’s contributions to the war effort with Veterans of Foreign Wars Station 620 and a community swimming pool both named after him. Hall’s Medal of Honor is also housed at Stoneham Town Hall.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday”, in which we highlight one of more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have won the highest medal of bravery in the US army.