July 4, 1924 (Norwalk, CT) – April 14, 1945; 20 years old; unmarried
Last local address: 17 Wallace Avenue, East Norwalk
Enlisted on April 4, 1943
Service number: 31326858
10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION, 85TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, COMPANY G
The son of Gerry C. and Anna Magrath, John David Magrath was born in East Norwalk, Connecticut July 4, 1924. He took up scouting in 1937 and earned twenty-one merit badges. As a Boy Scout, he served as patrol leader, troop scribe and assistant scoutmaster for East Norwalk’s Troop 16. He became an Eagle Scout on February 8, 1943. Magrath was an active member of Christ Episcopal Church, which sponsored the scout troop. He also sang in the church choir.
Magrath entered the U.S. Army during his junior year in high school along with three friends. The four young men were all members of the Norwalk Ski Club who volunteered in order to join the ski troops. Magrath was sworn in on March 4, 1943 at Hartford Connecticut. Two of his brothers, Gerry and William, were already serving in the U.S. Army.
Magrath joined the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale, Colorado and continued his training at Camp Swift, Texas. Initially, Magrath was assigned to the 86th Infantry Regiment, where he served in Companies A, F and M. Later, he transferred to the 85th Infantry Regiment, Company G. Senator Bob Dole was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division and was wounded in action in April 1945 at Castel d’Aiano, the same battle as PFC Magrath.
Magrath served as a radio operator during combat operations in Italy. On April 14, 1945 Company G was ordered to attack German positions on Hill 909 near the town of Castel d’Aiano. The attack bogged down under intense German artillery fire, which caused numerous casualties. Magrath volunteered to accompany his company commander on a reconnaissance. When they encountered German small-arms fire, Magrath charged the German positions with only his rifle. He is credited with single-handedly silencing several enemy machine gun emplacements with a captured German machine gun. Later that day, Magrath volunteered to make contact with each platoon in the company to compile a casualty report. While moving under heavy artillery fire, he was killed in action.
For his gallantry, Magrath was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the only member of the 10th Mountain Division, and the only citizen of East Norwalk, Connecticut to be so honored during World War II. A monument in his honor was dedicated at Fort Riley, Kansas on August 17, 1955, and an elementary school at Norwalk, which opened March 15, 1956 was also named in his honor. Later, the school was purchased by the state of Connecticut for the site of the Norwalk Community College. The college maintains a memorial display in Magrath’s honor.
In June 1995, Fort Drum, New York, home of the 10th Mountain Division, renamed its Soldiers Sports Complex the John D. Magrath Gymnasium. A plaque and portrait at Magrath Gym honor his memory.
Until September 2009, PFC Magrath was the only member of the 10th Mountain Division to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The others were Captain William D. Swenson, honored in 2013 for his actions during a six-hour battle on Sept. 8, 2009, in the Ganjgal valley of eastern Afghanistan, Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, posthumously honored in September 2009 for his actions in Afghanistan in June 2006, and Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins for his actions on June 1, 2007, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom
Congressional Medal of Honor Citation
“He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty when his company was pinned down by heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire, near Castel d’Aiano, Italy. Volunteering to act as scout, armed with only a rifle, he charged headlong into withering fire, killing 2 Germans and wounding 3 in order to capture a machine gun. Carrying this enemy weapon across an open field through heavy fire, he neutralized 2 more machine gun nests; he then circled behind 4 other Germans, killing them with a burst as they were firing on his company. Spotting another dangerous enemy position to his right, he knelt with the machine gun in his arms and exchanged fire with the Germans until he had killed 2 and wounded 3. The enemy now poured increased mortar and artillery fire on the company’s newly won position. PFC Magrath fearlessly volunteered again to brave the shelling in order to collect a report of causalities. Heroically carrying out this task, he made the supreme sacrifice – a climax to the valor and courage that are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”
From pietredellamemoria.it, regarding a memorial in Italy to John Magrath
Region: Emilia Romagna
Province: Bologna (BO)
Common: Castel d’Aiano
Address: Via Riodomello
Postal code: 40034
Place of placement: Wooded area near the Riodomello block
Placement date: May 30, 2009
Materials (Generic): Bronze, stone
Materials (Detail): Bronze slab on sandstone boulder.
Conservation status: Great
Entity in charge of conservation: Municipality of Castel d’Aiano
News and historical contextualization (translated from Italian): On April 14, 1945, a 19-year-old young man, serving in the 85th G. Infantry Company of the 10th Mountain Division, distinguished himself for an action of great courage, sustained at the risk of life and beyond his duty. His company was immobilized because of the heavy fire of the enemy artillery. He volunteered for an exploratory action and armed with a single rifle he managed to overpower 2 German soldiers by taking possession of their machine gun. With this he responded to enemy fire, neutralizing 3 more posts. Back inside his company, on which the rain of blows was intensifying, he volunteered again to come out and collect the list of victims. After heroically completing this painful task, also he left his life on the field, in an extreme gesture of value and courage, in observance of the highest tradition of military service. For these reasons, the President of the United States has awarded the chosen soldier John D. Magrath the posthumous Ad Honorem Medal and for the same reasons now, in the exact place where this valiant young man gave his life, this recognition is dedicated to him.
Registration: The President of the United States of America, authorized by the Act of Congress, March 3, 1963, bestowed the Posthumous Ad Honorem Medal on behalf of Congress to the SOLDIER JOHN D. MAGRATH OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY
For his great courage and fearlessness of action at risk of his life beyond his duty: the chosen soldier John D. Magrath, of the United States Army, distinguished himself in action on April 14, 1945, while he was serving in the 85th Company G. Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division.
The chosen Magrath soldier showed great courage and fearlessness above and beyond his duty when his company was immobilized by heavy artillery fire, mortar and small arms near Castel D’Aiano, Italy. He volunteered and as an explorer, armed only with a rifle, loaded headlong into the chilling fire, killing two Germans and injuring three, to take possession of a machine gun. transporting this enemy weapon, through an open field in the middle of the enemy fire, neutralizing two other machine gun positions and then encircling four other Germans who were shooting on the Company, killing them with a burst.
Detecting another enemy position on his right, he knelt with the machine gun and fired on the Germans killing two and injuring three. The enemy increased the mortar and artillery attack on the Company and its newly acquired position. The chosen soldier Magrath, intrepidly, volunteered again to bravely face the cannonade and to be able to collect the list of victims. He carried out this task in a heroic way, and it was the last supreme sacrifice, the culminating point of value and courage that are in observance of the highest tradition of military service.
Symbols: Symbol of the Municipality of Castel d’Aiano and the X Mountain Division
Personal comments: We wanted to connect the 2 stems of Monte della Spe and Riodomello in a single “memory” to remember the dramatic days between March and April 1945 when our town of Castel D’Aiano was at the center of one of the most important fronts of the second World War. We also wanted to remember the sacrifice of the American soldiers who on that fateful April 14, 1945 moved from Monte della Spe to conquer, after bitter battles, the heights of Riodomello and the Serre D’Aiano, breaking through the last German defensive line and thus freeing, in a few days, the whole of Northern Italy. Near the two steles, the trenches used by the soldiers and recently renovated are still visible.
From the Star Democrat, Easton, Maryland (stardem.com), June 28, 2009
The townspeople of Castel d’Aiano, Italy, haven’t forgotten what the American soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division did for them. And now they definitely will not forget about the heroics of PFC John Magrath.
John’s brother, Bill Magrath of St. Michaels (Maryland), recently received a letter and photographs of the dedication of a monument in Castel d’Aiano in early June. The monument honors the memory of John’s service in their country.
The 10th Mountain Division was the U.S. Army’s first mountain-infantry division. Its 12,000 men included ski teachers, Russo-Finnish war veterans, fur trappers, rock climbers and Jewish refugees. Recruits learned to ski with packs and rifles, walking up every hill then skiing down. The training succeeded as patrols on skis led to the l0th’s breakthrough of the German Army’s Gothic Line in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.
On April 14, 1945, the 85th and 87th Regiments, leading the 10th Mountain Division, attacked toward Po Valley, Italy, spearheading the Fifth Army drive. The fighting was fierce with 553 mountain infantrymen killed, wounded, or missing by the end of the day. One of the soldiers killed was 20-year-old John D. Magrath.
Magrath was the only soldier from the 10th Mountain Division to receive a Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor by an individual serving in the U.S. armed forces. The new monument includes the wording, in both English and Italian, written on John’s original Medal of Honor citation, which was signed by Harry Truman:
“Private Magrath, radio operator, Company G, 85th Infantry, on 14 April 1945 displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty when his company was pinned down by heavy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, near Castel d’Aiano, Italy. Volunteering to act as a scout, armed with only a rifle, he charged headlong into withering fire, killing two Germans and wounding three in order to capture a machine gun. Carrying this enemy weapon across an open field through heavy fire, he neutralized two more machine gun nests; he then circled behind four other Germans, killing them with a burst as they were firing on his company. Spotting another dangerous enemy position to this right, he knelt with the machinegun in his arms and exchanged fire with the Germans until he had killed two and wounded three. The enemy now poured increased mortar and artillery fire on the company’s newly-won position. Private Magrath fearlessly volunteered again to brave the shelling in order to collect a report of casualties. Heroically carrying out this task, he made the supreme sacrifice a climax to the valor and courage that are in keeping with highest traditions of the military service.”
Giovanni Sulla arranged to have the monument erected near the spot where John was killed.
In a letter to Bill, Giancarlo Bendini wrote: ” was a little but exciting ceremony (sic); and for me is one good and important event, precious historical and memory for the next generations.”
PFC Magrath is buried at Riverside Cemetery; Section 20, Plot 185. Photos by author.