This is Roger James as you can well tell from the caption in the photo, he is a very humble man, a member of the Country Club Baptist Church in Kansas City, a past President of the Delaware Crossing Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, a family man, a husband, father and small business owner. He’s also the recipient of the French Govt highest award to non citizens. The French Legion of Merit. Why?.. Read on (reprinted with permission)..
K`APPA SIGMA ALUMNUS AWARDED THE FRENCH LEGION OF HONOR
ROGER F. JAMES CITED FOR VALOROUS SERVICE IN WORLD WAR II
Seventy years after the WWII battle of Rittershoffen, Roger F. James, of Raymore, MO was decorated with the highest award conferred by the Republic of France: Knight of the French Legion of Honor. The medal, instituted by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 was presented by Honorary French Consul, Dr. Arthur Elman, MD and was accompanied by a Citation and Letter of Congratulations from the President of France. The presentation ceremony was held March 15, 2014 at a meeting of the Delaware Crossing Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution in Overland Park, KS.
In late December, 1944, the now 90 recipient was just 20 years old; a corporal tank gunner serving in Company “C”, 48th Tank Battalion, 14th Armored Division (Liberators). The decisive armor engagement in which his company lost 13 of its 15 tanks was characterized by General Jacob Devers, as part of the “Greatest defensive battle of the war.” In the big picture it was overshadowed by the Battle of the Bulge in which the highly publicized defense of Bastogne occurred a week earlier.
Corporal James’ piece of the action commenced on New Year’s Eve, when US Task Force Hudelson received the opening blows of Operation Nordwind, the last major Nazi offensive on the Western Front. Engaged by elements of five German divisions, the TF succeeded in delaying the enemy advance long enough for strong reinforcements to arrive and contain that thrust. Operation Nordwind nearly succeeded when the axis of the main attack shifted to a line centered between the villages of Hatten and Rittershoffen and achieved a short-lived breakthrough of US Seventh Army lines. In a furious armored engagement, elements of the 14th Armored Division, supported by the 2nd and 3rd Batalions, 315th Infantry, fought the German XXXIX Panzer Corps to a stand-still, stopped the breakthrough and restored the defensive line at the two villages.
On the eve of the firefight which merited the award, three tanks of the Second Platoon were deployed in deep snow on the northern edge of Rittershoffen, about 8 miles west of the Rhine river and roughly 23 miles northeast of Strasbourg in Alsace. All night long they were subjected to the noise of maneuvering tanks coming from behind a ridgeline to their front. The Germans were attempting to unnerve the tankers. By listening closely, the Americans quickly detected cyclical repetitions. The noise was being blasted from a loudspeaker. The tankers were, however, unprepared for their first encounter with the “screaming meemies”. The German artillery fired a shell that screeched louder and louder and sounded as if it was inside their helmets until it passed harmlessly overhead. Additional nebelwerfer shells that followed soon lost most of their psychological effect.
Unbeknownst to the weary tankers, enemy infantry had infiltrated to their rear and doused several buildings with gasoline. Before dawn the houses suddenly burst into bright flame silhouetting the tanks which were quickly backed to the relative safety of a sunken farm road. In hull defiled only the turrets of the M4A3 Sherman tanks were exposed. It was still dark when, just as suddenly, a German patrol appeared clad in white camouflage suits with peaked hoods that made them seem over seven feet tall. Gunner James quickly fired a high explosive shell set on delay and bounced it off the ground disposing of that threat. Immediately a Panther tank lurched into view. James told his loader, Clarence Wilde, to keep loading armor piercing shells and that he was going to hit the Panzer as often as he could. German tank guns were so powerful that they could shoot completely through American tanks. This was serious business. Wilde never missed a beat. James’ first shell ricocheted straight up. The fifth well-aimed shell struck the gun shield and glanced downward into the driver’s compartment whereupon the Panzer burst into flame never having fired a shot. The range had been about 40 yards.
James’ tank commander, a sergeant, had seen enough. He jumped out and fled to a nearby basement. The driver, Howard Harper, took command, came to the hatch and standing exposed gave James continuous firing orders. The Germans soon sent several men armed with panzerfaust weapons launching football size projectiles with thermal cores that burned through armor and exploded inside tanks with devastating results. The tankers were relieved to dispose of three of them, but not before panzerfaust had disabled the other two 2d Platoon tanks. Two crew members were killed, cut down by German machine gun fire as they scrambled from the tanks, while the others found cover in nearby houses.
Harper said “It’s time to get out of here.” James provided covering fire from the open turret with his 45 caliber grease gun while Harper rounded up the dismounted tankers and loaded them on the remaining tank. Harper again took control of the gears and bulldozed the disabled tanks out of the way. Then, knocking off the corner of a house, he raced away at top speed. A shell hit a glancing blow to the side of their tank as they repositioned to continue the fight from inside the village. By their valiant action that day, 13 of 15 Second Platoon tankers (including the cowardly sergeant) were rescued from death or capture.
Two days later with a new commander the crew lost their tank in an encounter in the shadow of a huge burned out church that dominated the center of Rittershoffen. Two men were killed. Their pet and prospective stew, a plump Alsatian rabbit, went missing in action. The surviving crew counted taking at least five hits before abandoning the tank and then watched from a distance as puffs of black smoke belched from the turret as the ammunition load cooked off. After 11 days of almost constant contact the survivors were sent to get a new tank.
The German offensive finally sputtered to a halt on January 25 along the Moder River where the US Seventh Army had established a reinforced main line of defense. The 14th Division, refitted and resupplied, resumed the offense on March 15, crossed the Rhine on Easter Sunday, and raced across the German heartland to the Austrian border. Corporal James missed most of that ride.
While waiting in the village of Ludwigswinkle, still on the French side of the Rhine, James, now tank commander, was perched, as a friend said, “fat, dumb and happy” atop the turret of “his” tank enjoying a delicious steak sandwich. The first of several random mortar shells burst beside the tank. His left arm absorbed a sledgehammer blow and protected his head though his face and upper torso were pierced by multiple shards of shrapnel. He was evacuated to a Field Hospital in Dijon and slapped in an upper body cast for several weeks followed by painful rehab. When the war ended on 8 May Corporal James was en route across a thoroughly defeated Germany to rejoin the heroes of Company “C”.
The requisites for award of the French Legion of Honor to American veterans are: the combat action must have taken place on the soil of France; the recipient must hold at least two United States valor awards such as the Purple Heart, a Bronze or Silver Star; been honorably discharged; and remain alive. James met all requisite qualifications and is especially gratified to have achieved the last one.
James first learned about his eligibility for the award in 2013 through “The Liberator” the 14th Armored Division Association newsletter. He submitted his application through the Military Attache at the French Consulate in Chicago. It was then sent through multiple reviews in France before final approval. The entire process took about a year and now James is a Knight.
“Sir” Roger was initiated into the Gamma Omicron (O) Chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity at the University of Kansas prior to the American entry into WWII. Like many of the Brothers including Bobby Dole (Later Senator Robert J. Dole) James soon enlisted for military service. Upon his return from the war Brother James took a bride, Miss Joan Happy, to whom he has been “happily” married for 63 years. Roger founded the James Printing Company and fathered three children (daughter Karen McHugh, and Kappa Sig sons Andy O ’73 and Evan O ’75) who proudly accompanied him at the ceremony. James is now the sole surviving member of his original tank crew. He was greatly honored a few years ago to deliver the funeral eulogy for his combat comrade Howard Harper who had been best man in Roger and Joan’s wedding.
Now, you’ve read about Mr. James. I was present when he was given the medal from the French Consulate and I have never been more proud to be an American