In one foray into a French village during World War II, John Del Medico and a fellow MP single-handledly took more than 120 Nazis prisoner and freed 800 Russian soldiers from a Nazi prison camp.
John Del Medico was born and raised in Chicago. He was employed at a steel mill when he was drafted into the Army in November 1942.
Del Medico completed basic training at Camp Grant in Illinois and was assigned to the 26th Yankee Division, as a military policeman. He deployed overseas and disembarked in England.
While in England, Del Medico and his fellow soldiers constantly trained and conducted day and night time maneuvers. Fully prepared, the men were ready for combat. One day, the orders came in. The commanding officer said, “This is it.”
Del Medico headed to Normandy and participated in the second landing. Enemy gunfire from pillboxes facing the channel met the landing ships and many men were lost. Del Medico said, “It was rough.” Men were shot down before his eyes. He said, “I felt scared, everybody was scared. … I saw bodies blown apart.”
Of the three types of military policeman — front line, division and rear — Del Medico was assigned to the front line. He and his partner escorted convoys of troops to the front and also handled German prisoners of war.
After Normandy, Del Medico advanced through France and continued into Germany, encountering resistance and fighting all the way. He carried a rifle and a side arm. A jeep that he sometimes rode in was equipped with a machine gun. He moved with the infantry, sleeping in foxholes along the way. As Del Medico and his partner approached a town, they looked first for the hanging white flags, usually bed sheets, of surrender. If there were no flags, they proceeded with caution.
One day, while patrolling the front line in Germany, he entered a village that didn’t display any white flags. He looked at his partner and said, “I don’t like this.” They had been told that everything was OK and secured in the area. Suddenly, three German soldiers ran across the street toward a house and Del Medico and his partner shot at them. Del Medico grabbed one, held a gun to his head and asked, “Are you alone?” The soldier understood English and answered, “No.” A major exited the house to surrender and Del Medico asked, “Is there anyone else?” The major answered, “Yea.” Del Medico said, “OK, tell them to get out, they’ll want to surrender, too.”
Civilians of the village watched as white flags appeared and the German soldiers came out of the building, one by one, and threw their firearms in a pile on the ground. Del Medico then asked the garrison commander, “Who else do you have?” He answered, “We have a Russian prison camp.”
That day, in that village in Germany, about one month after landing in Normandy, Del Medico and his partner captured 126 German soldiers and six officers, including the garrison commander. They freed 800 Russian prisoners that had been held outside of town. The Russian soldiers were happy and relieved to leave the prison gates and their commanding officer led them away. Del Medico turned the captured officers over to his commander and escorted the German soldiers to the next military police station, where they were then taken to a prison camp. Del Medico had no problem with them and said, “They were glad to get caught.”
Looking back, Del Medico said, “I was scared, but I didn’t show it in my face, in my heart I was scared.” It was only him and his partner and they did not have time to think about the danger. He said, “We both were lucky that we were alive.”
Del Medico continued on through Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, escorting the troops to the front line. The citizens of each town were good about letting Del Medico know if there were any German soldiers. He said, “The civilians were always happy and glad to see Americans come in because they knew the war would end for them.”
As he advanced through Europe, Del Medico continued to capture German soldiers. At times, other American soldiers detained the enemy and turned them over to Del Medico and his partner to be escorted to the military police station.
After capturing German soldiers, the first thing Del Medico did was tell the men to take off their shirts. The SS men, Hitler’s right-hand men, had tattoos underneath their arms. They were the “bad ones.” They were sneaky and had to be watched closely. Del Medico said, “The other soldiers didn’t want to fight any more than we did. Hitler’s men were different.”
At the Battle of the Bulge, Del Medico fought the weather as well as the enemy. He remembered the extreme cold and the snow. Del Medico kept warm by tying newspapers and gunnysacks around his feet and legs. He said, “I’d find any newspapers I could.”
Many lives were lost during that wintry battle. Del Medico told of taking a fallen soldier’s rifle, sticking it in the snow, topping it with his helmet and propping the soldier against it. A special outfit would then come and pick up the fatalities. The soldiers all worked together.
Del Medico was discharged when the war ended and his awards include three Battle Stars and the Silver Star.
He is proud to have served his country. Del Medico says, “I didn’t know if I would come home alive or what … I was just praying to make it home. I guess God was with me.”
Del Medico returned home to his wife and worked as a mechanic. He is active in the Italian American War Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. Displayed among his military awards is a framed essay titled “My Hero,” written by his granddaughter, Nicole, while in third grade. Perhaps, this is his greatest honor of all.
Reprinted with permission from Fra Noi. (Copyright 2020) To learn more, click here.