BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Since its inception during the Civil War only seventy-four Hoosiers have been decorated with the Medal of Honor. Only three of the eight recipients from WWII lived to receive the Medal of Honor. The three who received the Medal of Honor have all died. Today there is one Hoosier Hero still alive who has received the Medal of Honor, Sammy Davis who received the Medal for his heroism in Vietnam.
The Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration an American soldier can receive, is given to those that have bravery and courage in defense of our nation. Only Congress and the President of the United States can bestow the decoration. For those who are into numbers, during World War II only 463 of the 17 million men and women who served were nominated and received the Medal of Honor. More than half of them lost their lives during their acts of heroism. The Medal of Honor has always remained above politics and social status; sons of Presidents and sharecroppers alike have been recipients.
In doing my research for this article I learned something interesting. Biddle, who served with the Veterans Affairs Office for over a quarter of a century, obtained his position by chance. President Truman asked a fellow recipient what he was going to do after service discharge. The soldier stated he wanted to work with the VA but wasn’t sure he could pass the Civil Service exam. President Truman replied, “You just did.” President Truman later signed a directive stating that all recipients of our nation’s highest honor can work for the Veteran’s Administration. Biddle assisted veterans with home loans and disability benefits.
Melvin Earl “Bud” Biddle was born on November 28, 1923, in Daleville Indiana and drafted in 1943. At that time he was working for Delco. Biddle completed his basic training at Camp Attaberry. While there, Biddle volunteered to be a paratrooper. He was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia to complete his jump training. Life as a paratrooper was tough to say the least. Each candidate was pushed to physical exhaustion. Once training was completed, they were in as good a shape as any professional athlete. Biddle had hunted with his father, Owen, while growing up and was a more than reasonable shot with a rifle. Despite this, Biddle admits that being around gunfire bothered him in the early stages of his training. When Biddle completed airborne training, he was shipped overseas with the 517th Parachute Regiment. After seeing combat in Italy, Biddle also took part in the invasion of southern France.
In December 1944, the Allies were poised at the German border. The German army had been driven out of France and Belgium and most thought the war would be over in a matter of weeks. It turned out that the Germans had other thoughts. In a surprise attack on December 16, 1944, the German army launched a massive counter attack, which would later be known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” In the fog and snow covered hills of the Belgium Ardennes Forest, the attack took the Allies by surprise. The German army intended to hammer a wedge through the unsuspecting American line in an attempt to slice the American and British armies in half and move north to capture the seaport of Antwerp. Had the German’s plan succeededl, the war would have lasted indefinitely. As the German army moved into Belgium, it smashed through the outnumbered American defenses. Units that held their ground were quickly surrounded. The battle was fought in below-zero temperatures. Veterans of the Ardennes Offensive remember most of all the freezing temperatures.
Biddle embarked on the two-day mission beginning on December 23, 1944 that would end with him receiving the Medal of Honor. That day the 517th was ordered to assist American soldiers desperately holding the town of Hotton. Biddle said, “The Americans trying to hold the town were a group of cooks and clerks who picked up guns and had the guts to fight.” Biddle was the company scout who would lead his unit into the surrounded town. As he moved along, he encountered three German soldiers. Biddle surprised the trio and shot two of the men; the third man ran. Biddle shot the fleeing German twice in the shoulder. Then Biddle led his unit in a close-range battle with the enemy. During the fierce fighting, Biddle was credited for locating two German tanks that were destroyed by members of the 517th.
The following day, Christmas Eve 1944, Biddle led his unit again. Biddle encountered a German soldier on guard patrol. Biddle stated, “He was a young boy about 14 years old; he had been chained to a tree. He had been chained there to keep him from deserting, I guess.” Instead of firing at the boy, Biddle decided to attempt a capture. “When I approached, him he put his hands up.” While stealthily moving forward, Biddle saw the outline of an approaching German patrol. “I could see 15 Germans some distance in front of me.” While his unit moved behind him, Biddle engaged the enemy. The members of Biddle’s unit were unable to assist, because the extreme temperatures caused some of their weapons to malfunction. Alone and armed only with an M1 rifle, Biddle fired at the enemy in an attempt to push them back. When the firing stopped, all 15 members of the German patrol were lying dead in the snow. Demoralized, other Germans in the area fled as the 517th approached.
The Americans in Hotton were rescued without doubt due to the actions of Biddle and the men he led. It’s probable that had Biddle hesitated and not acted decisively when he encountered the enemy, some of the men in his unit would have been killed or wounded. Biddle in an interview shortly before he died told the interviewer that while he was in combat, he was afraid. “Fear of dying wasn’t my biggest concern. My biggest fear was not carrying out my responsibilities to the unit.” Fear of failure outweighed his fear of death.
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
BIDDLE, MELVIN E.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company B, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Place and date: Near Soy, Belgium, 23-24 December 1944. Entered service at: Anderson, Ind. Birth: Daleville, Ind. G.O. No.. 95, 30 October 1945.
He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy near Soy, Belgium, on 23 and 24 December 1944. Serving as lead scout during an attack to relieve the enemy-encircled town of Hotton, he aggressively penetrated a densely wooded area, advanced 400 yards until he came within range of intense enemy rifle fire, and within 20 yards of enemy positions killed 3 snipers with unerring marksmanship. Courageously continuing his advance an additional 200 yards, he discovered a hostile machinegun position and dispatched its 2 occupants. He then located the approximate position of a well-concealed enemy machinegun nest, and crawling forward threw hand grenades which killed two Germans and fatally wounded a third. After signaling his company to advance, he entered a determined line of enemy defense, coolly and deliberately shifted his position, and shot 3 more enemy soldiers. Undaunted by enemy fire, he crawled within 20 yards of a machinegun nest, tossed his last hand grenade into the position, and after the explosion charged the emplacement firing his rifle. When night fell, he scouted enemy positions alone for several hours and returned with valuable information which enabled our attacking infantry and armor to knock out 2 enemy tanks. At daybreak he again led the advance and, when flanking elements were pinned down by enemy fire, without hesitation made his way toward a hostile machinegun position and from a distance of 50 yards killed the crew and 2 supporting riflemen. The remainder of the enemy, finding themselves without automatic weapon support, fled panic stricken. Pfc. Biddle’s intrepid courage and superb daring during his 20-hour action enabled his battalion to break the enemy grasp on Hotton with a minimum of casualties.
/s/ Harry S. Truman President
PFC Melvin “Bud” Biddle died of congestive heart failure on December 16, 2010, at Saint John’s Medical Center in Anderson following a sudden illness. Aged 87 at his death, he was buried in Anderson’s Memorial Park Cemetery on December 20. In deference to his family’s beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Biddle requested that his funeral be free of military observances. His death date was the 66th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, in which he earned the Medal of Honor, and he was Indiana’s last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.