It was 11:30 in the morning near St. Jacques, France when Private Wilburn Ross decided to absorb the impact of a German counterattack—alone.
The year was 1944—October 30, to be exact—and the Germans had already wiped out 55 of 88 men in Ross' company. The Americans had attacked "an entrenched, full-strength German company of elite mountain troops," his citation reads.
As the Germans launched their counterattack, Ross snatched his light machinegun and placed it 10 yards in front of his company's supporting riflemen, facing the enemy and absorbing their impact. Even though bullets riddled the ground around him, Ross successfully repelled the Germans.
The attacks kept coming, however: rifle grenades, machine guns, automatic fire. Yet Ross kept manning his gun—alone—holding off another six German attacks. By the eighth assault, most of his company's riflemen were out of ammunition. Yet Ross kept fighting, now virtually alone, even as German fighters with grenades crawled within just four yards of his position, intending to kill him.
Upon firing his final rounds, Ross was advised to withdraw to the company command post with eight surviving riflemen, but he declined, as more ammunition was expected. Seeing his temporary vulnerability, the Germans launched a final attack, concentrating their fire on Ross—the man with the gun who stood in their way of breaking through to the Americans.
In a last-ditch stand, Ross' supporting riflemen fixed their bayonets … but just as the Germans were about to swarm his position, more ammunition arrived.