The war to end all wars took a firm grasp of the globe. This was the beginning of a new era of warfare.
Chemical weapons were officially used for the first time, and the horrors of trench warfare began to dawn upon the many soldiers who found themselves sleeping in them.
But for one man, none of this — war, loss, fear — proved to be an obstacle. Thomas Lee Hall was an American soldier who sacrificed to protect his men…
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A Southern Boy Goes to War
From York County, South Carolina, Thomas found himself overseas in the U.S. Army after the start of World War I. He served as a sergeant attached to Company G of the 118th Infantry in the 30th Division.
On October 5, 1918, the Australians in the area commenced the Battle of Montbrehain, France. The ultimate move of this attack was to punch through the massive system of trenches that the Germans placed in the area.
The Allied goal was to first punch through the Hindenburg Line, then pass through the Hindenburg Support Line, and finally puncture the Beaurevoir Line.
If they could do that, they could reach Germany.
After intense fighting, the Aussies managed to take the town of Montbrehain, but only after suffering intense losses.
Just a few short days later, American soldiers would inflict heavy casualties as well.
October 8, 1918
The day proved to be a nightmare.
Trench warfare often felt like nothing more than a prairie dog hunt. Soldiers poked their heads above the trench line with the desperate hope that a sniper or machine gunner’s bullet wouldn’t find its mark.
And yet somehow, Sergeant Thomas Hall led his men to take out two of the German machine gun nests that littered the area.
As his men continued to advance — despite the odds stacked against them — they were finally pinned down with some of the worst machine gun fire any of them had ever experienced.
As the heavy staccato of the gun barks, Hall’s men dove for safety.
By this point, they’ve witnessed firsthand how a machine gun nest protected by elaborate trench systems can annihilate any soldier caught out in the open.
Nevermind the Potential Cost
Sergeant Hall undoubtedly witnessed this as well… all too aware of the potential consequences of exposing himself to that nest. But if something wasn’t done soon, his men would die.
Ordering his men to cover, Hall made his way toward the nest. Did he run? Did he sneak, belly-crawling through the cold mud?
There’s not a lot of information to tell us. It’s a facet of the story that seems to have been forgotten. But what we do know is that Thomas Hall brought a knife to a gunfight. And he was going to win.
Using his bayonet (likely either an M1905 for a Garand or an M1917 for a trench shotgun), Hall attacked the German machine gun nest.
It was one versus five, yet Hall somehow killed all five men, singlehandedly taking out an entire machine gun nest with nothing other than his bayonet.
To Set an Example
Not only did Hall save his men, but he provided an exceptional show of what bravery truly meant.
Perhaps this is part of the reason that there are so many stories of heroism on October 8 from the 188th Infantry Unit that day.
Gary Foster, James Heriot, and James Dozier were other men of the 188th that went on to win the Medal of Honor that day, each of them having silenced machine gun nests — and often with nothing more than grenades, pistols, and even bayonets.
Did they draw inspiration from Hall, did he from them, or were the men of the 118th just a different breed?
Hall would die later that day after being shot while trying to take out another machine gun nest. You can see his grave at Unity Cemetery in South Carolina.
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