Vernon McGarity, who won the Medal of Honor for braving enemy gunfire to rescue wounded soldiers and destroy German weapons during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, died Tuesday in Memphis, Tenn. He was 91.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced the death.
McGarity was a technical sergeant in the 99th Infantry Division in December 1944 when Hitler mounted his last offensive of the war in the snowy, densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
Allied forces, which had been moving toward Germany after the D-Day invasion of France, were caught unaware by the counteroffensive and were initially pushed back. Hitler had hoped to defeat the British and Americans there so he could concentrate on fighting the Soviet Union on the eastern front.
The 99th was hailed as heroic in the battle, holding its position under withering fire until reinforcements came. Though outnumbered 5 to 1, it inflicted casualties by a ratio of 18 to 1.
McGarity was “painfully wounded” near Krinkelt, Belgium, the Medal of Honor citation said. But after receiving treatment he refused to be evacuated and rejoined his unit to direct them in the ensuing battle.
“So tenaciously did these men fight on orders to stand firm at all costs that they could not be dislodged despite murderous enemy fire and the breakdown of communications,” the citation said.
On Dec. 16, the battle’s first day, McGarity risked his life to rescue a wounded soldier. Throughout the night he exhorted his comrades to repel the enemy. At daybreak the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry. Dashing to where he could fire a rocket launcher, he destroyed the lead tank. Three other tanks withdrew under fire.
He rescued another wounded American, then directed what the citation called “devastating fire” on a German light cannon. When ammunition ran low, he braved gunfire to retrieve ammunition stashed 100 yards away.
He then single-handedly attacked a machine-gun nest, killing or wounding all the gunners. Only when his squad’s last round had been fired were the Germans able to advance and capture him and his troops.
The citation lauded McGarity for giving American forces “the time necessary for assembling reserves and forming a line against which the German striking power was shattered.”
McGarity spent the next six months in a prisoner-of-war camp, until the war was over. The 99th Division drew back to a defensive position and held.
The Battle of the Bulge, lasting about six weeks, was the costliest of the war for the United States, resulting in about 75,000 casualties and some 19,000 dead. German casualties were estimated at 100,000. The battle eroded Germany’s military resources, and the Allies marched on to Berlin.
McGarity was born Dec. 1, 1921, in Hardin County, Tenn. He lived in Barlett, a Memphis suburb, and worked for the Veterans Administration after the war. He is survived by a son, Ray. His wife, Ethelene, and a daughter, Sharron, died earlier.
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