The exploits of World War I Medal of Honor recipient Samuel Woodfill are worthy of a home page in the archives of the Internet. The following accounts are a fascinating and inspiring exhibit of military memorabilia.
This is the website of a man whom General Pershing called "America's greatest soldier," a man who had more medals (1919) than any other soldier in the army and who was responsible for "the most remarkable one-man exploit of World War I." The WASHINGTON STAR commented that his deeds of valor were so quietly done that no one knew about them except the War Department..."How did it happen that the country at large was deprived of the knowledge of him. Someone should be charged with the responsibility of searching out and making known these great shy ones." The intent of this website is to make known the long forgotten heroic life and deeds of Lieutenant Samuel Woodfill.
"Samuel Woodfill, first lieutenant 60th Infantry. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy at Cunel, France, October 12, 1918. While he was leading his company against the enemy his line came under heavy machine-gun fire, which threatened to hold up the advance. Followed by two soldier at 25 yards, this officer went out ahead of his first line towards a machine-gun nest and worked his way around its flank, leaving the two soldiers in front. (When he got within ten yards of the gun it ceased firing, and four of the enemy appeared, three of whom were shot by Woodfill. The fourth, an officer, rushed at Lieuitenant Woodfill, who attempted to club the officer with his rifle. After a hand to hand struggle, Lieutenant Woodfill killed the officer with his pistol.) (The account in brackets is someone inaccurate.)
His company thereupon continued to advance until shortly afterwards another machine-gun nest was encountered. Calling to his men to follow, Lt. Woodfill rushed ahead of his line in the face of heavy fire from the nest, and when several of the enemy appeared above the nest, he shot them, capturing three other members of the crew and silencing the gun. A few minutes later this officer, for the third time demonstrated conspicuous daring by charging another machine-gun position, killing five men in one machine-gun pit with his rifle. He then drew his revolver and started to jump into the pit when two other gunners only a few yards away turned their gun on him. Failing to kill them with his revolver, he grabbed a pick lying near by and killed both ot them. Inspired with exceptional courage displayed by this officer, his men pressed on to their objective under severe shell and machine-gun fire.
In the face of adversity, it is often comforting to read of those who triumphed over impossible circumstances. In the year of the great stock market collapse, 1929, Lowell Thomas authored a biopgraphy of Samuel Woodfill. WOODFILL OF THE REGULARS (Doubleday, Doran and Company, Garden CIty, New York) must have sparked inner hope in the hearts of those whose fortunes appeared lost. As a remotely related ancestor of Samuel Woodfill, (We shared a common forefather, my Great-Great-Great Grandfather and Samuel Woodfill's Grandfather was a Kentucky Methodist preacher named Daniel Woodfill, Sr.), I endeavoured to explore his past. A copy of the long out-of-print biography, WOODFILL OF THE REGULARS was listed among the archives of the Houston Public Library. Several weeks after requesting the book, I was able to review the old soldier's life and career in intimate detail. Lowell Thomas authored a thorough biography and documentary of the man and his exploits. The following anecdotes are from WOODFILL OF THE REGULARS:
(Chapter X, Pg. 158) "At an elevation of 45 degrees, it was claimed that our rifles would carry three miles. Now was the chance to try mine out. I ran the sight up to twelve hundred yards, lay down on the snow, jammed my elbows into the crust, put my bandolier in front of me and let fly with my first shot. The caribou just turned and looked. I raised my sight several hundred yards and fired again. The caribou took up a trot for a little way, then slowed down again. I raised the sight for the third time and fired. This time I saw the bullet strike just in front of them. At last I had the range. My sight was at 1800 yards! I pulled the trigger once more and brought one of them down. They were loping now, but that didn't make so much difference so long as I had the range. I fired two more times. Both bullets missed by a few yards. The third bullet brough down another of the herd. Slipping in a new clip of bullets, I began again. After dropping a third, the others disappeared over the crest. Hardy got there about this time. He had seen the herd before I had but never thought they were close enough to hit. Then to his amazement, he had seen them drop one after another in front of his eyes. "Ye bloody blighter," he exclaimed, "ye were shoootin' 'em at better'n a mile."
(Pg. 268) "The way the bullets were plowing up the ground all around me and zipping through my pack I figured the jig was up...Then to liven things up still more that machine gunner must have invited his artillery to attend the party. Suddenly, there was a whine above the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns. A German .77 plowed into the field ten or twelve places behind me. The second one exploded nearer still. A shower of dirt and corrugated iron rattled on my tine hat and half buried me. Mebbe the next had my name on it.
I was trapped without a chance to do a darn thing. I didn't want to hand in my checks to old St. Peter without scribbling a final message to my wife. In my blouse pocket was the picture of her in wedding dress that I always carried then. I slipped it out, fumbled and found a stub of a pencil. On the back, I put her address in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and then amid the roar of exploding shells and the crackle of machine-gun bullets, I wrote her what I thought was sure to be a farewell message."
In case of axcident or Death It is my last and fondest desire that the finder of my remains shall please do me a last, and ever lasting favor to please forward this picture to my Darling Wife. And tell her that I have fallen on the field of honor, and departed to a better land which knows no sorrow and feels no pain. I will prepare a place and be waiting at the Golden Gait of Heaven for the arrival of my Darling Blossom.
"I had guessed wrong. There was no German ammunition with my name on it that day."
(Pg. 316) "Woodfill remained very little known, even in army circles, until 1921, when the great ceremony of the Unknown Soldier was held. Among the pallbearers of the Unknown (the honor guard) were to be the three outstanding soldiers of the A.E.F. General Pershing was to select them. A committee received 3,000 citations, the records of three thousand men who had been honored during the war. From these were selected 100. General Pershing went over the 100 and picked "3." One of the three was Sergeant York. Another was Colonel Whitlesey of the "Lost Battalion." Another was Samuel Woodfill. When Pershing came to Woodfill's name on the list, he said: "Why, I've already selected that man as the outstanding soldier of the A.E.F."
Newspaper reporters got this statement. Few had heard of Woodfill. They went scurrying to look up the records. The burial of the Unknown Soldier took place with great pomp. Wilson, Taft, and Harding were in the procession. Wodfill had his wife come on to Washington for the ceremony, and they received much attention. Senator Ernst of Kentucky led him to the White House and introduced him to the President. At a performance of the Belasco Theator, Woodfill sat in the presidential box. One of the singers in the show spied him and told the audience about his valorous deeds. He got an ovation and was mobbed by admirers after the show. Congress adjourned in his honor. He was banqueted by the members of the House and Senate, and was photographed with the President and Secretary of War. In New York he was received with honors, and was the guest of Judge Philip J. McCook of the New York Supreme Court, who had been an intelligence officer with the Fifth Division overseas and had been badly wounded. Judge McCook took him to see Marshal Foch, then on a visit to America. The Marshall said he was happy to meet the first soldier of America, and Woodfill responded that he was happy to meet the first soldier of the World. He was received at the Stock Exchange, which suspended business for three minutes in his honor. A reception at the Hippodrome - Foch was there, and Woodfill had the right-hand box. Here again he was greeted with deafening applause. The Fifth Division gave a banquet in his honor, and Chase painted his portrait. "