Three soldiers, two dressed in World War II-era fatigues and one in Vietnam-era fatigues, stood facing a small crowd gathered at Fort Riley’s Victory Park on Tuesday morning. Each soldier represented a Medal of Honor recipient that was a member of the 1st Infantry Division. The 1st Infantry Division has had 37 Medal of Honor recipients in its 103-year history and throughout 2021, the division is honoring those 37 men as part of the Big Red One Year of Honor.
On Tuesday, the division honored World War II soldiers 1st Lieutenant Walter Will and Staff Sergeant George Peterson, and 2nd Lieutenant Robert Hibbs who fought in the Vietnam War.
“In the case of all three of these extraordinary members of the Big Red One,” Major General D.A. Sims, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, said addressing the crowd. “We are inspired by their acts of valor and selflessness and look to those examples as we look to increase our own values and character.”
Peterson and Will both earned their medals near Eisern in Southern Germany on March 30, 1945, when their company, Company K, came under heavy small-arms, machine gun and mortar fire.
Crawling as to avoid the fire, Peterson took the lead of his battalion and motioned for his men to follow when a mortar shell fell close by and severely wounded his legs. Undeterred by the bleeding and intense pain, he continued forward. Two separate times, he managed to pull himself up to his knees and fire grenades into machine-gun nests, taking out the crew. He was then shot in the arm by an enemy rifleman but continued to crawl until a third machine gun opened fire on him.
He once again raised himself up to his knees and fired a grenade at the gunners, killing three of the crew and forcing the fourth to retreat. Peterson only perished after, while being treated for his many wounds, he spotted one of his outpost men seriously wounded by a mortar burst. He began to crawl towards the man’s position but was struck and killed by an enemy bullet.
In another part of that fight, Will exposed himself to enemy fire to rescue two wounded men and then, ignoring his own injuries, went back into the line of fire to carry another soldier out of harm’s way. He then continued to lead the men in his platoon forward until they were pinned down by flanking fire from two separate machine guns.
Will crawled 30 feet and killed the four-man crew at the first machine gun with a grenade and then continued to crawl 20 more feet where he then leaped to his feet and charged the gun and its nine-man crew and captured it.
After that, Will spotted another platoon that was being pinned down by two German machine guns and he led a squad to attempt to flank the gunners. He rose to his knees in the face of direct fire and lobbed three grenades, killing the crew of one of the machine guns. Will later died as a result of the wounds from his heroics.
Nearly 21 years later, in the jungles of Vietnam, Hibbs was in command of a 15-man ambush patrol as part of the 2d battalion of the 28th Infantry. After alerting his battalion to an oncoming Viet Cong company headed their way, Hibbs placed two mines in their path and wounded or killed half of the Viet Cong company. While fighting what was left of that group of soldiers, they ran into the rear of another Viet Cong company deployed to attack the battalion. Hibbs and his company managed to surprise that company, charging through the rear which completely disrupted the attack.
Hibbs then learned that a wounded soldier was caught in between the two companies of Viet Cong and despite being just moments away from his battalion and having leg wounds, Hibbs and his men maneuvered through two Viet Cong machine guns and got to the soldier who was dragged back to safety while Hibbs stayed behind and provide cover fire. He was shot down while attempting to charge two Viet Cong machine gunners but before he died, he managed to destroy the scope on his rifle so it could not be used by the Viet Cong against his men.
After the ceremony, Tuesday morning, soldiers and civilian employees participated in a Victory Leadership Panel which combined live and virtual appearances by NFL and NCAA coaches such as K-State football head coach Chris Klieman and baseball head coach Pete Hughes and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll among others.
The day was wrapped up by unveiling new street signs around Fort Riley in honor of the three Medal of Honor recipients.