When the enemy attacked at dusk on Aug. 29, 1944, near Brest, France, a heavy-machine-gun unit for the Allies was out of position.
As Army infantrymen rushed to ready for battle, a 22-year-old Northeast Catholic High School alumnus stood up, in full view of Nazi paratroopers.
Buying time, Sgt. John J. McVeigh fired his M-1 rifle at the Germans, who were advancing on recently claimed Allied ground. When he ran out of bullets, McVeigh pulled out a trench knife and charged, killing one soldier in a hand-to-hand exchange before he was shot dead at point-blank range.
His sacrifice allowed members of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, Second Infantry Division, to mount a defense and hold their position. For his selfless efforts, McVeigh was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 20, 1945. He is believed to be the only Philadelphian to receive the military’s highest honor during World War II.
“There’s a lot of humanity there that people forget,” said John G. Kershaw, McVeigh’s nephew and a retired Army aviator and foreign-area officer, “and we’re making an endeavor to ensure they don’t.”
This year, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUS) is holding a series of events to commemorate the anniversary of the posthumous award 75 years ago. Events began Friday evening with the inaugural Liberty Stakes competition among Army ROTC teams from Temple, Drexel, and Widener Universities.
Each school broke its squad’s into two groups, for a total of six squads competing for the first place trophy. Hosted by Drexel, the competition included a four-mile trek with weighted backpacks that culminated at the Art Museum steps, and a hand-grenade-assault course. There was also a tug-of-war, a casualty evacuation exercise, a rifle assembly and disassembly challenge, and a marksmanship exercise with a trivia portion pertaining to Philadelphia and the city’s military history.