Joe E. Mann receives the Medal of Honor posthumously on August 30, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 9/25/2014
  • Essay 10922

On August 30, 1945, Joe E. Mann's (1922-1944) father, John Henry Mann (1891-1973), accepts the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to his son. An award ceremony is held at Baxter General Hospital Spokane. The Medal of Honor citation speaks of his conspicuous gallantry on September 18, 1944. Private First Class Joe E. Mann, in the vicinity of Best, Holland, saved the lives of his comrades. For two days his encircled platoon had fought a much stronger enemy force. Mann had killed a number of enemy soldiers and was wounded, with both arms immobilized. When a grenade landed behind him, he could not pick it up, so he fell backwards onto the grenade. He saved six comrades in the dugout and died moments later.

Growing Up on a Wheat Ranch

Joe Eugene Mann was born in Reardan, Washington, the fifth of nine children. He worked on his family's wheat ranch and was especially skilled at mechanical repairs on farm equipment. He attended Reardan High School where he played football, baseball, and tennis, and was active in theater and debate.

Following graduation in 1941, he moved to Seattle to find a war-industry job, going to work at Boeing. On August 26, 1942, he enlisted in the army and had basic training at Fort Lewis (later renamed Joint Base Lewis McChord). Private Mann requested flight training but did not pass the physical due to a high school football injury. His next choice was to become a paratrooper. Mann completed airborne school and received additional parachute infantry training. In 1944 he went to England as a scout in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

Saving Comrades in the Netherlands

Early on September 17, 1944, Private First Class Mann of H Company, 502nd Parachute Infantry, parachuted into Holland in Operation Market Garden. Operation Market Garden was designed to create a bridgehead over the Rhine River into northern Germany. It was Mann's first combat parachute jump. The afternoon of their landing, H Company reached the outskirts of Best village. A platoon of infantry and engineers headed to the Wilhelmina Canal with Private First Class Mann a leading scout. The patrol expected to encounter a very limited defense force. Instead of a small enemy force, 1,000 German soldiers with 13 large guns had taken up positions in the Best area. They would be defeated and the Allied forces would have a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal.

The platoon came under heavy fire as they moved toward the canal. When Joe Mann and the other surviving platoon members reached the canal, they found themselves in the midst of an enemy force. The patrol dug in and waited. They had radioed headquarters that Germany's forces there were much larger than expected. American reinforcements were sent forward, but they were halted by intense enemy gunfire. The patrol with Joe Mann hunkered down for two days as a battle raged around them. On the second day German troops blew up the bridge, taking away the assault goal.

With the bridge gone, Private First Class Mann and a bazooka operator did a reconnaissance of the bridge ruins and discovered a German 88 millimeter gun and ammunition storage. The bazooka operator destroyed the gun and ammunition. As six enemy soldiers charged them, Joe Mann picked them off one by one. However, Mann and his platoon remained encircled by German troops. Mann sought out an escape route so the platoon could reach friendly troops. He was hit in the shoulder by enemy rifle fire as he looked for a way out. A medic put his arm in a sling and tied it down to prevent bleeding and further injury. The wounds did not stop him as he continued to seek an escape route. He was hit twice more in the shoulder and then had both arms in slings and bound to his torso.

His scouting efforts over, Private First Class Mann volunteered to serve as a sentry. On the third day, the German troops closed in on the remaining seven soldiers and started throwing grenades into their position. Of the first four grenades tossed, two were thrown back, one missed, and the fourth exploded at the machine gun, blinding the gunner. A fifth grenade landed near the blinded machine gunner, who felt around, located it, and threw it back just in time.

A sixth grenade landed behind Private First Class Mann who, with his arms bound, could not pick it up. He yelled "grenade" and then fell backwards onto it. He saved his comrades and moments later died. Platoon leader First Lieutenant Edmund L. Wierzboski, reviewing the situation that he had only three men not wounded and was almost out of ammunition, surrendered the position. They were taken prisoner and the wounded received medical attention. Soon afterwards German positions were overrun and they were released.

Remembering Joe E. Mann

In a ceremony at Baxter General Hospital Spokane on August 30, 1945, the hospital commander posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Private First Class Joe E. Mann. His father, John Henry Mann, accepted the medal. In 1946 the Navy ship U.S.N.S. Joe E. Mann was named in his honor. In 1956, at the site of his heroic actions at Best, Holland, the local community erected a monument to him. His parents were special guests at its dedication. In the Best area, an amphitheater and forest are also named for him.

Members of the Mann family have made several trips to Best to take part in memorial events there, where the Joe E. Mann story is still widely known. Closer to home, there is a monument near his grave in the Greenwood Memorial Cemetery, Spokane. Additionally, the veteran's medical center in Spokane is named the Mann-Grandstaff Veterans Affairs Medical Center to honor him and another local recipient of the Medal of Honor. Fort Campbell Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division, also named a theater for him. Mann Street on Lewis Main of Joint Base Lewis McChord recalls this hero from Washington state who trained at Fort Lewis.

Sources: Rick Atkinson, The Guns At Last Light: The War In Western Europe, 1944-1945 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013); Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men Of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Edward F. Murphy, Heroes of World War II (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1990); "Arms Useless, Seattle Man Fell on Grenade, Saving 6," The Seattle Daily Times, September 5, 1945, p. 1; "Fort to Honor War Heroes," The Oregonian, May 17, 1950, p. 10; "Dutch Town To Honor Reardan Hero's Parents," The Seattle Daily Times, September 6, 1956, p. 8.

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