“The Sergeant York of WWII”

Allied invasion plans and German positions in Normandy
Allied invasion plans and German positions in Normandy

Jack Oliver is a Certified Public Accountant with Oliver and Associates from Fairmont, West Virginia who became actively involved in filing a petition on Harrison Summers’ behalf for a Medal of Honor. He spoke to us about Sergeant Harrison Summers and we would like to share some of the story with you.
Sergeant Summers is awarded D.S.C old newspaper clipping Harrison was born in Catawba near Rivesville. Around 1937, after attending East Fairmont High School, Mr. Summers served a tour where he had been stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii before re-enlisting in 1942 for WWII. Jack told us the reason he reenlisted was so that he could train to be a paratrooper; otherwise, he would return to the same duty he left. Once he was trained, he immediately began instructing at the paratrooper school in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Eventually, Mr. Summers received his assignment for Europe and was placed with the 101st Airborne Division (of the First Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment). They were stationed in England preparing to invade German-occupied Normandy.
On June 6, 2:30am (D-Day), Thousands of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne were lifted into France. As the assault force approached the coast, it encountered fog and antiaircraft fire, which forced some of the planes to break formation. Paratroopers from both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions missed their landing zones and were scattered over wide areas. For many, the initial struggle of combat was to find their units and approximately 1500 soldiers from the division were killed or captured. Flight commanders gave orders to jump at the wrong time causing some of the paratroopers to come down in the deep waters fatally injuring them. Harrison Summers was spared by a mishap. When his flight commander gave the order for the paratroopers to jump, the cargo that was to go first got lodged in the cargo door. Minutes went by before they got the bundle out. That offset the commander’s error just enough to place Summers in the proper destination to begin the scheduled raid.

Harrison Summers ParaTrooper The troops were left in disarray from unforeseen errors and encounters. At 6:30am, Col. Cassidy assigned Sgt. Harrison Summers 15 soldiers who were not part of his unit. He did not know these men and they did not know him. They were given orders to take out “WXYZ”, which was a row of seven Normandy homes that had previously been invaded by German Machine Gunners that were trained to report to their duty stations (concrete tunnels holding large machine guns pointed off the shores into the ocean) and hold off Allied Armies who were trying to advance from the Normandy Beaches. The homes set across a lane that ran through the center of the land. Harrison instructed the soldiers to move out and cover him as he led. The soldiers became hesitant because there were a couple of hundred German soldiers and only fifteen of them so some of them refused and hunkered down alongside the road.

Buildings 2, 3 and 4 of WXYZ Operation inland by about a kilometer from St-Martin-de-Varreville.
Buildings 2, 3 and 4 of WXYZ Operation inland by about a kilometer from St-Martin-de-Varreville.

As he approached the first house, he instructed the soldier behind him to go to the rise of the hill and keep the enemy from coming at him from the right flank. He rushed to the front, kicking down the door and firing his “Tommy Gun” as he entered, surprising them and shooting four Germans while the others fled to other barracks. The second barracks was empty. By this time, PVT William A. Burt had advanced to help. He peppered the building ports with the machine gun to keep the Germans from peeping out. Harrison and the two troopers were making their way to the third building when an explosion hit one of them severely injuring his right arm. Summers still proceeded knocking the door down to the third barracks, firing as he entered, shooting six Germans.
He collapsed alongside a wall to rest. As he sat there reflecting on what he just did, the Captain from the 82nd Airborne maneuvered up beside him and inquired and then encouraged Summers to continue. Then, the Captain was shot down instantly. Summers took cover.
PVT John F. Camien, Jr. approached with a rifle and by Summers’ side, they ran to the next three barracks rotating tasks with the first one gunning and the other supporting with the rifle. Working very efficiently, communicating with hand signals, they killed 30 German invaders, taking no prisoners. The mess hall was the largest barrack but Summers kept the same strategy and proceeded kicking the door down and killing 15 men sitting at the breakfast table. The rest ran out of the building and were eventually captured by the other soldiers that stayed behind.
Building 5 of WXYZ Operation.
Building 5 of WXYZ Operation.

The two-story barracks behind the mess hall was more of a challenge. Four paratroopers were fatally injured and four severely wounded. Under Summers’ command, PVT Burt fired tracer bullets into a huge haystack near the building that resulted in a spreading fire that caught nearby ammunition stored in a building where the Germans had taken shelter. Thirty were shot down by the ammo when they tried to flee from the building.
Building 9 of WXYZ Operation.
Building 9 of WXYZ Operation.

Staff Sergeant Roy Nickrent of Headquarters Company in the First Battalion showed up with a bazooka and fired several rounds into the building. The top floor caught fire. Approximately 100 Germans came flooding out of the building. By this time, reinforcement from the Fourth Division was arriving from the East and a regimental group led by Col John Michaelis was coming from the West.
Sgt. Summers’ efforts helped clear Utah Beach and the 101st had secured a strategic section making it possible for the large numbers of Allied soldiers being brought there in landing ships to approach without adversary. More than 20,000 safely landed keeping casualties to a minimum.
Harrison Summers War Bond Ad Jack Oliver said Sgt. Summers was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for what others would have received a Medal of Honor. He believes Harrison Summers was slighted the highest military decoration because Col. Cassidy did not believe Summers had single handedly led the operation as other soldiers said that he did.
Summers also fought at Operation Market Garden in Holland, where he was wounded and received a purple heart. He was wounded again in Bastogne, receiving another purple heart. He quickly became Fairmont’s local hero in his time and many historians refer to him as the “Sergeant York of WWII” because his history with WWII is very similar to Sergeant Alvin York’s history with WWI. Yes, Alvin York received a Medal of Honor.
Jack also shared a newspaper clipping of an old war bond ad featuring Harrison Summers.

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