Willie Sandlin, WWI Hero

From The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Frankfort, Ky. May, 1920, Vol. 18, No. 53. "Above and Beyond the Call of Duty", by Fred P. Caldwell, State Historian for Kentucky Council of Defense, Louisville, Ky. pp. 9-11. Perry County.

SERGEANT WILLIE SANDLIN. Sergeant Willie Sandlin, the possessor of one of these medals [Congressional Medal of Honor], can truly be said to be one of the conspicuous heroes of the World War [I]. Born of humble parents, near Buckhorn, in Perry County, Ky., on January 1, 1891, he had the misfortune to lose his mother when he was a small boy. He grew to manhood with few advantages.

At an early age he enlisted in the United States Regular Army. The hardships of youth had taught him well the lesson of taking care of himself. Straight as an arrow, with keen, alert, but steady black eyes, black hair, powerfully muscular, but not heavy built, he was a splendid type of the sturdy men who come from the Kentucky mountain counties. He was not assertive, but almost timid. But his mother was an Abner, and the Abners were among the sturdiest, most reliant stock of the old time families in Perry County. His quick black eyes and muscular frame came from his mother.


Sergeant Smith passed through several engagements during the summer of 1918, but it was at Bois de Forges, France, on September 26, 1918, that the supreme test came and was met with a splendid showing of courage and self reliance seldom equaled in the annals of warfare. He was at that time with Company A, 132nd Infantry, Prairie Division. His line was ordered to advance on that day to a certain objective. The advance was vitally important. Just as the line started it was held up by a withering fire from carefully placed machine gun nests, two guns to each nest. Sandlin's quick eye presently noticed that there was a narrow lane between the swing of the two guns in the nest in front of his part of the line.

    Securing a full supply of hand grenades, he charged the nests single-handed, with rifle and grenades. Advancing within seventy-five yards of the guns, he threw his first grenade, which fell short, and exploded without effect. He ran about thirty yards nearer the nest and threw his second grenade, which struck the nest. Throwing two more grenades, he charged the nest. Finding two of the gunners unhurt, he put them out of action with his bayonet. In this charge the enemy emptied two automatic revolvers at him.


He accounted for a total of eight Germans in that nest.  With that his part of the line advanced, and the other Hun machine gun nests were quickly flanked. The second Hun machine gun line was quickly reached and again Sergeant Sandlin did almost the same thing in the same way, finishing off the men in that nest with grenade and bayonet. His part of the line advanced and quickly that part of the Hun line was flanked and mopped up.


Then he advanced on to a third machine gun nest, finishing off the crew of eight men with grenade, automatic and bayonet. The American line then went through to its objective, which Sergeant Sandlin was determined that it would do. Thus it is known that he accounted for twenty-four Huns that day. How many more he does not know. He was in the thick of the fighting throughout with grenade, rifle and automatic.  Sergeant Sandlin's remarkable feats of arms were of exceptional military importance, since they were the means of letting the line through to the day's objective. Some consider that this factor causes his day's work to excel that of Sergeant York. The latter was suddenly surprised in the very jaws of hell and fought his way out with un-paralleled magnificence. On the other hand, Sergeant Sandlin voluntarily and deliberately ran into the jaws of death, into dangers so great that he could hardly hope to come out with his life.  His quickness, his coolness, his unerring aim, enabled him to accomplish what he set out to do.  Sergeant Sandlin was wounded slightly and gassed. After coming home, he was sent back to France in charge of the work of removing the bodies of our soldiers. 


The official citation which accompanied the award to Sergeant Sandlin is as follows: "By direction of the President, under the provision of the Act of Congress, approved July 9, 1918, the medal of honor has been awarded, in the name of the Congress, to the following named enlisted man for the act of gallantry set after his name. Following is Gen. Pershing's cabled recommendation, which has been approved: 'Sergt. Willie Sandlin, Company A, 132d Infantry (A. S. No. 278103). For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty with the enemy at Bois de Forges, France, September 26, 1918. Sgt. Sandlin showed conspicuous gallantry in action at Bois de Forges, France, on September 26, by advancing alone directly on a machine gun nest which was holding up the line with its fire.


 He killed the crew with a grenade and enabled the line to advance. Later in the day Sgt. Sandlin attacked alone and put out of action two other machine gun nests, setting a splendid example of bravery and coolness to his men.  Home address, John Sandlin, brother, Hyden, Ky." U. S. Official Bulletin, Feb. 13, 1919, p. 9.

Willie died May 29, 1949 and was buried in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville.

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