John Thomas Corley
West Point, 1938
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by John Hicks on June 26, 2005:
March 14, 2005
Duty, Honor, Country
Corley displayed bravery, leadership in two wars
By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times
Brig. Gen. John T. Corley was that rare Army hero, a natural leader who fought in two wars and earned every U.S. combat decoration except the Medal of Honor, but he never made headlines.
The son of Irish immigrants, Corley grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and graduated from the Military Academy in 1938.
As a major, he landed in North Africa with the 1st Infantry Division, the ?Big Red One,?Eon Nov. 8, 1942. Two days later, he earned a Silver Star in close-quarters action near Oran, Algeria.
As part of his division?s 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry, Corley was in more point-blank fighting near El Guettar, Tunisia, in March 1943. During a battle for high ground, he destroyed an enemy machine-gun nest, enabling his battalion to seize a hilltop.
That earned Corley the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation?s second- highest award for valor.
In May 1943, Corley became a lieutenant colonel, took command of the 3rd Battalion and survived being wounded near Mateur, Tunisia. Gen. J. Lawton ?Lightning Joe?ECollins, who commanded VII Corps, called Corley ?one of the best of a fabulous group of battalion leaders in the 1st Division.?Ep>Corley was at the front during the invasion of Sicily, the D-Day landing at Normandy and the Hurtgen Forest battle of late 1944.
In an extraordinary series of combat actions, Corley was awarded four oak leaf clusters to his Silver Star.
After weeks of street fighting, on Oct. 21, 1944, Corley accepted the surrender of Col. Gerhard Wilck, the German commander at Aachen, the first German city taken by U.S. troops.
As a symbol, Wilck turned over his 7.65mm Model 1937 Frommer pistol and holster made in Hungary.
A history published by 1st Division veterans tells of American soldiers being inspired by Corley?s calm demeanor under fire and hoping his ?Irish luck?Ewould rub off.
In the postwar era, Corley served at West Point. When Korean fighting began in 1950, he became a battalion commander again, now in the 24th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division ?Tropic Lightning.?EAdvancing into North Korea, Corley was at the front again.
At Haman, North Korea, Corley again led his troops in an eyeball-to-eyeball slugfest that brought him an oak leaf cluster to his Distinguished Service Cross.
Corley became a Ranger somewhat belatedly in 1958.
After Korea, he served in positions of increasing responsibility. He became a brigadier general in January 1963, and his final assignment was as deputy commander at Fort Jackson, S.C., in 1966.
He retired the following year and died in 1977 at age 63.
Col. Frederic Borch, a career Army judge advocate who has written extensively on military history topics, said Corley?s low-key style kept him out of the limelight despite his many awards.
?He was an officer with rare qualities of bravery and leadership,?EBorch said.
Corley and his wife, the former Mary Buckley, were the parents of five children, including 1st Lt. John T. Corley Jr. (West Point, 1967), who was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1968.
Much of Corley?s memorabilia, including the Wilck pistol, is displayed at the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Ga.
Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of books on military topics, including ?Chopper,?Ea history of helicopter pilots. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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