According to the Congressional act in 1919 that established the Distinguished Service Cross, one of the criteria is that "the act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his comrades."
John Stanton was awarded the DSC, the second-highest award in the Army to the Medal of Honor, in conduct during the Allied push in France in September 1944.
Approximately 5,000 were issued during World War II.
But, to this day, Stanton will tell you he is not a hero.
And, in fact, he did not know he received the award until a year after the event took place in the French town of Noroy Le Bourg.
And he still does not know who wrote the citation.
The text of the citation tells a harrowing story of personal sacrifice and heroism.
"When the advance of his company was halted, Sergeant Stanton singlehandedly charged a strongly emplaced machine gun. Moving in long rushes across one hundred and twenty-five yards of flat, exposed ground through point-blank machine gun fire and with mortar shells exploding fifteen yards from him, Sergeant Stanton hit the ground twenty-five yards from his objective and, with deadly rifle fire, destroyed the entire enemy gun crew, silencing the gun. Sergeant Stanton then dashed to a barn twenty-five yards to his left front where a flack weapon was in position. Destroying the gun with a hand grenade, he shot and killed one of the crew, putting the rest to flight. Continuing his solitary attack, he advanced down a street of Noroy Le Bourg under sniperfire to a barn, held by a numerous enemy group. Hurling a grenade through a barn door, he forced at least ten Germans to surrender and wounded several others. Continuing his one-man assault, Sergeant Stanton almost collided with a German infantryman as he rounded a street corner. Wrenching the rifle from the startled German's grasp, he killed him as he attempted to flee. Then, firing his M-1 rifle into a cellar where the enemy was lodged in considerable force, he compelled fifteen more Germans to yield. Having killed eight and captured at least twenty-five of the enemy and knocked out two gun positions, Sergeant Stanton waited until the men of his company caught up with them, then joined them in clearing out the town and capturing seventy-five more prisoners."
The untold story? Stanton was actually captured briefly during that day.
Stanton said the "German had me captured. I talked the German into letting me go."
Stanton still has the Walther P38 pistol he captured as a token of surrender from the German commander in the basement. His words tell the story best.
"As I entered the last building, I heard the sound of a squeaky hinge. At that moment my eye focused on a small door in the floor as it began to close. I immediately stuck the barrel of my gun in the remaining crack and started to fire a few shots into the darkness below. I could hear men's voices, some louder than others but could not understand what they were saying. As I fired three more additional shots and reloaded my rifle with another clip, I yelled to the men to surrender. Eventually, the door opened and the soldiers revealed themselves one by one. One of the German officers spoke broken English and told his men to surrender. I commanded that they throw their weapons to the side and they did. The final soldier was the officer in charge. As I watched carefully, he slowly displayed his hand clinging to the barrel of his side arm. This was his sign of surrender. I accepted the pistol and slid it into my belt. He continued his peaceful act as he removed his holster and handed it to me. The German officer then stepped toward his men and joined the line of prisoners in a column of two as I had commanded. The men continued their orderly walk toward my men further down the road. I was exhausted, relieved and thankful that the ordeal was over. For the next few minutes I stood numb to what had just happened."
A year later, Stanton said a second lieutenant handed him a letter and a box that contained the DSC while in the chow line for breakfast one day. "I put it in my hip pocket (and) went in and ate," he said. "We went back to the tent city where I was staying (and) went to the captain and asked him what this is all about."
That's all that was said of the honor until the end of the war. While men were being discharged a colonel approached Stanton one day and showed him a copy of the citation. Stanton said he told the colonel that he had already seen the letter and the award and that he had it in his dufflebag.
"He took the award," said Stanton, who was then given a choice have the award presented where they were in France, in Holland or on the French coast overlooking the White Cliffs of Dover. The colonel then surprised Stanton and told him the DSC "could only be pinned on by at least a three-star general."
So Stanton was given a new uniform and a police escort for five or six miles to a castle overlooking the White Cliffs.
"Oh God, I was scared," he said. After being coached on how to act, including not to salute the general when the general saluted him after the presentation was made, a general came up to him to make the presentation. "By that time, I was weak as anything. I was flabbergasted."
But the benefits didn't end with the ceremony. Stanton was given $24 and the Army "paid me $2 a month for wearing the pin."
While Stanton doesn't know who wrote the citation, he had an interesting encounter with the general who signed the citation, Brigadier General Alexander Patch.
Stanton knew that Patch would be coming past his patrol one day and he told his men that when he passed, they would stand and salute.
He passed. They saluted. But Patch told his driver to stop the vehicle and jumped out to come to talk to Stanton and his men. Patch told the men that they were actually doing the fighting, and doing a great job, while he had a desk job issuing orders. Patch, who clearly understood the contributions of the men of Stanton's patrol, saluted the men and walked away.
"I was no hero when I made the charge for that medal," Stanton said. "You didn't have the brains to do that. God must have kept you in line. I have to give credit to him."