This Hard Charging American Soldier Held Off Two Infantry Companies and Became a ‘One-Man Army’
Alton Warren “Knappie” Knappenberger honed his marksmanship skills early. His father, a Prohibition moonshiner, passed away when he was only 5, and Knappenberger often relied on his hunting skills to help feed his family. With just a 5th grade education and while working as a pig farmer, he was drafted into the Army in 1943.
Near the beginning of 1944, Knappenberger was a PFC serving with the 30th IR/3rd ID. With WWII raging on, he was sent to Italy.
On February 1, at a location near Cisterna di Littoria, Knappenberger and his battalion came under attack by German forces.
As gunfire began raining down, Knappenberger made his way to an exposed knoll, taking up a position with his automatic rifle in hand.
An enemy machine gun, located approximately 85 yards from his location, opened fire, missing Knappenberger by as little as six inches, according to a post by Zero Foxtrot.
Lifting himself into a kneeling position, Knappenberger returned fire, taking out the gun as well as killing two enemy fighters. He also wounded a third.
As he attacked the machinegun’s position, two Germans crawled toward him, getting within 20 yards of the knoll before they began hurling grenades in his direction. Knappenberger killed the pair of enemy soldiers with a single burst from his rifle.
Not long after, a second machine gun attacked his position from a distance of approximately 100 yards, but Knappenberger took him out as well.
Then, an antiaircraft gun was pointed at Knappenberger, but he fought back, wounding another enemy fighter.
As tank and artillery shells burst all around him, some coming within 15 yards of his position, Knappenberger held firm and continued to fire upon the enemy soldiers.
When he ran out of ammunition, he crawled toward the machinegun fire for 15 yards to remove rifle clips from a casualty before crawling back and continuing his assault.
Once his ammo supply ran out completely, he rejoined his company.
Over the course of two hours, Knappenberger repelled two German infantry companies and killed 60 enemy soldiers.
An American general, according to a report by the Washington Post, referred to Knappenberger as a “one-man army.”
Knappenberger was awarded the Medal of Honor for Valor based on his actions that day. He passed away at the age of 84 on June 9, 2008.