Private 1st Class James J. Beck
(Silver Star, Bronze Star, Croix de Guerre with Palm, and Order of Glory; 3rd Class);
Company ‘K’; 80th Division.
On a Saturday morning, the 19th of August 1944; Private James Beck was involved in an operation to attempt to close the Falaise-Argentan pocket. The 80th Division was involved heavily in the fighting leading out of Normandy and their own accounts give us a flavour of what this bitter struggle with the German Panzer and Panzer Grenadier regiments was like.
From the 80th Division monthly report:
“From the 14th through the 17th of August, the 80th Division was out of contact with the enemy. During this period, the Germans were fighting a desperate rearguard action to save remnants of the 7th German Army from encirclement. German strong points were holding at Argentan-Falaise to prevent the closing of the trap and the 9th SS Panzer Division was trying to hold the eastward attack of the U.S. and British forces. The 80th Division was ordered to move on Argentan to eliminate that German strong point and to close the Argentan-Falaise Gap on 17 August.”
On the 18th of August 1944, the battle for Argentan began proper. The 80th Div. Intelligence report for the 18th of August describes the enemy situation as:
“The city of Argentan and the high ground north of Argentan to Le Bourg St. Leonard was strongly held by the 728th Infantry Regiment of the 116th Panzer Division. Argentan itself was held by a G.A.F. Battalion and a detachment of about 100 SS troopers. 14-15 Panther tanks and numerous self-propelled 20 mm A.A. guns were also committed to the defense of the city and vicinity. The enemy defensive position was well protected by minefields and booby-traps and the enemy had had ample time to dig in. The Forrest of Gouffern, between Argentan and Chambois, provided cover for the enemy supply installations and communication lines.”
It is noted that on the dates 18th – 19th of August 1944 the division took out 14 tanks, two of those tanks were taken out almost single handedly by one man: Private James Beck.
His citation reads as follows:
“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Private First Class James J. Beck (ASN: 33335882), United States Army, for gallantry in action while serving with the 80th Infantry Division in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States on 19 August 1944 in France.”
However his recommendation gives slightly more detail:
“For gallantry in Action 19th August 1944; in France in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States. At about 1330, in the vicinity of Argentan, France, PFC Beck encountered two enemy tanks at about 200 yards over level terrain. In face of automatic fire from the two tanks, PFC Beck fired three shots from his Bazooka and scored two direct hits before being wounded. The first tank was struck at the junction between the turret and the body completely disabling the tank. PFC Beck fired his bazooka from a kneeling position and exposed himself directly to the automatic fire from the enemy tanks, in order to achieve his hits. His calmness and courage in the face of direct automatic fire resulted in the destruction of two enemy tanks and enabling his company to achieve their objective.”
So there you go, for his gallant actions he was honoured by the American’s; Silver Star, France; Croix de Guerre, and The Soviet Union; Order of Glory (Third Class). These men whose gallantry is often forgotten, made the entirety of D-Day possible and without their willingness to risk their lives it could have so easily collapsed.