John “Bud” Hawk, an Army sergeant who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism during a battle of the Normandy campaign that led to the Allied liberation of France in World War II, died Nov. 4 at his home in Bremerton, Wash. He was 89.
The cause was complications from a stroke, said his daughter Marilyn Harrelson.
Hawk grew up in a community on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where, he once said, the post office was the “center of the known world.” He joined the Army shortly after graduating from high school, was shipped to France weeks after the D-Day invasion and received an unexpected promotion from private first class after his sergeant was wounded.
Hawk earned the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor, for his actions on Aug. 20, 1944. He was manning a light machine gun near the town of Chambois, a critical point in the encirclement of Germans that became known as the Falaise Pocket.
The Americans had advanced from the south and the British from the north, according to Peter Collier’s book “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty.” The enemy was attempting to extricate itself by moving east, back toward Germany.
Positioned near an apple orchard, Hawk and his machine-gun squad came under an early morning attack. He could smell dead livestock, according to Collier’s book. He fired until the German infantry pulled back — and until enemy shelling destroyed his weapon and struck him in the thigh.
Despite his wound, Hawk moved toward a ditch and found a comrade with a bazooka. Together, the men forced the remaining German tanks to take cover in the woods. At that point, Hawk regrouped two machine-gun squads and led the refashioning of two broken guns into a working one.
The Germans attacked again, and Hawk “was forced to pull back from the pressure of spearheading armor,” according to the Medal of Honor citation. Two U.S. tank destroyers arrived but were unable to see the targets through the orchard trees.
Hawk — still suffering from his wound — climbed atop a hillock. Fully exposed to enemy fire, he made himself, according to the citation, a “human aiming stake for the destroyers.”
“The idea was that if you don’t catch them here you’re going to have to chase them clear to Berlin,” he told the Seattle Times, “and that wasn’t a pleasant prospect.”
Because of the din, the Americans arming the tank destroyers could not hear Hawk’s instructions. Continuing to expose himself to fire, he hurried back to relay the information, then went back to the knoll and went on directing the destroyers until two German tanks were taken out. A third retreated.
Hawk continued leading the attack until the Germans emerged from the woods and surrendered.
“Sgt. Hawk’s fearless initiative and heroic conduct,” the citation reads, “even while suffering from a painful wound, was in large measure responsible for crushing two desperate attempts of the enemy to escape from the Falaise Pocket and for taking more than 500 prisoners.”
John Druse Hawk was born on May 30, 1924, in San Francisco and grew up in Washington state. His father was an artist and World War I veteran; his mother ran an antique shop.
After the battle in Normandy, Hawk was treated for his wounds but declined hospitalization because he did not want to be separated from his men. He went on to fight at the Battle of the Bulge and received military decorations including four awards of the Purple Heart. “Courage is not the absence of fear,” Hawk once told an interviewer. “Having no fear would be the absence of intelligence. Instead, bravery is overcoming that fear.”
President Harry Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor in Olympia, Wash. — a special, local ceremony reportedly arranged by Hawk’s friend, Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash. — during a trip to the West Coast in 1945.
Hawk pursued his education over several years and ultimately received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Washington. He became an educator and worked in Washington state as a teacher and elementary school principal for more than 30 years.
His wife of 37 years, Natalene Crandall Hawk, died in 1985. Their son David Hawk died in 1956. Survivors include two children, Marilyn Harrelson of Federal Way, Wash., and Mark Hawk of Des Moines, Wash.; a sister; and a grandson.
Bremerton’s annual Armed Forces Day parade, which describes itself as the largest and longest running such celebration in the country, originated as a tribute to Hawk. He was for years its grand marshal.
In 2010, the Kitsap Sun newspaper reported, his local post office was renamed in his honor — a display of pride in the bravery he had shown thousands of miles away from home.