Pictured: Margaret (left) and Eldon L. Knuth at the 95th Infantry Division Memorial at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Photo by James Brabenec, U.S. Army
by Kimberly Rivers
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, Eldon L. Knuth, 95, of Thousand Oaks will receive the Bronze Star Medal in recognition of his military service 75 years ago for his service in France during World War II. The medal will be presented by Major General Laura Yeager, the first woman to command a U.S. Army infantry division.
“I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s about time,” said Knuth about the recognition for his service as a private first class with the 95th Infantry Regiment, which would come to be called The Iron Men of Metz. “When I was fighting in France I wasn’t thinking about medals. But then I’m very appreciative that the county is recognizing us.”
A select group of his friends and family will gather with masks and social distancing at University Village in Thousand Oaks, where Knuth lives with his wife, Margaret Knuth, for the medal presentation.
“The experience that I remember forever” is the “attack on the fort” at the “city of Metz. Our battalion was told to surround the fort with the hopes that if enough were surrounding [the fort] and for long enough the German army would give up.”
It was November 1944.
“Early in the morning we attached and the goal was to reach the fort. The battalion had 300 men. Not a lot of us made it. Thirty of us reached the objective.” After that group reached the fort, the German line reformed; Knuth and the other 29 men found themselves behind enemy lines. “We were isolated behind the German lines for five days.”
“Oh, yes, we were afraid,” the veteran recalls. “During those five days, we were very lucky, we only lost one of our men. He was shot by a sniper. I was with him when he got shot.”
They had “D-rations to eat, essentially chocolate bars. It snowed a little bit. We dug in and I’m not sure that the men in the fort knew how few of us there were.”
The U.S. Army “tried to supply us with reconnaissance airplanes dropping [supplies] to us. We were supposed to get dry clothes. But I didn’t see any. Afterward, we learned that on the fourth day we were there the German general in Metz gave up trying to defend the city. He didn’t surrender. On the fifth day, we were able to walk into Metz.”
Knuth had developed the dreaded “trench foot. I was told to go to the aid station being set up” in Metz. “They saw my feet and put me in an ambulance. That was the end of my war career. I spent nine months in the hospital.” Knuth received a disability discharge in August 1945.
“I really appreciate that Bob Johnson is doing this for the veterans,” Knuth continued, noting that Lt. Col. Robert “Bob” Johnson helps veterans across the country “to get the recognition that they should get.”
“It’s so important that we honor these World War II veterans,” said Johnson. “They sacrificed so much, and it’s an honor to give back to those who’ve given so much.”
Knuth said he signed up for the draft the day after his birthday. “They did draft me as soon as they could…It was under [General] Patton. He visited us on the battlefield. I think in November, 1944. He awarded all those in combat at that time the [Army] Combat Infantryman Badge.” Knuth would also receive a second Combat Infantryman Badge.
In the fall of 1945, after healing, Knuth attended Purdue University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering (the army paid his tuition for four years). “I had applied to other schools for a PhD and was accepted to several. CalTech made the best offer, a scholarship for two years. That four years of support the government gave me was very valuable to me.” Following his education and a short time in the aeronautics industry, he became a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.
In January 2020, the French government knighted Knuth and awarded him the French National Legion of Honor Medal. He also has received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, two battle stars and the World War II Victory Medal.