Reference Entry

Fox, John

Jeffery Othele Mahan

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Fox, John

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soldier, was born John Robert Fox in Lebanon, Ohio, the son of well-educated, middle-class parents. Fox was the first of three children. His father passed away while Fox was a teenager. While still in his teens, he grew to admire the military and dreamed of a career in the armed forces. Most interested in math and science, he-planned to attend college. Although Fox's grades were excellent, he was rejected by several universities before being accepted by the all-black Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, where he participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps for four years and graduated in June 1940 with a degree in biology.Fox joined the U.S. Army in February 1941, completing Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he specialized in rifle and heavy weapons tactics. He then entered the ranks of the 366th Infantry Regiment of the Ninety-second Infantry Division stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.Fox's life changed quickly after Fort Devens. The Ninety-second Infantry Division, a segregated unit, trained at four separate installations across the nation: Fort McClellan, Alabama, Camp Atterbury, Indiana, Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, and Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Fox trained at Camp Atterbury. Approximately twelve thousand men served in the division. All of the enlisted personnel were black, and most were from the South. The division, which included two hundred white officers (all senior officers were white) and six hundred black officers, left for Italy in October 1943.The division was mustered into General Mark Clark's Fifth Army in August 1944 and saw immediate combat. These black soldiers fought against a veteran German army in Italy. The Ninety-second had poor equipment and training, and the typical enlisted man held only a fourth grade education due to discriminatory educational practices. Predictably the Ninety-second Infantry Division suffered a casualty rate of almost 25 percent from August 1944 until the final German surrender in Italy on 2 May 1945.Fox had served nearly fourteen months in Italy by late December 1944, when he was assigned as a forward observer for the 598th Field Artillery Battalion stationed two miles southwest of Sommocolonia, Italy. Accompanied by Lieutenant Herbert Jenkins and fifty-three other soldiers, Fox and his platoon were practicing close order maneuvers between artillery and ground troops. The detachment stopped on Christmas night 1944 in a tower in this village to rest for the following day's mission. That night German troops, disguised as friendly Italian partisans, slipped into the town.Daylight found Sommocolonia besieged by several hundred Austrian soldiers, disguised Germans, and Italian Fascists, mostly from the vaunted Austro-German Mittenwald Battalion. Lieutenants Fox and Jenkins's platoon was vastly outnumbered. Jenkins immediately called for support, but it could not penetrate the German lines. As the assault closed in on the tower, Fox called for artillery fire on coordinates only sixty yards from his own position along with a smokescreen to cover the withdrawal of the Allied troops whose rescue attempts had failed. Fox then called for an artillery bombardment directly on his own position. The artillery command questioned his order, but Fox continually demanded an artillery barrage directly on his position. Several platoon members, including Fox and Jenkins, were killed. Fox's orders and the actions of the platoon resulted in the deaths of about one hundred enemy soldiers and delayed the German assault so an Allied counterattack could be organized.As with many acts of heroism committed in the fog of battle, controversy surrounded Fox and the other soldiers killed by the artillery fire. Subsequent investigations by Lieutenant Jefferson Jordan of the Ninety-second Infantry Division suggested that Fox was killed by friendly fire from American dive-bombers. No official record of a call for aerial bombing can be found, however. Whatever the details, nothing can diminish the sacrifice or bravery of Fox, Jenkins, and the other Americans who perished that day.

Reference Entry.  683 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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