This Medal of Honor recipient was a convicted deserter
Photo: US Army Al Chang
Future colonel and Medal of Honor recipient Lewis Lee Millett joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 1938 but was really bummed when he learned the U.S. hadn't gotten around to fighting the Germans yet.
So in 1941 he deserted and ran to Canada — a country with an army almost two years into its Nazi-killing campaign.
Millett went through basic training with the Canadians and learned their methods of bayonet fighting (That will be important later). He was shipped to London and manned an anti-aircraft gun during the London Blitz, but he switched back over to the U.S. Army when America entered the war.
After shipping to Africa, he saved a group of soldiers by jumping into a burning, ammunition-filled halftrack and driving it away from an Allied position. The Army awarded him the Silver Star. Millett followed this up by exposing himself to a German plane strafing Allied troops and shooting it down with machine guns mounted on another halftrack.
Unfortunately for then-Sgt. Millett, this was when the paperwork for his desertion found him. His unit was ordered three times to court-martial him before they actually did it. The commander hit Millett with a $52 fine, then made him a second lieutenant only a few weeks later with a battlefield commission.
He continued to serve after the war ended and was a captain in the Korean War where he earned both a Medal of Honor and a Distinguished Service Cross, each for a daring bayonet charge.
On Feb. 4, 1951, a platoon leader in Millett's unit, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was injured during a bayonet charge up a hill. Millett led a rescue effort to get the man while under fire, saving the young lieutenant. Millett was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.
Three days later, Millett was leading a company attack when the 1st Platoon was pinned down by machine gun and anti-tank fire. Millett ordered 3rd Platoon forward and led it and 1st Platoon up the hill with fixed bayonets. His Medal of Honor citation describes what happens next.
In the fierce charge Captain Millett bayoneted two enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder. During this fierce onslaught Captain Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was taken and firmly secured.
Millett stayed in the Army but was sent home to receive his Medal of Honor. He had never attended an Army school as an officer, so the military sent him to the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and then Ranger School at Fort Benning.
He went on to serve in Vietnam where he once volunteered to be a hostage. Fighters who had been drafted by the Viet Cong wanted to leave the war but were afraid to attend negotiations because they could be ambushed and arrested. Millett volunteered himself as collateral and the Vietnamese fighters negotiated their surrender safely.
Col. Millett left the Army in 1973 because he believed the military had simply quit in Vietnam. He continued to work with veterans until his death in 2009 in a veteran's hospital.