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Joseph A. Farinholt (July 17, 1922 to June 11, 2002) is thought to be the only enlisted man in the history of the U.S. military to receive four awards of the Silver Star, the United States third highest decoration for valor in combat.
Farinholt, was born in Catonsville, Maryland, and in 1938, he lied about his age to enlist in the Maryland National Guard's B Company, 5th Regiment of Infantry (The Dandy Fifth). Farinholt was mobilized for service in World War II with his unit in January 1941, which was reorganized as the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. Fairnholt, a corporal, was assigned to the anti-tank platoon of Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, in which he initially served as an assistant gun-crew chief manning a 57 mm towed anti-tank gun.
Farinholt earned his first Silver Star on July 13, 1944 near Saint Lô in Normandy, France when he completely exposed himself to enemy fire and with all disregard for his own safety, neutralized an enemy mortar and anti-armor weapon so that his battalion’s attack could advance. For this action Farinholt was also promoted to staff sergeant. His second Silver Star would come a mere five days later on July 18, 1944, when in three of four days he led multiple and daring raids behind enemy lines to recapture weapons and equipment lost to the enemy.
Baltimore News-Post correspondent, Louis Azreal, who was covering the war for the paper heard of Farinholt’s exploits in the Normandy campaign and went looking for the story. On August 19, 1944, a delayed article with the headline “Baltimorean Wins Tank Raid Medal” appeared on the front page of the News-Post. All of Baltimore now knew of the man whose commander called him “Lightning.”
Promoted to Technical Sergeant, and now the senior non-commissioned officer in his platoon, Farinholt would earn his third Silver Star in Germany’s Aachen Gap on October 13, 1944. In this selfless action, T/Sgt. Farinholt saved several lives at great risk to his personal safety. In the midst of a blistering artillery barrage, he exposed himself to fire and personally evacuated several badly wounded men to safety.
Farinholt's fourth and final Silver Star was earned on November 26, 1944 in Bourheim, Germany. The 175th Infantry had taken Bourheim three days earlier but since had to fight off no fewer than six attempts by the Germans to retake the town. In the Germans' final attempt on November 26, they attacked with a heavy force that included Tiger I tanks from Panzer Abteilung (Funklenk) 301 (translated as the 301st Heavy Tank Battalion). After one of Farinholt's antitank gun crews had been knocked out of action by a Tiger tank leading an armored column into Bourheim, he personally manned the gun, firing and neutralizing the tank by hitting its left rear road wheel and knocking its track off. In doing so, he temporarily brought to a halt the enemy’s armored and infantry advance but was seriously wounded when the tank's machine gunner returned fire peppering Farinholt and his gun's armored plate with bullets.
Farinholt suffered 26 bullet and shrapnel wounds to his body, to include having the tibia bone in his lower right leg completely shattered. Despite his severe injuries, and while still under fire, he managed to crawl to a nearby jeep in which he drove to the 3rd Battalion command post to warn leaders of the coming attack. Farinholt's report led to an airstrike by P-47 Thunderbolts which decimated the attacking Germans.
Farinholt spent the next two years in Army hospitals recovering from his wounds. Doctors were able to save his shattered right leg, however, the wound never completely closed and for 58 years, until his death in 2002, Farinhholt cleaned and dressed the still open wound twice each day.
In 2005, The National Guard Bureau commissioned a painting of Farinholt's November 1944 action in Bourheim, Germany for its Heritage Series, which depicts important battlefield contributions in American military history made by the National Guard.
Farinholt's military awards and decorations include: the Combat Infantryman Badge, Silver Star Medal (with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Bronze Star , Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with Arrowhead and 4 Battle Stars), American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal Belgian Croix de Guerre for valor, and the French Croix de Guerre.