McGarity, a technical sergeant, was positioned with the rest of the 99th Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest in December 1944 when Hitler mounted a final desperate offensive, seeking to break through the region and make for the North Sea.
Hitler believed if the plan were successful he might be able to negotiate a separate peace with the US and Great Britain, dividing them from the Soviets and allowing the Nazis to then concentrate on fighting the Red Army to the east.
Allied forces, which had been moving toward Germany after the D-Day invasion of France, were caught unaware by the counteroffensive and were initially pushed back.
The battle proved the costliest of the war for the US in terms of casualties with 89,000 killed, wounded, captured of missing. German losses were comparable, but the Nazis could less afford the loss of both men and materiel that the battle ultimately claimed.
McGarity was “painfully wounded” near Krinkelt, Belgium, according to his Medal of Honor citation. But after being patched up he refused to be evacuated and instead rejoined his unit to direct them in the ensuing battle.
“So tenaciously did these men fight on orders to stand firm at all costs that they could not be dislodged despite murderous enemy fire and the breakdown of communications,” the citation said.
“On Dec. 16, the battle’s first day, Sergeant McGarity risked his life to rescue a wounded soldier,” according to the publication. “Throughout the night he exhorted his comrades to repel the enemy. At daybreak the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry. Dashing to where he could fire a rocket launcher, he destroyed the lead tank. Three other tanks withdrew under fire.
“He rescued another wounded American, then directed what the citation called ‘devastating fire on a German light cannon,” the Times continued. “When ammunition ran low, he braved gunfire to retrieve ammunition stashed 100 yards away.
“He then single-handedly attacked a machine-gun nest, killing or wounding all the gunners,” the paper added. “Only when his squad’s last round had been fired were the Germans able to advance and capture him and his troops.”
The citation lauded McGarity for giving American forces “the time necessary for assembling reserves and forming a line against which the German striking power was shattered.”
McGarity spent the next six months in a prisoner-of-war camp, until the war was over.
McGarity’s son Ray said his father never talked about the war.
(Top: Medal of Honor recipient Vernon McGarity with Harry Truman in 1945. Photo credit: New York Times.)