To the Editor:
On March 18, President Obama presented Congressional Medals of Honor to 24 heroic veterans who had been overlooked in the past because they were of Hispanic, Jewish, or Afro-American descent. And he said that the rules governing such awards would be completely reviewed.
It was unfortunate that the president did not also “bend the rules” to posthumously honor one of Warwick’s truly great heroes of World War II, Alfred “Freddie” Souza, who lived in the Norwood section of the city. For an individual to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, there must be a living witness to his extraordinary heroism. As there was no living witness to Souza’s most amazing achievement, the officer who found him lying near death on a bomb-packed battlefield in Normandy said he could not recommend Fred for the nation’s highest honor, although the scene of his heroism “spoke for itself.”
Alfred Souza was not tall, but he was exceptionally strong and wiry. When he entered the service, his strength and quickness were immediately recognized and he was assigned to a Texas ranger group destined to invade Normandy near Pointe du Hoc, where German guns atop a cliff fired mercilessly down upon American ships and invading forces.
Despite the fact that German soldiers could fire right down on rangers seeking to scale the cliffs and attack the German fortifications at the top, almost unbelievably Fred and other rangers, using grappling hooks and ropes, managed to reach the top and battle the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Souza was soon wounded severely by shrapnel from hand grenades, but he fought on valiantly with his comrades.
Later in the fluid action, as the Americans moved to silence the big guns and move inland, Fred and seven other rangers were suddenly surrounded by Germans and forced to surrender. The German officer did not want to waste manpower guarding the new prisoners, so he ordered the eight Americans to be executed. All were shot in the head. Souza dropped to the ground after a bullet was fired right through his cheeks. Then the German soldiers were ordered to kick each man to be certain he was dead. Souza, bloodied and apparently dead, somehow did not flinch when a soldier kicked him violently “in the guts.” Then, having completed their work, the Germans tossed the bodies into a pile and left down a path to a lower level to partake of a fast meal.
Freddie Souza, somehow surviving and conscious, observing the Germans leave, crawled out of the pile of dead rangers and collected their hand grenades, which they still possessed. Then he painfully crawled over to where he could drop grenades on the unsuspecting Germans eating below. Although he was bleeding profusely, he was able to drop all the grenades he had collected, except one, on the troops below. All the Germans were killed as a result of Souza’s action.
Later, Americans recaptured the area and found Souza lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the ground above where the German executioners lay. At that time, Souza later learned, the officer who directed his rescue said that he would have recommended Fred for the Congressional Medal of Honor if a live witness could have testified on Fred’s behalf. The scene “spoke for itself,” but the necessary witness role overrode other considerations.
After a long stay in the hospital to treat gunshot and shrapnel wounds, Fred returned home on leave. When he arrived at his mother’s door, she reportedly did not at first recognize her son, so shocked was she by his appearance. Further hospital stays followed before Fred could finally resume his life.
When visitors came to the Souza home after the war, he could show them places on his legs, arms and back where jagged bits of shrapnel were continuously working their way out of his body.
“Old timers” may remember Fred Souza, marching proudly and “straight as a ramrod,” as he led military parades through the city for many years after the war.
Yes, indeed, it would have been great if Fred were posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, along with 24 others on March 18, 2014.
William N. McIntyre
Corpus Christi, Texas