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Jimmy Hendrix, 77; Medal of Honor Winner in WWII

November 20, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

He was awarded the Medal of Honor without qualifying for a Purple Heart, yet never considered himself a hero.

"I had a job to do and that's what I did," he said in 1999 when he was honored at the Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis.

Jimmy Hendrix, awarded the medal for single-handedly capturing 14 German cannoneers with his M-1 rifle and rescuing three American soldiers under enemy fire in the Battle of the Bulge, died Thursday. He was 77.

Hendrix died of throat cancer at his home in Davenport, Fla.

One of 11 children of a poor sharecropper from Lepanto, Ark., Hendrix was drafted into the Army in 1943.

On the day after Christmas in 1944, the skinny, red-haired 19-year-old was in the vanguard of Gen. George S. Patton's 4th Armored Division, which had smashed through German defenses to rescue American troops holding the road to Bastogne, Belgium.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 30, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 175 words Type of Material: Correction
Hendrix obituary -- The obituary of Medal of Honor winner Jimmy Hendrix in the Nov. 20 California section gave the length of the German 88-millimeter artillery piece as 80 feet. According to Jane's Armour and Artillery, the 88-millimeter cannon had a length of 25 1/2 feet.

In Hitler's last-gasp counterattack in Europe, 250,000 German soldiers had launched an assault 10 days earlier from the Ardennes Forest, causing a 60-mile deep bulge in the Allied lines and giving the battle its historic name.

Hendrix, figuring he was doomed anyway, leaped out of his halftrack just before a shell hit the windshield, killing the rest of his squad.

Facing two 88-millimeter, 80-foot-long cannons, each with a seven-man German crew, he fired his rifle furiously and uttered the only German phrase he had learned.

Despite his Southern accent, 13 of the men climbed out without weapons and with hands up. He killed the 14th who pointed a rifle at him.

As American troops approached, Hendrix herded his prisoners to the rear and climbed onto another halftrack.

A few hours later, he jumped off again to pull a driver from another American halftrack that had been hit by a German grenade and was in flames, and a third time to silence two machine guns and save two more wounded Americans.

President Harry S. Truman placed the medal around Hendrix's neck in a ceremony at the White House on Aug. 23, 1945.

Fortunately for Hendrix, his awards did not include the Purple Heart because he was one of only a handful of Medal of Honor recipients who escaped wounds.

"I can tell you this much," the affable Southerner said last year when he was invited to Washington for another Medal of Honor presentation ceremony. "I knocked out two 88-millimeter artillery guns and the gun crew surrendered to me. I was scared out of my wits. I was a 19-year-old who didn't know what to do with my prisoners.

"Standing in front of President Truman, I was just as scared."

Invited to presidential inaugurals and various Medal of Honor ceremonies, Hendrix subsequently met Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

After the war, Staff Sgt. Hendrix returned to the farm in Arkansas. Thirty-seven days later, he reenlisted to become a career soldier. He served as a paratrooper in the Korean War and retired in 1965.

He later worked in small businesses and was a truck driver.

Hendrix is survived by his wife of 57 years, Helen, and four daughters.

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