The Real 29th: TSgt. Joseph "Lightning" Farinholt
TSgt. Joseph Farinholt, nicknamed “Lightning” by his fellow soldiers, is the only soldier in United States history to have earned the Silver Star four times within the same war. Joseph Farinholt was born in Cantonsville, Maryland in 1922 before he joined the United States Army at the age of sixteen in 1938, lying to the recruiter about his age in order to join Maryland's National Guard. Notably, he told his recruiter that his age was twenty-three, as TSgt. Farinholt elaborated later on in an interview, "My uncle told me if I ever told a lie to tell a big one – so I did". His unit would become activated and re-organized into the 175th Infantry Regiment under the 29th Infantry Division, he would start out his career as an assistant gun crew-chief of a 57mm anti-tank gun.
TSgt. Joseph Farinholt's first act of heroism happened on July 13, 1944, near the city of Saint Lô in the deadly hedgerow countryside of France. At the time, Cpl. Farinholt was out on a patrol when he encountered a German mortar pit that was hammering on a nearby friendly unit. Cpl. Farinholt would grab an AT rocket launcher and disregard his safety in order to move into a better position to successfully eliminate the mortar team. As soon as Cpl. Farinholt eliminated the mortar team, an anti-armor vehicle started to approach his position. With quick thinking, Cpl. Farinholt dashed into the nearby hedgerow, reloading his weapon before disabling the vehicle once it passed by his position. He would recall this moment, "I spotted a German mortar position, so I picked up a bazooka and ran forward to knock it out. The Germans I didn't kill ran away. Then I looked up and this German tank was headed right for me. I jumped in the brush, reloaded the bazooka, and knocked out the tank as it went by" Once he returned to his position, an officer would pick him up and say "Son, you've just won a Silver Star". For his actions not only would he earn the Silver Star, but he would also get promoted to Staff Sergeant.
SSgt. Farinholt would earn his second Silver Star only five days later, for his actions during daring night raids in order to recover direly needed anti-tank guns that would assist in destroying a tank column days later. He would recall "Our position was overrun after a counterattack and we had to leave our equipment or be taken prisoner. After dark, we went back and hooked two of our guns to trucks while under heavy fire. We couldn't get a truck to our third gun so we pulled it out by hand. We really baffled the Germans with that move because they thought they had us cornered. The next morning we stopped a column of tanks with those guns. That was my second Silver Star". For his actions, his nickname of "lighting" for his fast initiative would become well known among the unit.
By the time Farinholt would earn his third Silver Star, he had been promoted to Technical Sergeant and became the senior-NCO of his platoon. His citation would state "T/SGT Joseph A. Farinholt, 20343338, 175th Infantry, US Army for gallantry in action against the enemy in Germany. On 13 October, 1944, during a period of heavy and constant enemy shelling, casualties were sustained in the 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry. Amidst this intense barrage of fire, T Sgt Farinholt left his sheltered position and went to the aid of the wounded where he administered first aid treatment and personally evacuated four casualties to a place of safety. The outstanding courage and unselfish devotion to duty displayed by T Sgt Farinholt while under decimating enemy fire, reflect great credit upon himself and the military service. Entered military service from Maryland."
TSgt Farinholt's final Silver Star would be earned in the defense of Bourheim, when his unit's position was attacked by German forces accompanied by a Tiger tank. After one of TSgt. Farinholt's anti-tank crews were killed by a Tiger tank leading a tank column into Boruheim, TSgt. Farinholt would single-handedly man the anti-tank gun and successfully would detrack the Tiger tank, which then blocked the rest of the tank column. However, TSgt. Farinholt would become wounded when the tank returned fire. He sustained 26 bullet wounds, a shattered bone in his right leg, and shrapnel from the tank’s main gun. Even with these severe wounds, TSgt. Farinholt would successfully manage to escape and drive back in a jeep to his company headquarters, allowing for a P-47 airstrike against the German column. His citation would state:
"T/SGT Joseph A. Farinholt 20343338, 175th Infantry US Army for gallantry in action against the enemy in Germany. On 26 November, 1944, while the Third Battalion 175th Infantry was defending the town of Bourheim, enemy Infantryman supported by tanks entered the town and advance against the battalion's thinly held line. Realizing the gravity of the situation , T SGT Farinholt ordered his antitank platoon to remain in position where they delivered such devastating fire upon the enemy that they were forced to divert their attack to another sector of the town. Then, finding all communications severed by enemy artillery fire, T/SGT Farinholt , despite suffering from a broken leg, asked to be placed in a vehicle while he drove under fire to the command post to inform the Staff of the situation. Such courageous actions reflect great credit upon himself and the military service. Entered Military Service from Maryland."
TSgt. Joseph Farinholt would survive the war, recovering in an army hospital for two years from his wounds. During his time in the hospital, he would meet his soon-to-be wife, one of the army nurses who took care of him; They would have four children together. TSgt Joseph Farinholt would also receive the Bronze Star for his contribution for the war effort, a purple heart, and a Belgium Croix de Guerre. He passed away peacefully on June 11, 2002 at the age of 79.
Written by Cpl. Dawdy
Edited by Sgt. Gibson & Cpl. Tilley