Junior James Spurrier, born James Ira Spurrier, Jr., was a United States Army soldier who received the United States’ two highest military decorations for valour – the Medal of Honour and Distinguished Service Cross – for his heroic actions in World War II.
Early Life and Education
Spurrier was born on 14 December 1922, in the Castlewood area of Russell County, western Virginia to farmer and Norfolk and Western Railway locomotive fireman and engineer James I. Spurrier and his wife Ruby, one of five children. The family suffered due to the Great Depression, moving frequently, and ended up in Bluefield, West Virginia, where the younger Spurrier found work in a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. His mother died in the summer of 1940, and he decided to enlist in the Army.
By the fall of 1940, Spurrier was living in Wise County, Virginia. On 25 September 1940, he voluntarily enlisted into the United States Army from Richmond, Virginia. Spurrier filled his name in the wrong blanks in his enlistment paperwork, and became known to the Army throughout his time in service as “Junior J. Spurrier.”
Sent overseas on 20 April 1942, he first served in the infantry in the Pacific Theatre. Injured in New Guinea in late 1943, he was returned to the United States for medical treatment, first to Camp Carson, Colorado, then to San Francisco, California. Deemed fit for duty, Spurrier was sent overseas again in June 1944 at his own request. He was eventually assigned to Company G of the 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, as a replacement private on 19 July 1944. On 26 July 1944, he was promoted to staff sergeant and became a messenger and scout. On 16 September 1944, near Lay-Saint-Christophe, France, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross for spearheading an assault on a stubbornly-defended hill position. While twice positioning himself on an American tank destroyer, Spurrier used its .50 calibre machine gun to kill over a dozen German soldiers and force the surrender of twenty-two others. While fighting on the ground, he personally destroyed two enemy dugouts with hand grenades. Spurrier was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in action on 21 September 1944.
Medal of Honour Actions
On 13 November 1944, Spurrier singlehandedly attacked and fought Germans in the village of Achain, France. Spurrier repeatedly returned to his company’s command post with prisoners, and replenished his ammunition from both American and enemy weapons to continue his attack on the occupied village. Spurrier earned the Medal of Honour for nearly single-handedly capturing the village of Achain that day; the medal was presented to Spurrier by Lieutenant General William Hood Simpson, commander of the Ninth United States Army, during a ceremony on 06 March 1945.
Staff Sergeant Junior J. Spurrier’s official Medal of Honor citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy at Achain, France, on 13 November 1944. At 2 p.m., Company G attacked the village of Achain from the east. S/Sgt. Spurrier armed with a BAR passed around the village and advanced alone. Attacking from the west, he immediately killed 3 Germans. From this time until dark, S/Sgt. Spurrier, using at different times his BAR and M1 rifle, American and German rocket launchers, a German automatic pistol, and hand grenades, continued his solitary attack against the enemy regardless of all types of small-arms and automatic-weapons fire. As a result of his heroic actions he killed an officer and 24 enlisted men and captured 2 officers and 2 enlisted men. His valor has shed fresh honor on the U.S. Armed Forces.
Spurrier was wounded again on 09 December 1944, receiving a second Purple Heart. He was transferred to Company K of the 134th Infantry Regiment on 24 April 1945, and returned to the United States soon after. He was discharged from the US Army on 19 June 1945. Spurrier had a younger brother, George, who also served in the Army and was killed in action in France on 28 July 1944 while with the 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division.
Later Life and Death
Spurrier was noted as an extraordinarily brave and independent prankster who often clashed with his commanders, and went absent without leave several times during his service. Discharged after World War II, he attempted to go into business and had a brief stint as a pitcher with the Galax Leafs of the Class D Blue Ridge League before re-enlisting in the US Army in 1947. He was elevated to the rank of technical sergeant and placed on recruiting duty. He had a severe problem with alcohol, and was demoted to the rank of private in 1950; Spurrier deserted his post during the Korean War and the Army gave him a general discharge in 1951 rather than court-martial him. Spurrier had a turbulent and remarkable life after the military. He had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life, possibly due to posttraumatic stress disorder, and had several run-ins with the law in Virginia and Maryland. He eventually served three jail sentences, including one for attempted murder, being released for the last time in 1969. Spurrier became a teetotaler, ran a radio and television repair business, and retired to a cabin in eastern Tennessee, where he died in relative obscurity on 25 February 1984, at the age of 61. He is buried in Mountain Home National Cemetery (Section HH, Row 15, Grave 8), in Johnson City, Tennessee.
A memorial to Spurrier was dedicated at the Mercer County War Museum on 02 July 2006. Several of Spurrier’s original awards were believed lost, but were located in November 2011 by Granville, West Virginia, police chief Craig Corkrean, in a safe belonging to his late father. Spurrier’s Medal of Honour and other medals were presented to his two surviving sisters in a ceremony held on 02 December 2011.
Awards and Decorations
- Combat Infantryman Badge.
- Medal of Honour.
- Distinguished Service Cross.
- Legion of Merit.
- Bronze Star Medal with one “V” Device and One Oak Leaf Cluster.
- Purple Heart with One Oak Leaf Cluster.
- American Defence Service Medal.
- American Campaign Medal.
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Arrowhead Device.
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with One Silver Campaign Star.
- World War II Victory Medal.
- French Croix de Guerre 1939-1945.
- Belgian Croiz De Guerre of 1940.
- Distinguished Unit Citation with One Oak Leaf Cluster.
- Meritorious Unit Commendation.