Ft. Huachuca renames testing range for Buffalo Soldier and WWII casualty Lt. John Fox
Fort Huachuca renamed a military testing range for Lt. John Fox, a Black officer and member of the Buffalo Soldiers, last week. Fox is recognized for calling in an artillery bombardment on himself and his team to take out surrounding German and Italian forces during WWII.
The U.S. Army awarded Fox a posthumous Medal of Honor in 1997, more than 50 years after his death in Italy. Ft. Huachuca was also the home of the Buffalo Soldiers, the Black Army units who fought at American frontiers after the Civil War, from 1892 to 1945.
Lt. John Fox, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, died on Dec. 26, 1944, as a member of the 92d Infantry Division while defending the hilltop village of Sommocolonia in the Tuscany region of Italy, which had been allied with Germany during WWII.
Fox was radioing in artillery bombardments against German and Italian troops who were attempting to capture the hilltop village in order to spread out the concentration of Allied forces trying to break German defenses in the peninsula.
German troops surrounded Fox and his team and began invading the village at four in the morning, under cover of darkness. Fox continued to order artillery strikes as the enemy troops approached.
Fox’s commander told him the Germans were too close to their position and to stop calling strikes, but Fox ordered one final round of artillery blasts.
“Fire it! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!” Fox said in his final call for firepower.
About 100 German troops died during the artillery bombardment, but so did Fox and his team. The Germans took Sommocolonia, but U.S. forces would recapture it a week later on Jan 1, 1945.
American soldiers recovered Fox’s body when they retook the village.
“Fox’s sacrifice,” the U.S. Army wrote in a press release, “delayed the enemy’s advance into the village, allowing Italian civilians and U.S. troops to retreat and organize a counterattack.”
Fox was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1982, but the Department of Defense revisited his case when they began looking at DSC awardees from WWI and WWII to determine if racial discrimination had kept Black soldiers from receiving the Medal of Honor.
In January 1997, Fox and several other DSC recipients were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest and most prestigious military decoration in the United States.
Ft. Huachuca, located in Cochise County, is now the largest military installation in Arizona and serves as a base to train and prepare soldiers, mostly in military intelligence, for deployment.
Still the home of the Buffalo Soldiers in 1942 when the U.S. joined WWII, Ft. Huachuca became the training ground for Lt. Fox and other Black soldiers in the 92nd Infantry Division. Fox trained at Ft. Huachuca for two years before being deployed to Italy.
Now, the East Range of the Ft. Huachuca will bear Fox’s name as the First Lt. John R. Fox MDO Range Complex. The range is for testing MDO, or Multi-Domain Operations, which is military speak for warfare on land, sea and in the air.
A ceremony was held for Fox and his surviving family in Sierra Vista on Thursday, during the second annual Buffalo Soldier Day ceremony.
Earlier this year, the Army posthumously promoted Col. Charles Young to the rank of Brigadier General during the most recent Black History Month, more than a century after his death. Young was a Buffalo Soldier stationed at Ft. Huachuca who took part in the expedition for Pancho Villa into Mexico.
The Buffalo Soldiers fought against Native Americans on the American frontier during the last decades of the 19th century and then against European forces in the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII.
The all-Black regiments were also tasked with defending infrastructure and land protected by the U.S. after its territorial expansion. Many of them, including Young, served as the nation’s first park rangers and helped build out roads and trails in national parks and on the American frontier.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.