Charles Alvin “Charley” Wirt was one of the most daring and aggressive infantry officers of World War II. From August 1944 until the fighting ended in Europe ten months later, Wirt demonstrated time and again that he understood battlefield tactics and knew how to lead his soldiers. Moreover, Charles Wirt showed repeatedly that he was willing to risk his life by leading from the front.
“He was fearless,” said fellow West Pointer retired Col. Albert Shower in a 2002 interview. “He sensed that the road home for himself and his troops was through the enemy and that’s where he wanted to go.”
“His was the generation that never gets mentioned enough,” said Mary Wiley, a historian studying Wirt’s era. “They’re the ones who had military training before Pearl Harbor and understood military issues before the war began.”
Born in Cooksville, Tennessee in April 1920, Charles Wirt graduated from high school in 1937 and attended Vanderbilt University for a year. But Wirt always wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy. He’d enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard while in high school and reached the rank of sergeant, with West Point in his sights. His Guard status allowed Wirt to compete for an appointment to the Academy. He was successful, and became a cadet in August 1939.
Wirt showed great courage in personally leading a successful attack against the enemy. For his combat heroism that day, Wirt was awarded the Silver Star, American’s third highest award for valor under fire.
After graduating in January 1943 (the only year the academy produced two classes, the second in June), 2nd Lt. Charles Wirt completed infantry officer basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.
After a year of training stateside, Wirt volunteered for overseas duty. He was stationed in England with First Army Group when American, British, and Canadian troops waded ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Wirt immediately asked for a transfer to a combat unit and soon joined the 16th Infantry Regiment in France. He was with his unit in the vicinity of Aachen, Germany, when he was twice wounded by German gunfire – and was awarded two Purple Hearts.
On March 1, 1945, now 1st Lt. Charles Wirt was in command of Company G when one of his platoons “was impeded by an intense small arms concentration,” an official report read.
Wirt moved alone across the fire-swept terrain to his besieged platoon, and then skillfully directed accurate fire onto the enemy’s strongpoint – silencing it for good. For his daring and aggressive actions that day, Wirt was awarded the Bronze Star.
Six days later, on March 7, 1945, Wirt was leading his company near Brenig, Germany, when German automatic weapons and artillery fire again held one of his platoons up. Wirt again moved alone across the perilous terrain, located some friendly tanks, and guided them to a key piece of land. Then, supported by the tanks, Wirt showed great courage in personally leading a successful attack against the enemy. For his combat heroism that day, Wirt was awarded the Silver Star, American’s third highest award for valor under fire.
More Fight Left
He was not finished fighting. On March 10, Wirt’s regiment seized and secured Bonn, Germany, shortly after the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, Germany, had been captured intact. But while the 16th Infantry did help enlarge the bridgehead, Wirt and his men faced repeated and fierce German counterattacks.