America has lost one of its true heroes. World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient John “Bud” Hawk died Monday in Bremerton.
Hawk was also a longtime school teacher and principal in Bremerton.
Hawk never glorified his heroic actions in the French countryside in August of 1944, but he spoke of them often, using his experiences to help teach and guide generations of school children in Bremerton. “The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to have to take the life of another human being,” Hawk said in a Medal of Honor video. “You will never, ever, forget it.”
Sergeant Hawk and his squad of tank killers were defending the Falaise Pocket, preventing the German retreat out of France, when he found himself chasing German tanks through an apple orchard.
“I didn’t see the one tank so he shot me through the apple tree,” Hawk said. “To me, it was like getting hit with a sledgehammer. I couldn’t tell if I had a broken leg or no leg or what. It knocked me flat. I’m either done or I can run like hell and boy I took off out of there like you wouldn’t believe.”
The 20-year-old Hawk came across a lone U.S. soldier manning a bazooka as he ran, and despite his leg injury, he helped load and site the weapon and engaged the enemy.
He then ordered his squad to use pieces of their broken weapons to build a functioning gun.
Then Hawk did the unthinkable: Since the U.S. tanks were having trouble targeting the German tanks, he ran into the middle of the battlefield to serve as an aiming post for American gunners. “You’re not thinking, really, of the consequences,” he said. “You’re trying to think of a solution. If you were standing in the middle, you could see both ways. I said, ‘If I line you up will you shoot and then we’ll correct.'”
Firing over Sergeant Hawk’s head, the U.S. took out several German tanks and eventually forced the surrender of 500 German soldiers.
He refused to leave his unit for the hospital, choosing instead to get fixed up in the field, and continue his march into Germany. He was injured in the Battle of the Bulge before returning home.
Not wanting to take the long train trip to Washington, D.C. to receive the Medal of Honor, President Truman came to Hawk, putting the medal around his neck in a ceremony in Olympia.
Hawk went on to have a long teaching career in Bremerton. A training center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a Post Office on Bainbridge Island are named after him.
The one message he would always tell people when asked of his service was a simple one. “Two words I’m not fond of,” Hawk said. “Hero, and the other one is winner. There are no winners in a war.”
But there are winners in life, and John “Bud” Hawk was one.