Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
When Corporal Roberts’ tank sank into 10 feet of water, his first instinct was to save his gunner, knowing only one of them could escape. Because of his self sacrifice, Roberts was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Corporal Harold William Roberts was born on October 14th, 1895 in San Francisco, California.
In 1916, On his 21st birthday, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, eager to participate in World War I, despite the fact that the United States hadn’t yet entered the war. He was first stationed at Fort Bonifacio in the Philippines, then transferred to the Tank Corps upon returning home from his deployment.
On April 6th, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany, entering World War I, and in spring of 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), which included Roberts’s tank battalion, deployed to Europe. Roberts became a tank driver, paired with Sergeant Virgil Morgan, the gunner. The cramped FT-17 Tank lacked interior lighting and was very noisy, so Morgan tapped his toes on Roberts’s shoulders and head to tell him where to drive.
On October 4th, 1918, Corporal Roberts and the rest of the 344th light tank battalion were engaged by German forces in the Montrebeau Woods. This battle was part of the Meuse-Argonne offensive: the final offensive of World War I that proved to be one of the most costly for the Americans. In the Montrebeau Woods, Roberts and his company advanced under heavy artillery fire. Believing a clump of bushes to be a possible enemy machine gun nest, Roberts maneuvered his tank into it before sliding into a 10 foot deep shell hole full of water. The small FT-17 immediately plunged into the hole, but Roberts switched the tank into reverse gear to keep the back out of the water. With the other doors buried in mud, Roberts told Morgan: “Well only one of us can get out, and out you go,” and pushed him out the back hatch. Morgan tried to help Roberts escape, but had to take cover under enemy machine gun fire. Roberts drowned that day, but saved Morgan, who would survive the war.
Six months later, Roberts was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for saving Sergeant Morgan’s life. The Medal of Honor was presented to his father, John, in San Francisco by Major General John F. Morrison. His other awards include the French Croix de Guerre, the French Military Medal, and the Italian War Cross.
In 1941, Camp Nacimiento was renamed Camp Roberts in his honor, making Roberts the first enlisted soldier to have an installation named after him.
The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our script writer, Declan Rohrs is our script editor and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, got to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.