forgotten Greatest soldier
of World War I was from Madison
author Newell recounts
Woodfills battle history in book
(December 2008) It was a ferocious battle
with thick fog all around on that fateful October morning in 1912. Sam
Woodfill and his men were pinned down by German artillery and machine
gun fire. Knowing how desperate the situation was, Woodfill went ahead
of his men and slowly worked his way around the end of the machine gun
by Konnie McCollum
and retired history teacher
Ben Newell will sign copies of his book
on Dec. 12, at Village Lights Bookstore,
110 E. Main St., Madison.
Using his skill as an expert shot, Woodfill managed to
take out five German soldiers, one by one, who were operating the gun.
Carefully, Woodfill made his way through the battlefield picking off
German machine gunners as he tried to clear the way for his men behind
him. At the end of the day, he had taken out four machine gun nests
with five men in each. At one point he fought hand-to-hand with a soldier
and killed him with a grubbing pick.
While the events sound like a familiar movie of World War I exploits,
Woodfill was a real person from Madison, Ind. He received the Congressional
Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on that day. Gen. John J. Black
Jack Pershing awarded Woodfill the medal and later called him
the greatest soldier of World War I.
Retired history teacher and author Ben Newell recounts the story of
Woodfill in his newly published Major Sam Woodfill: The Greatest
Soldier of WWI. Newell will be at the Village Lights Bookstore,
110 E. Main St., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 12 for a book signing
and presentation. On Dec. 20, Newell will be at Waldon Books, in the
Clarksville, Ind., Mall from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a book signing.
Woodfill was a true American hero during World War I, said
Newell, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Madison. His
life is full of colorful adventure and courage, and nobody knows about
him. I think every student in Madison should read about him.
Newells interest in Woodfill was peaked when one of Woodfills
young relatives performed a brief play about him for a history project.
Newell taught history for 33 years for the Madison Consolidated School
Corp. He retired four years ago. I started doing research, and
the more I discovered, the more I was amazed, he said.
Mike Foley, who taught alongside Newell for 33 years in Madison, said
Newells love of history and his enthusiasm for it is evident in
his book. He did a great job, said Foley, who helped Newell
edit the book. His heart was in this project, and it shows.
Foley said Newell was an excellent history teacher who often dressed
as historical characters to try to bring history to life for his students.
He said Newell has also always been very respectful and caring about
veterans who have served our country. I think part of this project
was his way of paying respect to all the veterans who have served our
country so honorably, he said. Newell has always tried to
give back to them because they gave their all for our country.
For about 20 years, Newell collected bits and pieces of
information about Woodfill, and talked to some of his relatives still
in the area. He discovered that at one point, Woodfill was more famous
that Sergeant Alvin York, who performed a similar courageous feat during
a battle in World War I.
York, a farmer from Tennessee, was awarded the Congressional Medal of
Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 32
machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others during
the U.S.-led Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France. York and Woodfills
daring bravery happened at about the same time. A 1941 film starring
Gary Cooper, Sergeant York, won Cooper an Academy Award
and catapulted York to fame.
York and Woodfill actually went around the country together during
World War II trying to raise money for the troops, said Newell.
His book chronicles Woodfills life as a career soldier who fought
in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines and then later served
for a time in Alaska during the Gold Rush. It discusses Woodfills
life post-military, his financial struggles, and his numerous adventures.
The book is also filled with timely information about what was happening
in Madison and the nation during Woodfills life. I wanted
to give people some background information on what else was happening
in the local area as well, said Newell. I thought it would
For more information about Major
Sam Woodfill: The Greatest Soldier of WWI, visit: http://bennewell.wordpress.com.
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