Recalling Packy, a true WWII hero
“The Fourth of July is coming up, the flags will be waving and I wish you would again tell the story of Packy Montgomery. I think about guys like him at this time of year.”
The letter was simply signed “John,” and went on, “Packy was my dad’s best friend. They went off to college at, of all places, the University of Mississippi, which was the cheapest school in the United States in 1938.”
So, I hunted files for a name — Packy — that I had forgotten writing about … First Lieutenant Coulter M. “Packy” Montgomery. He could have won a Congressional Medal of Honor, but had his last wish. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Packy spent most of his lifetime in Davenport, and his story of being interred across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is best told as the Fourth of July nears. He is one of the few from the Quad-Cities to be buried at Arlington.
He was commander of a tank company, the first outfit to rumble into Berlin in World War II, a blood-and-guts disciple of General George Patton. Packy had six tanks shot or burned out from under him, and was such a storied hero that Harry Truman personally pinned a presidential citation on him. Little is known of his exploits, because Packy was a modest guy.
Mostly, only heroes of the service get into Arlington. Packy Montgomery earned the right to lie among them. Before his death, he wrote to a Quad-City relative: “The war meant a great deal to me. In fact, it was the only thing I really did well … a rotten student through school, an almost-good golfer once. No real education, no skills, an up-and-down business life. The whole feeling (of war) is difficult to articulate. H Company was important to me.”
When the war had ended, H Company had only 144 men and five officers left. The outfit sustained 870 casualties in fighting through Europe. “When I think about it,” he once said, “my naiveté seems astounding. But for years I was reluctant to tell other soldiers that I was in H Company for fear they would think I was bragging.”
He wrote in his journal about D-Day: “I got about 60 yards when my tank got hit and instantly burned. I got pieces of the shell or the tank in my knee, and had skin and lot of flesh burned off my hands and face.”
But always, he returned to grim battle’s tattoo of death, the Battle of the Bulge and the first to cross the Elbe and commanding the first tank into Berlin. When the war was ended, he was on his sixth tank. The others had been blown to pieces.
In later years, relatives learned he had more decorations than barely could be counted. He had received three Silver Stars for valor and had been wounded four times, one that left him somewhat disabled to walk. There were six battle stars on his ETO ribbon.
“I was put in for the big one, the CMH (Congressional Medal of Honor), written by two sergeants from my company. After it was returned twice for rewriting, I guess the thing was dropped.”
Packy Montgomery ended up living in Florida, where he died a few years ago. It was the intention of his wife that upon her death, their cremains would be tossed together to the waves of a bay where they swam daily.
A daughter contacted Arlington, telling of her dad’s wishes to be buried there. She received quick response.
“A hero like your father, who was so decorated, certainly qualifies for burial at Arlington.”
His cremains were carried on a caisson drawn by six white horses, the same caisson that carried the body of President Kennedy. A unit of the Army band played “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Seven soldiers fired a salute. Off in the distance, a soldier played taps and the band played “America the Beautiful.”
Nearby on the grounds were plaques etched with the words of the poet Theodore O’Hara:
On fame’s eternal camping ground
.Their silent tents are spread.
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
MONTGOMERY, COULTER M
1ST LT US ARMY
WORLD WAR II
DATE OF BIRTH: 06/20/1919
DATE OF DEATH: 05/23/1997
BURIED AT: SECTION 68 SITE 3398
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard