John Fuller - Captain
The Gold Star Hall at Iowa State University contains many extraordinarily brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States. But it is rare to have a member who took part in two historic battles during the Second World War. Captain John M. “Jack” Fuller was a part of the D-Day operation, and helped hold the Allied line during the Battle of the Bulge. This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of these two momentous battles that played a key role in helping the Allies defeat Germany to end the war in Europe.
Jack Fuller was born on 19 August 1919 in Milford, Iowa. He joined the Boy Scouts when he was twelve years old, and he remained a scout for three years until he left in 1934. He achieved the rank of Life Scout, but fell short of his dream to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout – the highest and most difficult rank a Boy Scout can reach, with only four percent having ever received that honor. When Jack arrived in Ames to major in General Engineering at Iowa State, he participated in various activities that revealed his numerous talents and skills. He joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity, he was a member of the band, and he was the leading editor of Iowa State’s annual yearbook, The Bomb. He graduated in 1941 and accepted a position with Aluminum Company of America in Cleveland, Ohio. Jack had just started his life after college when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on 15 January 1942 and spent a little over a year training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In May 1943, Fuller was promoted to captain, and he was deployed to England in August as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 321st Regiment, 82nd Division – also known as the “Screaming Eagle Battalion.”
By 1943, the Allies had scored key victories against the Axis Powers in Europe. The Soviet Union defeated Germany at Stalingrad in February. By May, all of Northern Africa was liberated, and Italy surrendered in September. However, the Germans were still fighting a one-front war on the European continent, and Captain Fuller would find himself as a part of the assault on German forces in France in 1944 that aimed to open up a second-front. In the early morning hours of 6 June 1944 – D-Day – the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions set flight toward France. The plans called for the 6,600 paratroopers to land behind enemy lines to establish a beachhead from which they would capture Cherbourg, France in preparation for an amphibious assault to follow near dawn. Anti-aircraft artillery was intense and forced flight formations out of their original paths, which resulted in dispersed drops that forced mixed bands of troops to attempt to continue the mission. Despite this, the Screaming Eagles took Cherbourg, and played a crucial role in ensuring success for the 160,000 Allied troops that landed along a fifty-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline that day. The valiant actions of men like Captain Fuller affirmed General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s comment about D-Day when he declared, “We will accept nothing less than full victory.”
Fuller’s 82nd Airborne Division continued playing a significant part in the Allied advance in the West. On 17 September 1944, they participated in a daylight jump into Holland that secured a vital supply route for the British 2nd Army. By the final month of 1944, the German Army appeared to be near defeat. News stories about the war began focusing on the aftermath. The general mood was an Allied victory was not far off. That changed on 18 December 1944. Germany launched a counteroffensive against Allied forces in the West attempting to drive a wedge in the Allied line. American and British forces began retreating, and once again Fuller’s division was asked to help stop the enemy advance. During the Battle of the Bulge, the Screaming Eagles were surrounded by eight German division, and were bombarded with artillery. Supplies ran so low for the American troops that they were limited to ten rounds a day. Despite this, the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions stalled the German attack. However, six days into the counteroffensive, on 23 December, Captain John Fuller was killed near Bastogne, Belgium. He was temporarily buried in Europe, but returned to a permanent resting place in Fairview Cemetery in Cedar Falls on 5 February 1949. Captain Fuller also became the first American to receive a prestigious honor. The Boy Scouts posthumously awarded him the rank of Eagle Scout in January 1945.
Captain John Fuller played a key part in the Allied victory in Europe. From D-Day, to his ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of the Bulge, Fuller and numerous other brave men and women from the United States risked so much to help preserve freedom and liberty for the world. Seventy-five years later, as much as Americans claim to know about those critical battles in the war, countless visitors to the World War II museum still ask, “What does the ‘D’ stand for in ‘D-Day?’” The answer comes in a letter sent on behalf of Eisenhower in 1964. Brigadier General Robert Shulz – Eisenhower’s assistant – wrote, “Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.” The “D” stands for “departed,” and that seems fitting. As unpleasant as wars are, they require precise planning to ensure an optimal outcome. However, even the best plans will not deliver a desired result without courageous individuals like Fuller. When the nation calls, they depart from our homes. When tyranny and oppression spread, they depart from our shores. When evil hopes to triumph, they depart from the safety of their bases to confront danger. But no matter what happens, they do not depart from our hearts. They remain there, and their brave actions live on at the core of the patriotic character that lives in all Americans.
Life at Iowa State
John "Jack" Fuller attended Iowa State from 1938 to 1941, majoring in General Engineering. He was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity, and during his senior year was leading editor for Iowa State's annual yearbook, The Bomb.