One of the region’s greatest war heroes may finally receive a long overdue recognition.
The late Staff Sgt. James I. “Junior” Spurrier of Bluefield, a soldier known as the “One Man Army” and the “Sgt. York of World War II” for his valor in combat in Europe, was awarded America’s highest military decoration — the Congressional Medal of Honor — by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower for his actions in World War II.
The Congressional Medal of Honor was in addition to his Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Croix de Guerre, American Theater Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Marksman M-1 and Combat Infantry Badge.
Although Bluefield wasn’t his birthplace, it was his address when he joined the U.S. Army in September of 1940. Spurrier was born in December of 1922 in Coeburn, Va., the son of Ruby Lee and James Ira Spurrier Sr. The senior Spurrier worked as a locomotive engineer for the Norfolk & Western Railway, and Junior Spurrier started working at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp until he entered the military. When he enlisted, his parents were living in Bluefield’s East End.
Spurrier became an extraordinary soldier, serving with distinction in the Pacific Theater and later in Europe.
He was a staff sergeant, serving as a platoon commander in Company K., 134th Infantry, 35th Division, 9th Army in the fall of 1944 when he captured 25 German soldiers as his platoon took a hill near Lay St. Christopher. In that encounter, Spurrier mounted a tank destroyer, took its 50-caliber machine gun and cleared the way for his platoon to take the hill. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on that day.
A few months later on Nov. 14, 1944, Spurrier sent his platoon into the German-held town of Achain, France, in one direction while he entered the town by himself from another direction. The Germans successfully defended the town from the advancing platoon, but Spurrier used his Browning Automatic Rifle, his M-1 rifle, American and German rocket launchers, a German pistol and hand grenades to kill 25 German soldiers and corner several more Germans in a barn. He set fire to the barn and captured 20 German soldiers and two officers as they escaped the fire.
Eisenhower presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Spurrier on March 27, 1945. A hero’s welcome home celebration was held in Bluefield for Spurrier on July 4, 1945, which attracted a crowd estimated at 25,000 to 30,000.
Despite the legendary accomplishments of this local war hero, he has never been properly honored on a large scale by Mercer County.
In 2011, this newspaper strongly urged the elected members of the Mercer County Commission, along with state lawmakers and highway officials, to name the dual King Coal Highway bridges at Stoney Ridge after Spurrier.
Our plea was denied.
The three elected county commissioners serving in 2011, along with our state lawmakers at the time, opted not to name the interstate bridge after our local World War II hero. Instead, they used the landmark bridge as a political pawn in the weeks leading up to an election.
Now, nearly eight years later, a new county commission appears to be taking steps to right this wrong.
County Commissioner Bill Archer, also a local historian, is leading the push to name a new bridge after Spurrier.
Archer’s proposal calls for naming the north and southbound I-77 bridges in Mercer County, which cross over the East River at the 3-mile marker, after Spurrier.
Requests on the projects have been sent to state lawmakers and the County Commission is currently awaiting a response.
We agree. We urge all three commissioners to fight for this very appropriate and long-overdue designation.
Every elected lawmaker in Charleston must do the same.