Landing at Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 – one day after the historic D-Day invasion of Normandy, France – U.S. Army Captain Jack King was ordered to immediately march his Company inland. Within 48 hours of coming ashore,’ K’ Company was engaged in combat. In a bold move, Captain King – who had enlisted in the Maryland National Guard shortly after his graduation from Princeton in 1940 and was called up to active duty in 1941 – decided to move his troops across a shallow stretch of the Vier River to take control of the German-occupied village of Auville. Control of Auville was important because Captain King and his troops were the “tip the spear” of the U.S. Army regiments coming from Omaha Beach, clearing the way for the U.S troops traveling from Utah Beach and Omaha Beach to join forces, so the Allies could wrest control of Normandy from the Nazis and then push across France into Germany.
With the bridge destroyed, Captain King settled on a risky, but brilliant alternative strategy: Early on the misty morning of June 9, he deployed his 150 remaining troops in a single, horizontal line, crossing the river with their guns blazing, giving enemy troops the impression that a large Allied force was attacking. The ruse worked – the Germans retreated and Auville was relieved of enemy occupation, clearing the way for the U.S troops to join forces. Shot in both legs by machine gun fire, Captain King was among the few American troops (all Marylanders) wounded during the crossing and capture of Auville.
Raised in Baltimore’s historic Bolton Hill as one of three sons and a daughter of a prominent Johns Hopkins Hospital cardiologist, John T. King Jr and his wife, Charlotte. Throughout his youth, Jack King was a voracious reader and strong student who excelled at the Gilman School and graduated from Princeton University in 1940. Along with his personal achievements and his tall, dark and patrician good looks, King was widely appreciated by friends and family for his unfailing modesty and occasionally mischievous sense of humor.
With World War II looming, levity and mischief were soon left behind and, like many of his peers, Jack King enlisted in the military. King was assigned to the 9th Army, 13th Corps, 29th Division, 175th Infantry. Known as the “Blue and Gray” Regiment or Maryland 5th, the unit traced its origins back to the Maryland/Virginia National Guard Regiment that had formed at the conclusion of the Civil War. By 1943, the 175th had shipped out to England and spent long months in extensive training preparing to invade Europe at Normandy, France.
By October 1944, within five months of his injuries at Auville, Captain King had recovered and was returned to his regiment. By then, the 175th had marched into the province of Brittany in an offensive designed to capture an important Atlantic coast seaport, which was successful. From there, the 175th was deployed to Belgium to support the Allied thrust over the Roer River into Germany. Once again, King’s company was in the thick of the fighting, and his leadership in combat proved to be invaluable.
After crossing the Rhine in late April, 1945, the 175th’s primary role was to round up and process Nazi soldiers who had been taken prisoner. By early May, they had captured more than 15,000 prisoners. In later years, King recalled that they found this as “an easy task” because the German soldiers preferred surrendering to the Americans rather than being captured by the Soviet Russians.
In September of 1945, now promoted to Major, King returned home to civilian life. While awaiting processing out of the military at Fort Benning (now Fort Moore), Georgia, he met and married Elizabeth (Betty) Plant of Macon, Georgia. Returning to his native Baltimore, Jack and Betty raised their two children, John Holmes King and Elizabeth Leighton King Wheeler. One of his three granddaughters, C. Lee Gordon, and her family have made their home here in Talbot County.
In civilian life, King spent a successful career employed as vice-president and executive assistant to the CEO at the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company, now Constellation Energy. As corporate historian as well as a public relations officer for BG&E, he also served on the boards of numerous area charities and non-profit organizations including the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Gilman School and the St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, and several area family foundations.
While King rarely discussed his wartime experiences, the memories lingered. While PTSD was not a recognized diagnosis until after the Korean War, Jack King – a good-humored, lively young man before the War – became more subdued and introspective upon his return from Europe. He would talk about his experiences with his children in the form of humorous, anecdotal bedtime stories. Beyond that, he rarely spoke about The War.
In his later years, King became less sociable and was haunted more frequently by nightmares about his wartime experiences. Yet, he never complained or made an issue about his wartime experiences. Upon his death in 2001, he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
For his heroic leadership, Jack King was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, France’s Croix de Guerre, and the British Military Cross. He was one of the most decorated men in the entire Division. One citation read, “King’s aggressiveness and leadership ability under enemy fire, with total disregard for his own safety, were an inspiration to all his troops.”
A Gilman classmate and friend, Walter Lord (author of A Night to Remember, the best-selling book about the sinking of the Titanic), reflected in a 1994 letter to him that “What you went through must have cost you great pain, but you, and those with you, did an enormous amount for the rest of us.”
While Memorial Day is designed for those who died in the line of duty, it is also an occasion to remember and appreciate the heroic service provided by Jack King and thousands of his fellow members of the “Greatest Generation” who fought valiantly and returned after World War II.
Matt LaMotte, an Eastern Shore native from Kent County, spent his youth between Baltimore, Chestertown and Easton. After college, he delved in the world of finance, raising his two sons while honing his passion for history and lacrosse. He spent two decades teaching and coaching in independent schools across Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio. In 2018, he headed the History Department at Sts. Peter and Paul High School, Easton, until retirement in 2021. A reformed duck hunter, now bird enthusiast and conservationist, Matt is currently engaged in outdoor education and various affairs.
Kate LaMotte spent the first half of her life in Baltimore and then 10 years in Montclair, New Jersey. In 1996 she moved to Talbot County and raised her two daughters here. She has had a long (and getting longer) career in communications – primarily writing and editing — in Maryland, New Jersey and the Eastern Shore in service to higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations and presently, UM Shore Regional Health. She also serves on the Board of the Neighborhood Service Center, Inc.