FORT POLK, La. — Each day, hundreds of Soldiers and civilians enter and exit the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk’s headquarters building, familiarly known as “Building 350.”
But many of those same people would be hard-pressed to tell you the proper name of the structure, whose name it shares, and the background behind its namesake.
The building’s name is Woodfill Hall, named for Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Samuel Woodfill.
During World War I, Woodfill earned the Medal of Honor for a display of rifle marksmanship that was at least as equally impressive as the exploits of fellow World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York. Interestingly, the two events happened within days of each other.
Woodfill joined the Army in 1901 at age 18 and served in various assignments to include the Philippines, Alaska and Texas.
In 1917, he was promoted to first lieutenant, having served in the enlisted ranks to that point. In the fall of 1918, he was sent to France with thousands of others in the American Expeditionary Force. He served in the 60th Infantry Division, and arrived in France as the six-week-long Meuse-Argonne battle was taking place.
On the morning of Oct. 12, Woodfill's unit was in the Meuse-Argonne battle just outside the French town of Cunel. Woodfill took two men out on a patrol to find German machinegun positions. The day was foggy, and the unit faced blistering artillery and machinegun fire.
As Woodfill and his men approached the village of Cunel, he studied the terrain for the most likely places to locate machineguns. The first to stand out was a church tower an estimated 300 yards away. After watching it for a few minutes, Woodfill saw muzzle flashes confirming the presence of a machinegun. He aimed at the muzzle flash, then moved his point of aim back to where the gunner's head would be and fired, killing the gunner. He waited until the next man on the gun crew took his place, then killed him too. There were five men in the gun crew, he had five shots in his rifle, and he got them all.
Woodfill wasn't done. The next likely spot was a stable. After watching it, a machinegun was found there too. He fired one round and the gun went quiet.
The third likely spot took a little maneuvering on Woodfill’s part. He began crawling and eventually took cover in a shell hole. As was the case with many shell holes in WWI, this one still had the remains of mustard gas collected in it. He got out, but not before suffering from its effects. Woodfill managed to get within 40 yards of the enemy, taking cover in a ditch.
Once again, five rounds to the head killed five crewmen. But there were more than five crewmen there. A sixth ran from the site, and Woodfill grabbed up the 1911 pistol he had laid on the ground in front of him and shot him with one round.
When Woodfill moved up to inspect the site, he found another crewman and shot him with the 1911 as well.
Woodfill began looking for a fourth machinegun nest, shooting a German sniper out of a tree in the process. Once again, Woodfill located the gun and killed its five crewmembers, reloaded, and shot three ammunition bearers.
The sharpshooter continued his search and located another machinegun, and took out its five crewmembers, falling back into a trench for cover. In the trench, two German Soldiers attacked and Woodfill dispatched them with a pickaxe.
This was the end of the war for Woodfill, since he was evacuated and treated for the effects of mustard gas until after the war was over.
On Feb 19, 1919, General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing personally presented Woodfill with the Medal of Honor and promoted him to captain. Pershing praised Woodfill, because before he went over to France, Pershing said he wanted American forces to shoot and fight rather than occupy trenches for months on end. Woodfill gave him just what he wanted.
The French awarded him the Croix de Guerre with palm, and made him a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
The Italians awarded him the Meriot di Guerra.
Montenegro gave him the Cross of Prince Danilo, First Class.
Woodfill died Aug. 10, 1951.