He’s a distinguished looking man who looks like a college professor. In fact, he was an aerospace engineer who taught at UCLA for more than three decades.
But, what many people don’t know about Eldon Knuth is that he’s also a war hero.
The now 95 year old Thousand Oaks man won some of the highest honors from the U.S. and French governments for his very first, and only battle in World War II. This week, he received a Bronze Star for his role in the 1944 fight.
Knuth grew up on a farm in Iowa. He was just 16 when the U.S. entered World War Two, in 1941. After graduating from high school, he briefly went to college, but in 1944 he was called to military duty, and joined the army.
After going through basic training in Georgia and some specialized training, he was shipped to Europe.
Knuth was in the 95th Infantry Division, under the command of famed U.S. General George Patton. His unit was sent to Metz, where German forces occupied 11 heavily fortified outposts. The General was determined to do something about the German positions.
Knuth admits he was nervous and scared as they plunged into action. Most of the members of his unit died, or were wounded in the initial attack. The situation quickly went from bad to worse, when they realized they were cut off from the American lines.
Bad weather meant that U.S. aircraft couldn’t help. There was death everywhere. They were trapped for five days. He says what was especially tough was the nighttime hours, when they could hear enemy forces around them
Knuth says all they could do was hang on, and hope for help. Finally, U.S. soldiers from the outside showed up with the news that German troops had surrendered.
Knuth suffered foot injuries, and was taken to a hospital, where he spent months. He was discharged not long after the war in Europe ended in 1945.
He returned to college, going to Purdue and Caltech before spending a long career as an aerospace researcher and professor at UCLA. He’s been married to his wife Margaret for 47 years, and their blended families had six children, with dozens of grand and great grandchildren. They’ve lived at the University Village senior community in Thousand Oaks since 2012.
While it’s now been more than seven decades since that fateful battle, he says he still remembers those who didn’t come home. He and his wife have returned to Metz several times to honor them.
Knuth received two medals from the U.S. Government for his service, and was awarded the French Legon of Honor. On Tuesday, he received the Bronze Star for his service at a ceremony in Thousand Oaks.
But, the World War Two veteran admits he’s a little embarrassed over the attention, saying there are many other worthy veterans. He says he did something which simply needed to be done.