SGT Horace T. West

Photo added by Cheryl Mullinax

SGT Horace T. West

Death 1974 (aged 62–63)
Burial Marietta, Love County, Oklahoma, USA
Memorial ID 14207015 · View Source
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On 14 July 1943, soldiers with the U.S. 180th Infantry Regiment were facing stiff enemy resistance near the Santo Pietro airfield, and by 10:00 hours had taken a number of prisoners, including 45 Italians and 3 Germans. The executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry Regiment, Major Roger Denman, ordered a noncommissioned officer (NCO), Sergeant Horace T. West, 33 years old, to take that group of prisoners "to the rear, off the road, where they would not be conspicuous, and hold them for questioning." The POWs were without shoes and shirts, which was common practice to discourage attempts to escape.

After Sergeant West, with several other U.S. soldiers assisting him, had marched the POWs about a mile, he halted the group and directed that eight or nine of them be separated from the rest and taken to the regimental intelligence officer (the S-2) for questioning. West then took the remaining POWs "off the road, lined them up, and borrowed a Thompson submachine gun" from the Company First Sergeant (the senior NCO in the Company). When the First Sergeant asked West what he wanted it for, West responded that he was going to "kill the sons of bitches." West then told the soldiers guarding the POWs to "turn around if you don't want to see it."

He then killed the POWs by shooting them with the Thompson. When the bodies were discovered some thirty minutes later, it was noted that each POW had been shot through the heart, which indicated shooting at close range. Investigators later learned that after West had emptied the Thompson into the group of POWs, he "stopped to reload, then walked among the men in their pooling blood and fired a single round into the hearts of those still moving."

The next day, the 37 bodies caught the attention of a chaplain, Lt. Col. William E. King, who reported the event to his senior officers.

The U.S. Army charged Sergeant Horace T. West for "willfully, deliberately, feloniously, [and] unlawfully" killing thirty-seven prisoners of war in the first incident. At his trial, which began on 2 September 1943, West pleaded not guilty. Although he admitted the killings, his non-lawyer defense counsel raised two matters in his defense. The first was he was "fatigued and under extreme emotional distress" at the time of the killings and was essentially temporarily insane at the time of the commission of the acts. However, First Sergeant Haskell Y. Brown testified that West had borrowed the Thompson plus an additional magazine of 30 rounds and had appeared to act in cold blood.

The second defense raised by West's counsel was that he was simply following the orders of his Commanding General who, he testified, had announced prior to the invasion of Sicily that prisoners should be taken only under limited circumstances. West's regimental commander, Colonel Forrest E. Cookson, testified that the general had stated that if the enemy continued to resist after U.S. troops had come within 200 yards of their defensive position, then surrender of those enemy soldiers need not be accepted. The problem with this defense was that the POWs in this case had already surrendered and the surrender had been accepted.

The court-martial panel found West guilty of premeditated murder, stripped him of his rank and sentenced him to life imprisonment. On 23 November 1944 the remainder of his sentence was remitted and he was restored to active duty and continued to serve during the war, at the end of which he received an honorable discharge.

Borch, Fred. "War Crimes in Sicily: Sergeant West, Captain Compton, and the Murder of Prisoners of War in 1943". The Army Lawyer (March 2013): 1–6.

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  • Created by: Phil and Donna (Stricklan) Whitaker
  • Added: 7 May 2006
  • Find A Grave Memorial 14207015
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for SGT Horace T. West (1911–1974), Find A Grave Memorial no. 14207015, citing Lakeview Cemetery, Marietta, Love County, Oklahoma, USA ; Maintained by Phil and Donna (Stricklan) Whitaker (contributor 4308835) .