Chartres Cathedral is (as you all know) one of the world’s greatest architectural and spiritual monuments. It survived a plot to blow it up during the French Revolution. Less well known, is that it came close to being badly damaged by shelling during the Second World War. Worried that its tower was being used to direct attacks against the allied forces, an artillery attack was planned. Colonel Welborn Griffith volunteered to go enter the city and determine whether the Cathedral was occupied by Axis forces. It wasn’t and the Cathedral was spared further damage, unlike the ancient Abbey of Monte Cassino, which was leveled in the fighting in Italy.
Shortly after his reconnaissance, Col. Griffith was killed in action. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. (ASN: 0-16194), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Operations Officer (G-3) with Headquarters, XX Corps, in action against enemy forces on 16 August 1944 at Chartres and Leves, France. On 16 August 1944, Colonel Griffith entered the city of Chartres, France, in order to check the actual locations and dispositions of units of the *** Armored Division which was occupying the city. Upon observing fire being directed at the cathedral in the center of the city, with utter disregard for his own safety, Colonel Griffith, accompanied by an enlisted man, searched the cathedral and finding that there were no enemy troops within, signaled for cessation of fire. Continuing his inspection of outlying positions north of the city, he suddenly encountered about fifteen of the enemy. He fired several shots at them, then proceeded to the nearest outpost of our forces at which point a tank was located. Arming himself with an M-1 rifle and again with complete disregard for his own safety, Colonel Griffith climbed upon the tank directing it to the enemy forces he had located. During the advance of the tank he was exposed to intense enemy machinegun, rifle, and rocket-launcher fire and it was during this action, in the vicinity of Leves, France, that he was killed.
General Orders: Headquarters, Third U.S. Army, General Orders No. 75 (1944)
Action Date: 16-Aug-44
Division: XX Corps