Joseph D. Liebgott, Jr. (17 May 1915 - 28 June 1992) was a United States Army soldier during World War II. During the war, he served as a non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.
Liebgott was portrayed in the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Ross McCall. Liebgott's life story was featured in the 2010 book A Company of Heroes: Personal Memories about the Real Band of Brothers and the Legacy They Left Us.
Early life and education
Liebgott's parents, of German-Jewish descent, moved from Austria to the United States. Liebgott was born in Lansing, Michigan in May 1915, the oldest of six children. The children were raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school. His family moved to San Francisco, California, before the War, where he worked mainly as a barber.
Liebgott's fellow soldiers often assumed he was Jewish, based on his name, his appearance, and his general hatred of Germans and Nazis in particular. He also spoke an Austrian dialect of German, which was confused with Yiddish. Liebgott generally did not bother to refute this assumption, finding it amusing and, occasionally, to his advantage.
As they prepared to jump for the invasion of Normandy, Liebgott and Forrest Guth gave haircuts to the men of the 101st for 15 cents per head. Many of the men either had their heads shaved or got Mohawks.
Liebgott participated in the Brécourt Manor Assault, manning a machine gun with Cleveland Petty. For this action Robert Sink awarded both men the Bronze Star. On D-Day+4 Liebgott showed Roderick Strohl a ring that he had cut off the finger of a dead German, whom he had killed with his bayonet. In the Battle of Carentan, Liebgott was clearing a house with Edward Tipper when an explosion wounded Tipper, breaking both of his legs. Liebgott and Harry Welsh dragged Tipper to safety.
He received minor wounds on 5 October 1944, at about 0330, when Easy was on line on "The Island", in the Netherlands, on the south side of the Rhine. While on patrol, the group that he was with encountered a German patrol, and an incoming grenade wounded him (in the arm) and Roderick Strohl slightly, while James Alley and Joseph Lesniewski were wounded more severely. Alley had thirty-two wounds in his left side, face, neck, and arm, while Lesniewski got hit in the neck by shrapnel. Later, after Easy Company commanding officer Richard Winters led the charge up on the dike, the German artillery opened up on The Crossroads and, in return, British artillery returned fire. One of the shells exploded near Liebgott, wounding his elbow.
He was noted by Winters as being an extremely good combat soldier and loyal friend; however, Liebgott had a rather rough attitude towards prisoners. After the battle at the crossroads on "The Island" in October 1944, Winters handed over 11 German prisoners to Liebgott to be taken back to Battalion command post. Liebgott was ordered to drop all his ammunition but one round, so as to ensure that the German prisoners made it back.
Liebgott was described by comrade David Kenyon Webster as being "120-pound Liebgott, ex-San Francisco cabby...the skinniest and, at non-financial moments, one of the funniest men in E Company. He had the added distinction of being one of the few Jews in the paratroops". After being sent to England to the hospital, Liebgott wanted to reunite with the men; he requested and received a discharge from the hospital and returned to France.
After fighting in Normandy and the Netherlands, Liebgott was nearing a breaking point at Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge. Winters pulled him off the line and made him his Command Post (CP) runner. After a few days, Liebgott returned to the line to be with his buddies, but his feelings of stress and tension also returned. This time, Winters assigned him to 101st Division Headquarters S-2 (intelligence), due to his ability to speak German and interrogate the prisoners. This move Winters would regret because Winters thought that Liebgott was Jewish and his hatred for the Germans came through when he questioned the prisoners.
At Noville, while patrolling with Sergeant Earl Hale, the two men went into a barn and captured six German SS officers. When a shell exploded outside the barn, one of the SS officers pulled a knife from his boot and slit Hale's throat, although not fatally. Liebgott shot the officer, killing him. (Later General George Patton berated Hale for not wearing a necktie, until Hale produced a letter from the doctor who treated him that exempted him from wearing one.)
While on occupation duty in Austria, Easy Company commander Ronald Speirs assigned Liebgott, along with John C. Lynch, Don Moone, and Wayne Sisk, to "eliminate" a Nazi who had been the head of a labor camp. When they found the man, Liebgott interrogated him for about thirty minutes, confirming that he was the man they wanted. They drove him to a ravine and Liebgott shot him twice. Wounded, the Nazi ran up a hill and Lynch ordered Moone to shoot him. Moone refused, and Sisk killed the man with a single, fatal rifle shot.
Later life and death
After the war, Liebgott returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked as a barber. The other members of Easy Company tried to contact him and invite him to reunions, but Liebgott did not respond and never spoke to his comrades again. He eventually married a woman named Peggy, whom he later divorced, and had eight children and several grandchildren. Liebgott died on 28 June 1992 in San Bernardino, California due to complications from a tumor in his neck.