Joseph A. Farinholt, one of the most highly decorated World War II combat veterans in the nation, who earned four Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, Belgium's Croix de Guerre and a Purple Heart, died of heart failure Tuesday at Carroll County General Hospital. He was 79 and lived in Finksburg.
"He was a true World War II hero and an extraordinary soldier," said Col. Howard S. Freedlander, executive officer of the Maryland National Guard.
Born and raised in Catonsville where he attended high school, Mr. Farinholt was just shy of his 16th birthday in 1938, when he walked into the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, lied about his age, and enlisted in the Maryland National Guard.
He served with the 175th Infantry Regiment, part of the 29th Infantry Division. Assigned to an anti-tank platoon, he entered combat on June 7, 1944, in Normandy.
"Almost immediately, he began to compile a combat record that would have him earn four Silver Stars in less than five months. It was all accomplished in a remarkable period of time - four months and 13 days," said Maj. Drew P. Sullins, public information officer for the Maryland National Guard, who researched his career in Army archives.
"It is believed that that only one other service member of World War II earned more Silver Stars. John T. Corley, who retired from the Army as a major general, earned five during World War II, and three more in Korea," he said. The Silver Star is the nation's third-highest medal for valor in combat.
Mr. Farinholt's first Silver Star was earned in Normandy on July 13, 1944, when he exposed himself to fire while neutralizing an enemy mortar and anti-armor weapon.
Five days later he earned a second Silver Star for "leading multiple and daring raids behind enemy lines to recapture equipment and weapons," Major Sullins wrote in a biographical sketch of Mr. Farinholt.
Nicknamed "Lightning" by his commander for his quick responses, Mr. Farinholt risked his life during a heavy enemy artillery barrage in Germany to aid and evacuate wounded soldiers. He was awarded a third Silver Star on Oct. 13, 1944.
On Nov. 26, 1944, Mr. Farinholt earned his fourth Silver Star. A technical sergeant, he went to the aid of an anti-tank gun crew that had been knocked out of action by an advancing German tank in Bourheim, Germany. Personally manning the gun, he stopped the tank but in the process was wounded 26 times by bullets and shrapnel.
Dazed and unable to walk because of a shattered left leg, he crawled to a jeep and drove to the 3rd Battalion command post to warn of the German advance.
He resisted all offers of medical help until he delivered his report, which was responsible for an American air strike that saved the day, said Major Sullins.
He spent the next two years at the Army Hospital in Staunton, Va., while doctors reconstructed his wounded leg. He was discharged in 1946 after 5 1/2 years of active duty and returned to Carroll County.
In 1945, he married his sweetheart, the former Agnes Marshall, who survives him.
Through the years he owned a grocery store, jewelry store and gas station and he farmed. From 1977 to 1981, he operated 30 North Motors, a body shop and used-car lot in Fowblesburg.
He worked with numerous veterans organizations, driving veterans to medical appointments and the hospital.
A modest man, he seldom spoke of his World War II exploits.
"I didn't do it all. That's for damn sure," he told The Sun in an interview last year.
"His combat record was so astonishing that when he brought it up people doubted him, so he stopped talking about it," Major Sullins said.
Last year, his friends petitioned the Army to have his fourth Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
The petition was denied, said Major Sullins, who plans an appeal to the Secretary of the Army.
Honors continued to come to Mr. Farinholt. In a ceremony held at Carroll County's Century High School in November, he received the high school diploma he failed to achieve when he left school to join the Army.
Last Thanksgiving, he joined a USO-sponsored tour as one of 10 World War II veterans who visited American ground forces in Bosnia.
"He was on crutches and suffering bad health but traveled 5,500 miles to talk to those men. It was an incredible experience for them and he was astounded at his reception," Major Sullins said.
Despite suffering a heart attack a week earlier, Mr. Farinholt attended a ceremony at the 5th Regiment Armory on June 1, when the drill hall was named in his honor.
"He loved the 29th Division and he loved soldiers," said Major Sullins. "However, the war never really left him. For the next 58 years until the day he died, he was still picking bone fragments from his leg and had to change the bandages twice a day."
A memorial service will be held at noon tomorrow in the 29th Division Hall, Camp Fretterd Military Reservation, Hanover Pike, in Reisterstown. His ashes will be interred with full military honors at the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Robert W. Farinholt of Sykesville and Joseph H. Farinholt of Finksburg; a daughter, Jo Donaldson of Deer Park; two sisters, Dorothea Meile of Westminster and Mildred Howard of Colorado; and six grandchildren. Another son, John W. Farinholt, died in 1991.
Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.