Man of Steel and Valor
Horace Labat, World War II, was awarded his Bronze Star decoration for actions during the Italian campaign. As a Staff Sergeant, he led a platoon of scouts, advancing far ahead of the main American forces. As his squad entered the town square, they found the executed body of Mussolini hanging from his heels, alongside his mistress.
On December 11, 1944, Horace Labat was awarded the Bronze Star. His citation reads:
Horace B. Labat, 34482428, Staff Sergeant, Infantry, 370 Infantry Regiment. For heroic achievement in action on December 4, 1944, in Italy.
The anti-tank company of which Staff Sergeant Labat was a member, was deployed in defensive position outside the walls of a town vigorously attacked from three directions by a company of Italian fascists led by German officers and NCOs.
Staff Sergeant Labat was in command of a squad holding one of the advance isolated strong points, which received a tremendous concentration of fire from all arms.
In the heat of the situation, Sergeant Labat calmly withheld his squad’s fire until the enemy was within point-blank range. Then he ordered such accurate counterfire that the entire enemy was repulsed. When the enemy fled, a large number of casualties were left, as close as 10 to 15 feet from Staff Sergeant Labat’s squad, which sustained only two casualties from the action.
This brilliant display of superior personal leadership inspired all members of his organization and is a worthy example of a soldiers’s gallant achievement. Entered military services at Gulfport, Mississippi.
Major General U. S. Army,
“What I didn’t like about the war,” said Labat, “was that after I went to a lot of trouble to capture an enemy, and brought him back through the lines for questioning, I was told my prisoner was too stupid to get information from, and I had to go back and find one who was more intelligent. It wasn’t easy to capture a high standing officer behind the German lines, and bring him back alive through both German and American lines.
“We had strict orders not to damage nor destroy any historic buildings, and sometimes this was very hard to keep from doing, for the enemy shot at us even from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and church steeples.
“We never stayed in a town or city for more than an hour or so. It was safer in the country. We traveled on foot, for it was wiser than riding trucks. We walked from Anzio to the Gothic Line. Up in north Italy we were after Mussolini with orders to take him alive, but the Italian partisans got to him first. He and his girl friend were not a pretty sight, hanging from their heels there in the town square.
“It was cold in the mountains, and at one time we were so high among the peaks that we couldn’t walk 30 feet without stopping to catch our breath. The country was too rough and steep for trucks; our ammunition and supplies had to be brought to us by mule.
“In that kind of country we were pinned down for two weeks. We were near a little town called Via Gemini, 28 miles above Lucca, on reconnaissance patrol. We never had more than 25 men, and tried not to let the group fall below 10, if we could help it, but our casualties were high.
“There were 10 of us surviving in an around a stone farm house down in a little valley among the high mountains. The family who lived there had moved out. We were in the advance of our main body when we found the enemy had surrounded us on the slopes around the farm.
”We had one 50 caliber machine gun, a couple of Tommy guns, rifles, and sidearms. But, it was hard to hit the Germans because they were above us. We used the farm house as a place to store our food and ammunition as we remained outside to defend our position. When our walkie-talkie gave out, I walked back to our lines and was told to go back and get the rest of the patrol to fall back. Before leaving we booby-trapped and mined the town.
“Towards the end of the campaign a German commander refused to surrender to us because we were Negroes, but he finally surrendered to the Brazilians, who were next to us. Our Division, the 92nd, was called the Buffalo Division, and was all Negro, except for officers, some of whom were white and some were Negroes. We were always short of officers, especially second lieutenants, who were always the most numerous officer casualties.
Horace Labat ended his interview stating, “There were 26 different nations fighting in the Fifth Army. They all fought well.”
Horace Labat, deceased, was former owner of Labat's Bar-B-Q Grill on Davis Avenue. During his lifetime, he had renovated many Pass Christian beachfront homes. He also helped build quite a few of them.
"These old houses have been through a lot of storms --- the wood framing is what makes them stand up. Old houses will stand a long time more if they are handled right."
Labat's home and business was a weather-beaten house north of the railroad tracks with a barroom and grill on the first floor. Outside, two grim Dobermans guarded his piles of reclaimed housing materials.
Pass Christian homeowners called him a "real craftsman." The rare wood worker could build an 1890s style porch from scratch and make the neighbors think it had always been there.
His approach to restoration work wasn't for the timid. Labat would never pre-price his projects --- nor would he be told exactly what to do.
"If a man can't meet the price, then corners get cut. I don't cut corners," he would say.
Horace Labat’s grandmother was Orelia Charlot.