American Portraits

Courage Under Fire: The Selfless Decision of John Robert Fox

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of John Robert Fox during the Italian campaign during World War II. Through his example, students will understand how they can act more selflessly in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.


John Robert Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in May 1915. Fox was from an ordinary family in an ordinary city leading an ordinary life, yet he would grow up to embody the virtues of self-sacrifice and courage. He attended Wilberforce University and graduated in the spring of 1940 with a commission as a second lieutenant….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can the selfless actions of John Robert Fox inspire us to act selflessly in our own lives?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of John Robert Fox during the Italian campaign during World War II. Through his example, students will understand how they can act more selflessly in their own lives.


  • Students will explore the actions of John Robert Fox
  • Students will understand how his selfless actions helped the allied cause and the soldiers he served with
  • Students will learn the importance of being selfless in their own lives


Combat in the Second World War spanned the entire globe, from small islands in the Pacific to the mountainous regions of Italy to the rolling fields of France. Several major fronts had been opened in the European sector of the war by 1944. On June 6, Operation Overlord had successfully landed hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers on the shores of Normandy, France. In August, another Allied landing in southern France began to push north toward the German border. All the while, ceaseless attacks from the Soviet Union in the east gradually pushed the Germans back.

Another less well-known campaign was also being waged on the Italian peninsula. Operations in Italy had begun with the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943. In September 1943, Allied forces had moved onto the mainland and began to push north. By December 1944, Allied forces had advanced well into Northern Italy. There, the exhausted troops had taken up a “defense-offensive” strategy, holding their positions, and preparing to attack when better weather arrived in the spring.

Though the Germans were being pushed back on several fronts, they were still a dangerous foe. On December 16, Nazi forces launched a massive counter-attack in the Ardennes forest in France. While Allied soldiers repelled this attack, German troops were also active in Italy. One such incursion took place on Christmas Day, 1944. Thanks primarily to one brave soldier, the Nazi offensive was stopped in its tracks. That man was John Robert Fox.


  • Ceaseless
  • Foe
  • Incursion
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Commission
  • Artillery
  • Formidable
  • Precariously
  • Emplacements
  • Barrages
  • Casualties
  • Untenable
  • Posthumously
  • Segregated
  • Irrespective

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was John Robert Fox?
  • What did John Robert Fox do on the cold day in December of 1944?
  • How did the selfless actions of John Robert Fox help the allied effort against the Gothic Line in Italy in 1944?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might the exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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