The first Medals of Honor were presented on March 25, 1863. To commemorate this date, in 1990, Congress designated March 25 “National Medal of Honor Day” to recognize recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest and most prestigious military decoration awarded to U.S. service members who have distinguished themselves through acts of valor.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of World War II, we are highlighting Medal of Honor recipients from the Battle for Iwo Jima, one of the war’s fiercest and most infamous battles.
On February 19, 1945, American forces invaded Iwo Jima, a small island off the coast of Japan that was considered to have great strategic importance due in large part to its proximity to the mainland. American troops claimed the island on March 26, after five weeks of intense fighting that resulted in heavy casualties for both sides. Out of the roughly 21,000 Japanese soldiers who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, 20,703 died and 216 were taken prisoner. Nearly 7,000 American service members were killed and another 20,000 were wounded, marking the only time during World War II that American casualties outnumbered Japanese casualties.
Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to American service members for their heroic actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima, more than any other battle in U.S. history. The five Sailors who received this honor were Rufus G. Herring, Francis J. Pierce, George E. Wahlen, Jack Williams, and John H. Willis.
Rufus G. Herring
Rufus G. Herring, a United States Naval Reserve officer, was awarded the Medal of Honor for maintaining position in the firing line in the face of enemy fire, and steering his crippled ship to safety during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Francis J. Pierce
Francis J. Pierce, a United States Navy hospital corpsman, was awarded the Medal of Honor after he risked his life to save several wounded service members and volunteered for a mission to eliminate an enemy threat during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
George E. Wahlen
George E. Wahlen, a United States Navy hospital corpsman, received the Medal of Honor for repeatedly risking his life to save the lives of several other wounded service members during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Jack Williams was a United States Navy hospital corpsman who was killed in action while performing first aid to a wounded Marine during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during battle.
John H. Willis
John H. Willis was a United States Navy hospital corpsman who was killed by a grenade while assisting a wounded Marine during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Willis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism above and beyond the call of duty during battle.
These Sailors who received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima exemplify the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment. We honor the contributions and sacrifices made by these Sailors to their fellow Sailors and Marines in service to their country.
For more information on the Medal of Honor please visit http://www.cmohs.org/