On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s 1st Air Fleet begins their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Two waves of aircraft strike the U.S. Pacific Fleet at anchor, as well as bases across Hawaii. Five of the eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships are either sunk or severely damaged. By day’s end, 2,718 American sailors, 582 soldiers (including Army Air Forces personnel), 178 Marines, and 103 civilians are dead, dying or wounded.
In a day full of countless acts of American bravery and sacrifice, 15 men and officers of the U.S. Navy earned the Medal of Honor – 11 posthumously – during the battle. Here are the accounts of their actions.
For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
For The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Ensign Herbert Charpoit Jones, United States Naval Reserve, for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Ensign Jones organized and led a party, which was supplying ammunition to the anti-aircraft battery of the U.S.S. CALIFORNIA (BB-44) after the mechanical hoists were put out of action when he was fatally wounded by a bomb explosion. When two men attempted to take him from the area which was on fire, he refused to let them do so, saying in words to the effect, “Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.” Continue reading “The 15 men who earned the Medal of Honor during the Pearl Harbor attacks”
1909: U.S. Army Lt. (future brig. gen.) Frederick Erastus Humphreys becomes the first Army aviator to solo in a heavier-than-air craft – the Wright Flyer – following three hours of instruction by Wilbur Wright.
1922: Off Cape Henry, Va., Lt. Commander Godfrey Chevalier becomes the first aviator to land on a moving ship when his Aeromarine 39B biplane touches down on the deck of USS Langley.
1942: Japanese carrier-based aircraft sink the carrier USS Hornet, leaving only one operational American carrier in the Pacific. The Battle of Santa Cruz is a pyrrhic victory for the Japanese, however, as their carrier pilots were decimated in the attack and can no longer conduct attacks on U.S. forces at Guadalcanal.
On Guadalcanal, Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige single-handedly fought off waves of Japanese soldiers while all the Marines in his machine gun section are either killed or wounded. Once reinforcements arrived, Paige will lead a bayonet charge that drives off the enemy. For his actions, Paige is awarded the Medal of Honor.
1950: The First Marine Division lands at Wonsan, Korea and moves north toward the Yalu River. In a month, they will be attacked by 10 Chinese divisions and have to fight their way out of the Chosin Reservoir.
Meanwhile, Republic of Korean (South Korea) forces arrive at the Yalu River and learn that two entire Chinese Armies have already crossed into Korea.
1966: A magnesium parachute flare ignites aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) off the coast of Vietnam, igniting the worst ship-board fire since World War II. 44 sailors perish in the blaze.
1968: An estimated four battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers attempt to overrun Fire Support Base Julie near the Cambodian border. Supported by dozens of B-52 strikes, the defenders manage to repel the attack.
1742: After poor leadership and disease claim all but 600 of the 3,500-man 61st Regiment of Foot, the American expeditionary force is disbanded and returns to the colonies. “Gooch’s Regiment”, named after regimental commander – also the Governor of Virginia – Lt. Col. William Gooch, had been part of the ill-fated British expedition to capture the Spanish colony of Cartagena (present-day Colombia).
1944: On day two of the Battle of Leyte Gulf – the largest naval engagement of World War II – U.S. aircraft attack the Japanese fleet, sinking the battleship Musashi and damaging four others. A single Japanese dive bomber attacks the light carrier USS Princeton igniting an internal blaze that will sink the ship with just one bomb.
In the air, Cmdr. David McCampbell and wingman Ens. Roy Rushing spot a flight of 60 Japanese planes and engage despite the outrageous odds. McCampbell shoots down nine warplanes, setting a single sortie record, and his partner claims six. After becoming the only U.S. aviator to claim “ace in a day” status twice, McCampbell lands his F6F “Hellcat” as it runs out of fuel and with only two bullets left. For his daring actions, the top Naval ace of the war is awarded the Medal of Honor.
In the Taiwan Straight, the submarine USS Tang, whose crew sank five Japanese ships in a single engagement the day before, fires another torpedo, which circles around and sinks Tang. The sub bottoms out in 180 feet of water, but nine crew members – including skipper Richard O’Kane – escape in the only known successful use of the Momsen rebreather.
1951: In the skies over Korea, 150 Russian MiG-15 fighters intercept a formation of B-29 bombers and 55 F-84 “Thunderjet” escorts. The Communists manage to shoot down four of the B-29s and one escort, but at least eight MiGs are lost in the largest air battle of the Korean War. The sortie will be the last daylight bombing raid for the B-29.
1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, Convair’s chief test pilot Richard L. “Dick” Johnson takes off with his YF-102 prototype, marking the first flight of the “Delta Dagger.” The F-102 served as an interceptor, capable of attacking enemy bomber formations with its AIM-26 “Nuclear Falcon” missile. Future President George W. Bush would fly the “Deuce” during his service as a pilot with the Texas Air National Guard.
Prior to his days as a test pilot, Johnson flew 190 missions over North Africa and Italy in his P-47 “Thunderbolt”, then went on to become the second Air Force pilot to break the sound barrier. He deployed to Korea where he was supposed to be supervising the installation of equipment on F-86 “Sabre” fighters, but was sent home after the Air Force discovered Johnson was flying unauthorized combat missions.
1954: President Dwight Eisenhower sends a letter to Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem, pledging direct support to the South Vietnamese government. Although United States assets have been in French Indochina since World War II, this date is considered the beginning of the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam.
On Oct. 2, 1969, Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Novosel gets the call that a team of South Vietnamese are pinned down in Vietnam’s Kien Tuong Province, and the medevac pilot heads to the rescue. As he circles overhead to rally the beleaguered troops while they prepared to be lifted out, enemy fire is so intense that his helicopter is driven away six times. Undeterred, Novosel – who would be wounded by close-range automatic weapons fire during the daring mission – performed 15 extractions under fire, saving 29 soldiers.
This was Novosel’s second tour flying medevac helicopters in Vietnam. The “Dean of the Dust-Offers” flew an amazing 2,543 missions, rescuing 5,589 personnel. He had flown B-29s during World War II, and also served during Korea. By the time Novosel retired in 1985, he was the last World War II aviator still on active duty. His son also flew medevac choppers, and both father and son would take turns rescuing each other during the Vietnam War.
On Oct. 2, 1952, Private First Class Jack W. Kelso’s platoon is hit by a heavy enemy assault that takes both the platoon commander and platoon sergeant out of action. Kelso exposes himself to enemy small arms and mortar fire, attempting to rally his fellow Marines. Met by a hail of fire, he seeks cover in a bunker, which is quickly targeted by an enemy grenade. Kelso picks up the grenade and moves to an exposed position to throw it back at the enemy when it goes off after leaving his hand – peppering Kelso with shrapnel. Instead of remaining in the bunker, the mortally wounded Kelso opts to expose himself to the withering fire and provide cover fire while his men move to another position.
On this date 73 years ago, as the 85th Infantry Division fights their way across Italy, Sgt. Christos H. Karaberis’ platoon was pinned down by enemy fire. Karaberis – who changed his name to Chris Carr following the war – crept to the rear of an enemy machine gun position. Leaping forward and shooting his submachine gun into the position, he caught the occupants by surprise – capturing eight enemy soldiers. Carr moved on to the next position – this time maneuvering to avoid enemy fire – killing four soldiers and capturing another. Carr then moved against a third machine gun position, forcing the enemy troops to surrender. Incredibly, Carr would charge two more positions, bringing his total to five machine gun nests, killing eight enemy soldiers, and capturing 22.
Pres. Harry S. Truman presents the Medal of Honor to Jackson at the White House on Oct. 5, 1945.[/caption]Today we honor the memory of recently departed Medal of Honor recipient Arthur J. Jackson. On Sept. 18, 1944 on Pelelieu, Private First Class Jackson charged towards a large enemy pillbox containing 35 Japanese soldiers. Facing an intensive barrage, he suppressed the enemy with automatic weapons fire and then destroyed the fortification with grenades and explosives, killing all of the occupants. Despite incoming fire from all sides, Jackson single-handedly moved on another 11 positions, killing 15 more of the enemy.
For his incredible one-man assault, Jackson is awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation can be viewed here.
Jackson was wounded on Pelelieu and again at Okinawa, where he served as a platoon sergeant. He received a commission from the Marine Corps in August, 1945 and would serve in the Army during the Korean War. He returned to the Marines in 1952 and while serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Jackson killed an alleged Cuban spy that attacked him. Fearing an international incident, the military silently discharged Jackson after the event. He entered the Army Reserves and ultimately reached the rank of Captain in 1954.
Jackson, one of the few surviving recipients of the Medal of Honor from World War II, passed away on June 14, 2017.
1917: U.S. Army Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing is named commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force, which is destined for European combat the following year.
1942: The Northrop P-61 “Black Widow” night fighter makes its first flight. The twin-boom P-61 is the first aircraft to carry radar and the U.S. military’s first night fighter. The warplane saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, and is widely believed to be credited with the last “kill” of an enemy aircraft in World War II, when a Japanese “Tojo” fighter pilot flies into the water while attempting to evade a Black Widow. Another P-61 flew over the Cabanatuan prison camp, with the pilot performing acrobatic maneuvers to distract the guards while Rangers infiltrated the camp and rescued 500 American prisoners of war.
1958: Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class William R. Charette selects which remains of unidentifiable service members from World War II will be interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from four identical caskets in a ceremony on the deck of the cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2). Charette is the only enlisted sailor and recipient of the Medal of Honor still on active service. The “unknowns” were disinterred from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
1961: An Air Force B-58 “Hustler” bomber – the first operational bomber capable of sustaining Mach 2 – flies from New York to Paris in three hours and 19 minutes, setting a new record and averaging 1,386 miles per hour.
2008: Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry and his fellow Rangers come under enemy fire while attempting to capture a high-value Taliban target in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. Petry, already wounded in both legs by an enemy bullet, sees an enemy grenade land near his team’s position and throws it back. But the grenade explodes just after being thrown, severing Petry’s hand and spraying him with sharpnel. He applies a tourniquet and coordinates support for his soldiers on the radio. Petry will receive an advanced prosthetic hand and rejoin the Rangers, returning to Afghanistan for his eighth deployment before becoming the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
“A nation reveals itself not only by the the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers…”
– President John F. Kennedy
Last week, America lost two outstanding warriors. Ola L. Mize, veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars and Medal of Honor recipient, and William J. Guarnere, from the legendary “Band of Brothers” unit of World War II.
Alabama native Ola Mize tried repeatedly to enlist in the Army, but at 120 pounds was told he was too small. He also had to trick his way past a vision test as he was also blind in one eye from a childhood accident. Eventually, the Army relented and he served in the 82nd Airborne, re-enlisting once the Korean War broke out.
On June 10, 1953, a battalion-sized force of Chinese troops attacked and overran Mize’s outpost. With his company officers dead or wounded, Mize organized a defense, dragged wounded to safety, and formed a patrol to fight the Chinese bunker to bunker – despite having been hit by grenade and artillery blasts multiple times. Fighting for hours – hand-to-hand at times – Mize killed several dozen enemy soldiers with his carbine and many more by calling in American artillery fire. His full citation can be read here.
Mize was one of only eight Americans of the original 56 to survive the attack on the outpost. Initially, he refused the Medal of Honor, but eventually accepted it on behalf of his men.
Following the Korean War, Mize earned his commission and served multiple tours in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group. He later founded the Combat Diver Qualification Course in Key West, Fla. and commanded the Special Forces School at Fort Bragg.
Col. Mize retired in 1981, having earned the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, five Bronze Stars, and the Purple Heart. He passed away in his Gadsden, Ala. home on March 12 of lung cancer.
When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, William Guarnere dropped out of high school and went to work building Sherman tanks. His job was considered essential to the war effort, which allowed him to stay stateside. But he enlisted in the Army, and trained for the newly formed parachute infantry. He would be assigned to Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, which would be immortalized by historian Stephen Ambrose in the book “Band of Brothers.”
Guarnere’s oldest brother Harry was killed fighting the Germans at Monte Cassino, Italy, and William couldn’t wait to kill every German he could. His fierce fighting earned him the nickname “Wild Bill.” Guarnere parachuted into France prior to the D-Day invasion, and was platoon sergeant during a June 6 assault on German artillery at Brecourt Manor featured on “Band of Brothers” miniseries, for which he earned the Silver Star.
Walter D. Ehlers, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient for the Normandy campaign, was laid to rest March 10 at Riverside (Calif.) National Cemetery.
Ehlers was born in Junction City, Ks. on May 7, 1921. He enlisted in the Army with his brother Roland and the two served together throughout the North Africa and Sicily campaigns, but anticipating high casualties, their company commander separated the brothers for the Normandy invasion due to fears that the two would perish together. Walter learned on June 14 that his brother perished when a mortar struck his landing craft at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
As Walter’s reconnaissance squad fought through France on June 9 and 10, he repeatedly moved far forward of his men, leading a bayonet charge and assaulting multiple heavily defended strongpoints – at times, single-handedly. While covering the withdrawal of his platoon from heavy fire, and despite being wounded himself, Ehlers crossed a killzone to retrieve his wounded automatic rifleman. Once his man was secured, he returned for the soldier’s weapon. His full citation can be read here.
He was wounded three more times as the First Infantry Division fought across Europe. In addition to his Medal of Honor and Purple Hearts, he also earned the Silver Star and Bronze Star. He served as a counselor for the Veterans Administration, and his son Walter Jr. retired as a lieutenant colonel, also having served with the First Infantry Division. Ehlers spoke at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion in 1994 and walked alongside President Bill Clinton on Omaha Beach.
Many who worked alongside Ehlers never knew he was a Medal of Honor recipient. “This was a man who was a warrior,” recalled former California governor Pete Wilson. “There’s no doubt about that, but this was also one of the most gentle, kindest, most modest human beings I’ve ever encountered.” Hundreds attended his funeral.
Of the 12 Medals of Honor awarded for Normandy, all but three were posthumous. With Ehlers’ passing, only 75 surviving Medal of Honor recipients remain. However, the Marine Corps Times reports that former Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter will receive the award for shielding his comrades from a grenade blast in Afghanistan back in 2010.
Since being part of the 2010 Medal of Honor Convention, I have read and published scores of narratives for valor medals. While the actions of these men are all truly incredible, the actions of Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe in Iraq on Oct. 17, 2005 are astonishing. Especially considering he was only awarded the Silver Star.
Cashe occupied the gunner’s turret of a Bradley fighting vehicle when it was hit by an IED. Cashe managed to escape the vehicle, but the vehicle’s fuel cell had ruptured and ignited, setting fire to the men stuck inside. Cashe was covered in fuel, and insurgent small-arms fire was targeting the Bradley. Cashe rescued the driver, who was on fire, and opened the hatch to rescue the burning soldiers still inside. His uniform caught fire, but he continued his rescue efforts – even running into the inferno to pull out the medic.
Of those wounded in the attack, Cashe’s burns were the most severe. He succumbed to his wounds on Nov. 8, 2005. I run into burning buildings for a living as a fireman. But I cannot imagine running into a burning vehicle while soaked in fuel and on fire myself to rescue multiple victims. This man did, he died doing so, and was only awarded the military’s third-highest medal for valor. Lyndon Johnson got a Silver Star for just riding on an airplane.
Cashe’s Silver Star citation can be read in full here.
Not to take away from the honor and tradition of our military decorations, but sometimes cloth and metal don’t quite seem sufficient to recognize people like Sergeant First Class Alwyn C. Cashe. I expect that his medal will be upgraded. If not, it is time to overhaul the awards process.
42 years ago, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Howard was on a joint patrol of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops when the unit was attacked by 250 North Vietnamese soldiers. After regaining consciousness from an explosion which riddled his body with shrapnel, Howard killed an enemy soldier who was wielding a flamethrower before dragging his commanding officer to safety. Howard then shoots several enemies with his pistol before being wounded once more in the foot, preventing him from walking. He then sets up a defensive position, repelling numerous attacks.
Howard, who retired in 1992 as a Colonel was believed to be the most decorated soldier since Vietnam. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times in just over a year. Due to the covert nature of his operations, the other actions were downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross (he was awarded two) and the Silver Star. He received eight Purple Hearts – tied with four other soldiers for the record – and was wounded 14 times in his 54 months of combat during the Vietnam War. He was one of only two soldiers to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. He also was awarded four Bronze Stars, in addition to numerous other awards for valor. Read his citation here.
One year later, Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Yano was a crewmember aboard a command-and-control helicopter that was engaged with enemy forces near Bien Hoa. As Yano fired smoke and white phosphorous marking rounds to identify enemy positions for artillery strikes, a grenade detonated prematurely in the helicopter’s cabin, covering Yano with burning phosphorous and igniting the remaining ammunition. Despite his serious wounds, he began throwing the exploding ammunition overboard, causing further injuries – and ultimately his life – but sparing the helicopter and crew. Read his citation here.