The Medal of Honor citation says it all: “As the perimeter began to be overrun, it became increasingly difficult for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then saw a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of the wounded soldiers lying near the tent. Firing from a squatting position, Captain Salomon quickly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his attention back to the wounded, two more Japanese soldiers appeared in the front entrance of the tent.
“As these enemy soldiers were killed, four more crawled under the tent walls. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their way as best they could back to the regimental aid station, while he attempted to hold off the enemy until they were clear.
“Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of the wounded and rushed out of the tent. After four men were killed while manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took control of it. When his body was later found, 98 dead enemy soldiers were piled in front of his position.”
The first and last answer is, he was an American, doing what Americans have always done best—fighting for the country he loved. Born in Milwaukee in 1914, Salomon studied at Marquette University and the University of Southern California, where he attended dental college and went into private practice. Drafted in the fall of 1940, shortly after FDR instituted the first peacetime draft in U.S. history, Salomon was inducted as a private into the U.S. Army.
The young dentist quickly proved adept at marksmanship with both rifle and pistol, and was quickly promoted to sergeant and given command of a machine-gun unit. With America’s entry into the war after Pearl Harbor, Salomon was promoted to first lieutenant and—despite his talent for war and against his wishes—transferred to the Dental Corps.
Now, a member of the 105th Infantry Regiment and promoted to captain, Salomon hit the beach on the island of Saipan in the Marianas Islands. Under heavy, desperate Japanese resistance, there wasn’t much work for a dentist, so Salomon volunteered to replace his battalion’s surgeon, who had been wounded.
“Whether we attack or whether we stay where we are, there is only death. However, in death there is life. I will advance with you to deliver another blow to the American devils and leave my bones on Saipan as a fortress of the Pacific,” he said.
The Medal of Honor citation puts the dire situation into context.
“The Regiment’s 1st and 2nd Battalions were attacked by an overwhelming force estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese soldiers. It was one of the largest attacks attempted in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although both units fought furiously, the enemy soon penetrated the Battalions’ combined perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the first minutes of the attack, approximately 30 wounded soldiers walked, crawled, or were carried into Captain Salomon’s aid station, and the small tent soon filled with wounded men.”
This was war at its most elemental. The Japanese, with no hope of help and nowhere to run, hid in caves by day and attacked by night. The Army and Marines fought the most brutal war imaginable, with flamethrowers and bayonets and bare hands, in addition to rifles, sidearms, and machine guns. The Japanese would attack in waves, kamikazes of the infantry, attempting to overrun the American positions as the GIs pressed forward.
Salomon’s mobile hospital was set up near the front lines in the early dawn of July 7, just meters between the forward foxholes and the sea. The Japanese burst out of their concealed positions and sent the Americans reeling back. The hospital was soon filled with the wounded as the fighting raged all around it.
Salomon realized his position was untenable and ordered the wounded evacuated while he stayed behind to cover them. It was at this point that his ability with guns and weaponry came into play.
“Everybody’s dead out there,” he was reported to have said. “I can do these guys more good out there than I can in here. I'll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later.”
When they found his body, it was riddled with bullet and bayonet wounds, many of them apparently inflicted after death by the enraged enemy. Where Saito had demanded that each of his men kill 10 Americans, one dauntless American had killed more than 100 Japanese.
Salomon’s Medal of Honor was delayed by bureaucratic misinterpretation of the Geneva convention, which outlaws identified medical personnel from taking up arms; Salomon was wearing a Red Cross armband when he died. But in fact, doctors are allowed to fight in defense of their wounded and so, on May 1, 2002—nearly 58 years after his heroic actions—President George W. Bush officially awarded the medal posthumously to Captain Benjamin Lewis Salomon.
The citation concludes: “Captain Salomon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.” And, it must be added, upon all Americans who put their country before themselves.
Do we still have such men today?