Captain Joseph J. McCarthy's Medal of Honor

In the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history, 27 Marines and sailors were awarded the Medal of Honor for action on Iwo Jima. No other campaign surpassed that number.

Joseph McCarthy was a quiet Irishman from Chicago, Illinois. He joined the Marine Corps in 1937, served for four years, then re-enlisted after Pearl Harbor. In 1942, he was discharged as an enlisted man and accepted a commission in the Corps Reserve. Assigned to the 4th Marine Division, McCarthy fought in the Roi-Namur and Saipan-Tinian campaigns. He was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic action as a company commander on Saipan.

As commander of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, McCarthy demonstrated again why his men called him “the best damned officer in the Marine Corps.” After landing on Iwo Jima, on February 21, 1945,  his men were pinned down by deadly accurate machinegun fire from a series of Japanese pillboxes 75 yards away, across open ground. McCarthy grabbed a pack full of grenades, called up his flamethrower and demolition teams, and yelled “Let’s get the bastards before they get us!” as he charged forward with his three-man team. Within five minutes McCarthy silenced the deadly machine guns with the support of the flamethrower crew. Soon after, G Company advanced another hundred yards onto the island.

Medal of Honor Citation for Captain Joseph J. McCarthy

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of a rifle company attached to the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, on 21 February 1945. Determined to break through the enemy's cross-island defenses, Capt. McCarthy acted on his own initiative when his company advance was held up by uninterrupted Japanese rifle, machine gun, and high-velocity 47mm. fire during the approach to Motoyama Airfield No. 2. Quickly organizing a demolitions and flamethrower team to accompany his picked rifle squad, he fearlessly led the way across 75 yards of fire-swept ground, charged a heavily fortified pillbox on the ridge of the front and, personally hurling hand grenades into the emplacement as he directed the combined operations of his small assault group, completely destroyed the hostile installation. Spotting 2 Japanese soldiers attempting an escape from the shattered pillbox, he boldly stood upright in full view of the enemy and dispatched both troops before advancing to a second emplacement under greatly intensified fire and then blasted the strong fortifications with a well-planned demolitions attack. Subsequently entering the ruins, he found a Japanese taking aim at 1 of our men and, with alert presence of mind, jumped the enemy, disarmed and shot him with his own weapon. Then, intent on smashing through the narrow breach, he rallied the remainder of his company and pressed a full attack with furious aggressiveness until he had neutralized all resistance and captured the ridge. An inspiring leader and indomitable fighter, Capt. McCarthy consistently disregarded all personal danger during the fierce conflict and, by his brilliant professional skill, daring tactics, and tenacious perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, contributed materially to the success of his division's operations against this savagely defended outpost of the Japanese Empire. His cool decision and outstanding valor reflect the highest credit upon Capt. McCarthy and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”


Medal of Honor Series

Read First Lieutenant Jack Lummus' story next. He received a Medal of Honor on March 8, 1945 for his actions in Iwo Jima. 


Kali Martin

Kali Martin earned a bachelor's degree in International Studies and German at the University of Miami and a master's degree in Military a...
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