John Willis enlisted in the US Navy in November 1940. From Columbia, Tennessee, the young Willis trained to become a Pharmacist’s Mate, working in hospitals in the US. In early 1944, he was assigned to the newly formed 5th Marine Division as a corpsman. Marines do not have medical personnel. They rely on the US Navy to give them corpsmen, who serve as medics with Marine units.
As Willis’s rifle company became pinned down on Hill 362 on February 28, 1945, he was wounded by shrapnel and ordered back to an aid station. Willis allowed himself to be quickly patched up, and then returned to his unit. He knew how much they needed him. As Willis was treating a wounded Marine, his position came under attack by Japanese throwing grenades. One at a time, eight grenades landed near Willis. He threw each one back. Grenade number nine exploded in his hand, killing him instantly. In December 1945, Willis’ widow Winfrey, along with their infant son, accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf. Corpsman John Willis was 23.