Private First Class Donald J. Ruhl'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.

Born in Columbus, Montana, Donald Ruhl joined the Marine Corps in September 1942. Qualified as a sharpshooter and graded as a “combat swimmer,” Ruhl attended Parachute Training School, successfully earning his jump wings and joining the 3rd Parachute Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. As part of a 60 millimeter mortar crew, Ruhl first saw action at Bougainville. With the disbandment of parachute units in the Corps, Ruhl was reassigned to the 5th Marine Division and shipped out to the Pacific again. Landing on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, Ruhl displayed extraordinary courage, taking on eight Japanese defenders single-handedly, moving through heavy enemy fire to rescue a wounded Marine, and occupying a position alone overnight that prevented enemy forces from retaking a gun emplacement. Ruhl’s final act of bravery saved the lives of several Marines. On February 21, Ruhl dove on a grenade, absorbing the explosion and saving the lives of Marines nearby. Private First Class Donald Ruhl was 21 years old.

Medal of Honor Citation for Private First Class Donald J. Ruhl

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifleman in an Assault Platoon of Company E, Twenty-eight Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese Forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 to February 21, 1945. Quick to press the advantage after eight Japanese had been driven from a blockhouse on D-Day, Private First Class Ruhl singlehandedly attacked the group, killing one of the enemy with his bayonet and another by rifle fire in his determined attempt to annihilate the escaping troops. Cool and undaunted as the fury of hostile resistance steadily increased throughout the night, he voluntarily left the shelter of his tank trap early in the morning of D-Day plus 1 and moved out under tremendous volume of mortar and machine-gun fire to rescue a wounded Marine lying in an exposed position approximately forty yards forward of the line. Half pulling and half carrying the wounded man, he removed him to a defoliated position, called for an assistant and a stretcher and, again running the gauntlet of hostile fire, carried the casualty to an Aid Station some three hundred yards distant on the beach. Returning to his platoon, he continued his valiant efforts, volunteering to investigate an apparently abandoned Japanese gun emplacement seventy-five yards forward of the flank during consolidation of the front lines, and subsequently occupying the position through the night to prevent the enemy form repossessing the valuable weapon. Pushing forward in the assault against the vast network of fortifications surrounding Mt. Suribachi the following morning, he crawled with his platoon guide to the top of a Japanese bunker to bring fire to bear on enemy troops located on the far side of the bunker, suddenly a hostile grenade landed between the two Marines. Instantly Private First Class Ruhl called a warning to his fellow Marine and dived on the deadly missile, absorbing the full impact of the shattering explosion in his own body and protecting all within range from the danger of flying fragments although he might easily have dropped from his position on the edge of the bunker to the ground below. An indomitable fighter, Private First Class Ruhl rendered heroic service toward to defeat of a ruthless enemy, and his valor, initiative and unfaltering spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”


Medal of Honor Series

This series is brought to you by Museum Historians Kali Martin, Joshua Schick, and Seth Paridon. A new Medal of Honor recipient is featured every three weeks.


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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