Private First Class James D. La Belle'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.

Like many other young men, James La Belle left high school in Minnesota at age 17 to join the US Marine Corps in 1943. A star athlete, La Belle played basketball, baseball and boxed. . As part of the 5th Marine Division, La Belle landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. It was his first combat.

La Belle had many close calls in the first several weeks of fighting. He survived machine gun fire which killed three Marines next to him. When a mortar landed on the edge of the shell hole he was in, La Belle was the only man not wounded. As his unit advanced on Nishi Ridge, his best friend was killed right next to him. On March 8, La Belle’s platoon came under intense enemy fire and La Belle and two other Marines took shelter in a cave. La Belle caught a glimpse of a Japanese soldier as he threw a grenade into the cave. He shouted a warning to the other Marines as he dove onto the grenade before it exploded, saving their lives. Private First Class James La Belle was 19 years old.

Medal of Honor Citation

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Weapons Company, Twenty-seventh Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 8 March 1945. Filling a gap in the front lines during a critical phase of the battle, Private First Class LaBelle had dug into a foxhole with two other Marines and grimly aware of the enemy’s persistent attempts to blast a way through our lines with hand grenades, applied himself with steady concentration to maintaining a sharply vigilant watch during the hazardous night hours. Suddenly a hostile grenade landed beyond reach in his foxhole. Quickly estimating the situation, he determined to save the others if possible, shouted a warning and instantly dived on the missile, absorbing the exploding charge in his own body and thereby protecting his comrades from serious injury. Stouthearted and indomitable, he had unhesitatingly relinquished his own chance of survival that his fellow Marines might carry on the relentless fight against a fanatic enemy and, his dauntless courage, cool decision and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of certain death reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class LaBelle and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”


Second Lieutenant Ernest Childers, US Army: Medal of Honor Series

A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Ernest Childers became the first Native American to be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II.


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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