Born and raised in the Chicago area, John Leims enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1942, and was selected for officer training the next fall. Commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1944, Leims helped clear Guam of Japanese holdouts with the 3rd Marine Division.
Leims landed on Iwo Jima on D+5, and was wounded on February 27, 1945. He was patched up and returned to his unit. Casualties were severe, and by March 3 Leims was serving as company commander for B Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. Just four days later, his company was pinned down and destined to be wiped out overnight if they didn’t get any help. Telling his platoon sergeant he was going for help, Leims took off for the rear, zigging and zagging through heavy Japanese fire. It took him 10 minutes to get to the command post. He indicated his company’s position on a map then returned to them, dragging a telephone line so he could call in artillery fire to cover his company’s retreat. He was successful, his company was saved, and Leims later said of his trip through enemy fire: “I knew that every time I moved, it could be the last and that I’d probably die out there. But what the hell else could I do? I was a Marine.”