Sergeant William G. Harrell: Medal of Honor Series

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.

William Harrell was a Texas native who attended Texas A&M University until the spring of 1941, when he dropped out in order to save money to finish school. With the outbreak of the war, Harrell put his education on hold and joined the US Marine Corps in July 1941. Harrell did not see combat until he landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945 with the 5th Marine Division. On March 3, Harrell, by then a sergeant, was in an outpost foxhole with Private First Class Andrew J. Carter. The two men were taking turns on watch, and Harrell was asleep when Carter alerted him to Japanese incoming. Harrell shot two of them, but Carter’s weapon jammed, and he was forced to return to the line for another. When he returned, Carter found Harrell severely wounded, his left hand blown apart by a Japanese grenade. Harrell and Carter continued to fight off the oncoming Japanese until Harrell sent Carter back to line. He expected to die alone, both hands lost to grenades. When his fellow Marines came for him in the morning, he was still alive, with a dozen enemy dead lying near his foxhole.

Medal of Honor Citation 

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Leader of an Assault Group, serving with the First Battalion, Twenty-Eight Marines, Fifth Marine Division, during hand- to-hand combat with enemy Japanese at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, on March 3, 1945. Standing watch alternately with another Marine in a terrain studded with caves and ravines, Sergeant Harrell was holding a position in a perimeter defense around the company command post when Japanese troops infiltrated our lines in the early hours of dawn. Awakened by a sudden attack, he quickly opened fire with his carbine and killed two of the enemy as they emerged from a ravine in the light of a star-shell burst. Unmindful of his danger as hostile grenades fell closer, he waged a fierce lone battle until an exploding missile tore off his left hand and fractured his thigh; he was attempting to reload the carbine when his companion returned from the command post with another weapon. Wounded again by a Japanese who rushed the foxhole wielding a saber in the darkness, Sergeant Harrell succeeded in drawing his pistol and killing his opponent and then ordered his wounded companion to a place of safety. Exhausted by profuse bleeding but still unbeaten, he fearlessly met the challenge of two more enemy troops who charged his position and placed a grenade near his head. Killing one man with his pistol, he grasped the sputtering grenade with his good right hand and, pushing it painfully toward the crouching soldier, saw his remaining assailant destroyed but his own hand severed in the explosion. At dawn Sergeant Harrell was evacuated from a position hedged by the bodies of twelve dead Japanese, at least five of whom he had personally destroyed in his self-sacrificing defense of the command post. His grim fortitude exceptional valor and indomitable fighting spirit against almost insurmountable odds reflect the highest credit upon himself and enhance the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

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WWII Medal of Honor Recipients

Our Nation’s highest military award for valor is given for action above and beyond the call of duty. This topic covers the stories of WWII Medal of Honor recipients.

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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 Mili...
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