Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh'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.

Raised in Boston, Massachusetts, William Walsh joined the US Marine Corps in April 1942. Assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, known as Carlson’s Raiders, Walsh fought with the Raiders until they were disbanded. Walsh was a seasoned combat veteran of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, and the Russel Islands. After returning to the US, Walsh joined the 5th Marine Division. After landing on Iwo Jima, on February 27, 1945, his company was under fierce fire from Japanese positions when Walsh led his men in a charge towards  a heavily defended ridge. On the second attempt, desperate Japanese soldiers began throwing grenades at the oncoming Marines.  When a grenade landed in a crater that Walsh and other Marines were taking cover in, Walsh unhesitatingly threw himself on the grenade, absorbing the impact and saving everyone else. Gunnery Sergeant William Walsh was 22 years old.

Medal of Honor Citation for Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Leader of an Assault Platoon, serving with Company G, Third Battalion, Twenty-seventh Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, on 27 February 1945. With the advance of his company toward Hill 362 disrupted by vicious machine-gun fire from a forward position which guarded the approaches to this key enemy stronghold, Gunnery Sergeant Walsh fearlessly charged at the head of his platoon against the Japanese entrenched on the ridge above him, utterly oblivious to the unrelenting fury of hostile automatic weapons and hand grenades employed with fanatic desperation to smash his daring assault. Thrown back by the enemy’s savage resistance, he once again led his men in a seemingly impossible attack up the steep, rocky slope, boldly defiant of the annihilating streams of bullets which saturated the area, and despite his own casualty losses and the overwhelming advantage held by the Japanese in superior numbers and dominate position, gained the ridge’s top only to be subjected to an intense barrage of hand grenades thrown by the remaining Japanese staging a suicidal last stand on the reverse slope. When one of the grenades fell in the midst of his surviving men, huddled together in a small trench, Gunnery Sergeant Walsh in a final valiant act of complete self-sacrifice, instantly threw himself upon the deadly bomb, absorbing with his own body the full and terrific force of the explosion. Through his extraordinary initiative and inspiring valor in the face of almost certain death, he saved his comrades from injury and possible loss of life and enabled his company to seize and hold this vital enemy position. 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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