From 19 February through 26 March 1945, the U.S.Marine Corps and U.S. Navy participated in one of the most impactful battles during World War II, the battle of Iwo Jima. This battle saw more than 26,000 American casualties and a total of 27 Medals of Honor awarded to men who went beyond the call of duty during the fight for the island.
Twenty-two U.S. Marines were awarded Medals of Honor for their actions on Iwo Jima. That is 25% of the total 83 Medals of Honor that were awarded to Marines throughout World War II. Twelve Marines who fought on Iwo Jima received the honor posthumously.
Let’s take a minute to reflect on the heroism of two recipients of the Medal of Honor, Private First Class Jacklyn H. Lucas and Corporal Hershel “Woody” Williams, and the ultimate sacrifice of Marine legend, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, who had already received a Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal.
Just a few days after his 17th birthday, Private First Class Jacklyn H. Lucas was creeping through a twisted ravine on Iwo Jima with three other men from his rifle team when they were ambushed by the Japanese. As the men jumped in foxholes, two grenades landed near Lucas. Without hesitation, Lucas threw himself on top of both grenades. One of the grenades exploded wounding Lucas' right arm and wrist, right leg and thigh, and chest. For his actions, Lucas was awarded the Medal of Honor, making him the youngest Marine and service member to receive the medal in World War II.
Corporal Hershel “Woody” Williams received the Medal of Honor for his actions on 23 February 1945. On this day, Cpl Williams volunteered his services to assist in reducing enemy pillboxes, mines, and other defensive positions. Being covered by only four riflemen, he fought for four hours under heavy enemy fire and repeatedly returned to his lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain a flamethrower. On one occasion, Cpl Williams mounted a pillbox and inserted the nozzle of the flamethrower into the air vent, killing the enemy inside. He then charged an enemy rifleman who attempted to stop him but he met the might of Cpl Williams’ flame thrower.
On 5 October 1945, Cpl Williams received the Medal of Honor at the White House from President Truman. Cpl Williams is one of two of the last remaining WWII Medal of Honor recipients and the last remaining Marine recipient.
One of the most recognizable Medal of Honor recipients of WWII is Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Guadalcanal on 24 and 25 October 1942. After a stateside tour to aid the war bond effort, Basilone voluntarily returned to battle and landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February, 1945, D-Day. After single-handedly destroying a Japanese blockhouse, Basilone was killed by enemy mortar shrapnel. For his actions, Basilone was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross,
the second highest decoration awarded for valor in combat.
Visitors to the National Museum of the Marine Corps can see GySgt Basilone’s Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, and other personal items in our Legacy Walk Gallery.
"Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue"
~ Adm. Chester Nimitz, USN
These Marines are just three of the men whose heroic efforts aided in the capture of Iwo Jima
and ultimate defeat of the Japanese. The stories of the men who fought on the black volcanic sand of Iwo Jima will never be forgotten.
For more information on Medal of Honor recipients, visit the Museum's Medal of Honor exhibit in Legacy Walk.