Ben Salomon and the Medal of Honor
The fighting was fierce throughout 7 July 1944 on the northern end of
the island of Saipan. Desperate, cornered Japanese soldiers hurled themselves
at American positions. On the hills overlooking the coastal plain and the
village of Tanapag, soldiers of the 27th Infantry Division repelled several
banzai attacks. Their position was strong, and gradually as the day wore
on the Japanese assaults weakened. The story was different on the beach below.
Occasionally looking down, they saw that their fellow soldiers in the 1st
and 2d Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment were in a much more precarious
position. The initial enemy attacks coming out of the night had struck full
force at the battalions' initial positions next to the ocean. Despite furious
resistance, the survivors were eventually pushed back to the village of Tanapag
where they continued to fight. The soldiers on the hills above readily recognized
the bravery of their comrades below, but they could not foresee that out
of this action would come a Distinguished Unit Citation, two Medals of Honor,
and a fifty-seven year struggle for another Medal of Honor for an Army dentist.
In combat, the courage and fearlessness shown by some soldiers is frequently
astounding and inexplicable. Such a fighter was Captain Ben Salomon, the
Army dentist killed in battle defending his aid station on 7 July 1944. Almost
as amazing as Ben Salomon's exploits is the story of how his heroism was
finally recognized by the award of the nation's highest medal for valor.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 1 September 1914, Ben Salomon grew up in
the city, graduated from Shorewood High School, and attended Marquette University
before moving to Los Angeles, California, to finish his undergraduate education
at the University of Southern California. He then went on to graduate
from the University of Southern California Dental College in 1937, and began
practicing dentistry. As with most young men in the United States on the
eve of World War II, Ben's civilian plans quickly took second place to the
military needs of the country. He was smart, good-looking, and popular,
with a bright future in front of him. Soon after the National Selective Service
Act became effective in the fall of 1940, Ben's draft board ordered him to
report for induction into the Army. Dr. Ben Salomon became an infantry private.
After basic training Ben joined the 102d Infantry Regiment and quickly
proved to be a natural soldier and leader. He won awards as an expert rifle
and pistol marksman, and his commanding officer stated that he was "the best
all-around soldier" in the regiment. Within a year he had risen to the rank
of sergeant and was in charge of a machine gun section. In 1942 Salomon received
notification that he was to become an officer in the Dental Corps. At first
Ben attempted to remain in the infantry, and his commanding officer requested
that he be commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry. The request was denied,
and Salomon reported to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where he was commissioned
a first lieutenant on 14 August 1942. After several months of work in a hospital,
Lieutenant Salomon was assigned in May 1943 as the regimental dental officer
of the 105th Infantry Regiment, part of the 27th Infantry Division.
Characteristically, Ben jumped into his new duties with enthusiasm and
skill. Despite not having practiced dentistry for two years, Lieutenant Salomon
was quickly recognized as an excellent dentist by his patients and his fellow
dentists. He developed a routine of handling dental appointments in the
morning and joining his regiment in the field for training in the afternoon.
Ben was not just a staff observer, but also an active participant in all
activities from hot, dusty hikes and range firing to crawling through the
mud of the obstacle courses. He won all of the regimental competitions. Later,
his regimental commander described the uniqueness of his dental officer:
Ben Salomon was the best instructor in infantry tactics we ever had. He
gave everybody who ever met him a real lift. He had a way of inspiring people
to do things that they might not have done otherwise. I think it was because
he himself was the most vital man most of us ever met.
In June 1944, newly promoted Captain Salomon went ashore on Saipan with
the 105th Infantry Regiment for his first taste of battle. In active combat
operations there was little work for the regimental dentist, so Ben immediately
volunteered to replace the 2nd Battalion's surgeon who had been wounded
in a mortar attack on 22 June. The day before, the unbloodied 2d Battalion
had been thrown into a fight to clear the Nafutan peninsula in the southeast
corner of the island while the remainder of the 27th Division and the 4th
Marine Division pushed north. The 2d Battalion struggled and eventually at
great expense, through trial and error, began to learn the techniques of
properly executed combined arms attacks. There was plenty of work to keep
acting surgeon Salomon busy as the effective strength of his battalion dropped
to about fifty percent of its authorized strength. On 27 June the 2d Battalion
finally secured the Nafutan peninsula, but the cost had been high, not only
in personnel losses, but also in its reputation. The Marine commander on
Saipan, Lt. Gen. Holland Smith, complained about the poorly performing unit,
which he claimed had been stopped by a handful of disorganized enemy soldiers.
General Smith's doubts about the leadership of the 2d Battalion, and indeed
of most Army units on Saipan, contributed to his relief of Army Maj. Gen.
Ralph Smith, commander of the 27th Infantry Division. As the 2d Battalion,
105th Infantry Regiment moved north to rejoin the rest of the 27th Division,
there might have been a cloud over its head in the eyes of the Marines, but
the battalion itself was a much wiser and combat hardened unit.
The final drive to the north to clear the remainder of Saipan moved forward
rapidly with the 27th Infantry Division on the left and the 4th Marine Division
on the right. On 4 July the 2d Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment was inserted
into the far left of the line on the coastal plain next to the ocean near
the village of Tanapag. Although the 2nd Battalion advanced almost 800 yards
on the 5th, it bogged down the next day against increasingly desperate Japanese
resistance. Late on 6 July the regimental reserve, the 1st Battalion, 105th
Infantry, was committed on the right of the 2d Battalion thus allowing the
two battalions to drive forward 600 yards along the coast before dark. With
reports of a planned Japanese night counterattack circulating, the 1st and
2d Battalions established a tight perimeter defense of foxholes well supported
by infantry heavy weapons and artillery.
The reports were correct. Of the original thirty thousand Japanese soldiers,
only a few thousand remained, and those were disorganized and short of food
and weapons. General Saito, the Japanese army commander, ordered all remaining
Japanese soldiers, sailors, and civilians, possibly as many as five or six
thousand men, to gather about a mile in front of the 1st and 2nd Battalion
positions the evening of 6 July. Saito addressed his men and issued the following
order: "We will advance to attack the American forces and will all die an
honorable death. Each man will kill ten Americans." Then Saito committed
suicide along with the naval commander on Saipan, Admiral Chichi Nagumi.
Saito's men followed his orders and moved resolutely forward against the
1st and 2d Battalions despite heavy American artillery fire.
The Americans were vigilant and quickly detected the Japanese advance.
Flares added to the natural illumination of a bright moon, but the Japanese
approach was somewhat concealed by heavy brush which began about 400 yards
from the American position. About 0500 hours the tidal wave of the Japanese
banzai attack burst out of the brush and rolled forward in waves. The Americans
opened fire inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, but still the Japanese
advanced and soon were inside the foxhole perimeter.
Ben Salomon had set up his aid station in a small tent about fifty yards
behind the forward foxholes and thirty yards from the shoreline. Within ten
minutes of the beginning of the attack, his aid station was overwhelmed with
over thirty wounded. Salomon was working steadily on the most serious cases
inside the tent when Japanese soldiers began to enter. Ben shot the first
one who had bayoneted a wounded American lying on a stretcher. Two more
charged through the tent entrance. Ben clubbed them both with a rifle, then
shot one and bayoneted the other. Four more began to crawl under the sides
of the tent. He shot one, bayoneted one, stabbed another with a knife, and
head butted the fourth. Ben ran out of the tent to get help to defend the
aid station. He quickly saw that the situation was hopeless. The Japanese
suicide masses had overwhelmed the two under strength American battalions.
Pockets of resistance fought on inside the perimeter, but the bulk of the
survivors were being pushed back toward Tanapag village. Salomon returned
to the tent and ordered his aid men to evacuate the wounded while he stayed
behind to hold off the enemy and cover their withdrawal. Salomon then grabbed
a rifle and fought on with the few Americans still resisting inside the perimeter.
Eventually he manned a machine gun after its gunner was killed. That was the
last time anyone saw Ben Salomon alive.
The fighting continued throughout 7 July as the Japanese attacked other
American units. As the day wore on, it was obvious that the assaulting force
had spent itself. Late on the 7th, the Americans counterattacked, and on
9 July the island was secured as most of the remaining Japanese committed
suicide. Early on 8 July the positions of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 105th
Infantry Regiment had been regained. These units had withstood the worst
of the assault. At the beginning of the banzai attack, the two battalions
had 1,108 men present for duty; at the end 919 were either dead or seriously
wounded, an 83 percent casualty rate.
The 27th Division historian, Capt. Edmund G. Love, accompanied the team
that went back to the overrun battalions' position. Love later described
what they found:
We had been walking through piles of dead men when the general gave a
sudden start, and then stepped over to the figure of a man who was bent
over the barrel of a heavy machine gun. Very quickly, almost before I saw
what he was doing, the general took out a knife and cut the Red Cross brassard
from Ben Salomon's arm. Then he straightened up and looked around. There
were ninety-eight Japanese bodies piled up in front of that gun position.
Salomon had killed so many men that he had been forced to move the gun four
different times in order to get a clear field of fire. There was something
else that we noted, too. There were seventy-six bullet holes in Salomon's
body. When we called a doctor over to examine him, we were told that twenty-four
of the wounds had been suffered before Salomon died. There were no witnesses,
but it wasn't hard to put the story together. One could easily visualize Ben
Salomon, wounded and bleeding, trying to drag that gun a few more feet so
that he would have a new field of fire. The blood was on the ground, and the
marks plainly indicated how hard it must have been for him, especially in
that last move.
Over the next several weeks, Captain Love carefully reconstructed the
fighting on 7 July. All unit records of the 1st and 2nd Battalions had been
destroyed. Love moved through hospitals and unit assembly areas and camps
all over the Pacific interviewing the survivors of the attack. It became
increasingly clear that there were many heroes, most of whom would remain
unrecognized because there were no survivors to tell their stories. Eventually
recommendations for Medals of Honor for two soldiers killed in the fighting,
Lt. Col. William J. O'Brien, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion,
and Sgt. Thomas A. Baker of Company A, were prepared. Brig. Gen. Ogden J.
Ross, the assistant commander of the 27th Division, asked Love to prepare
one for Captain Salomon. Love wrote the recommendation for the Medal of
Honor and assembled the supporting eyewitness accounts. He secured statements
from the 2nd Battalion commander, Maj. Edward McCarthy, from the Company
A commander, Capt. Louis Ackerman, and from one of Salomon's enlisted aid
men. The recommendations were forwarded through official channels for approval.
When Captain Love rejoined the 27th Infantry Division in early 1945 to
provide historical coverage for the invasion of Okinawa, he inquired about
the award recommendations. The awards for Colonel O'Brien and Sergeant Baker
had been approved. The award recommendation for Captain Salomon had been
returned without action to the 2d Battalion with a handwritten note from Maj.
Gen. George W. Griner, the commanding general of the 27th Division:
I am deeply sorry that I cannot approve the award of this medal to Captain
Salomon, although he richly deserves it. At the time of his death, this officer
was in the medical service and wore a Red Cross brassard upon his arm. Under
the rules of the Geneva Convention, to which the United States subscribes,
no medical officer can bear arms against the enemy.
Captain Love attempted without success to persuade General Griner to reconsider
his decision. The commanders of the 105th Infantry Regiment and the 2d Battalion
were new, were unaware of Salomon's heroic actions, and offered little support
for Love's efforts. As the 27th Division entered the fighting on Okinawa
the matter was dropped.
After the war, Captain Love returned to the United States where he went
to work as a civilian historian at the Office of the Chief of Military History
in Washington preparing written accounts of the various battles in the Pacific.
In 1946 he wrote an article for The Infantry Journal that described
the fighting on 7 July 1944 and specifically mentioned Ben Salomon's heroics.
Ben Salomon's father heard the article read over the radio and wrote a letter
of inquiry to the War Department. The Secretary of War, Judge Robert Patterson,
learned the details of the Salomon case from Edmund Love. Judge Patterson
asked Love to give Salomon's father the details of how his son had died and
to prepare another award recommendation for resubmission. Love carried out
his instructions. He flew to Los Angeles and met with Mr. Salomon. Ben's
father learned for the first time how his son had died. Previously he had
only a routine telegram informing him of the death; there were no other details
or posthumous awards, not even a Purple Heart.
Resubmitting the award recommendation was more difficult. The original
award recommendation had been returned to the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry
by General Griner and could not be located. Most of the notes that Love had
collected during the war had been sent to the Adjutant General's office in
the Pentagon and were now lost. Of the three eyewitnesses for the original
Medal of Honor recommendation, Captain Ackerman was killed on Okinawa and
the medical aid man could not be located. Only Major McCarthy was available.
He provided an affidavit and indicated other veterans that might have knowledge
of Salomon's actions. In recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of the 1st
and 2d Battalions, 105th Infantry Regiment, in the fighting on 7 July 1944,
the two units were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in 1948. In addition
to the losses on Saipan, the heavy casualties suffered by the 2nd Battalion
on Okinawa hampered Love's search for witnesses; only about thirty soldiers
survived the war. In the summer of 1951, Love, with the help of Major
McCarthy, finally secured all of the necessary statements and submitted the
recommendation through the Office of the Chief of Military History since
Secretary of War Patterson's successors knew nothing of the action. Love
left government service soon after and was later informed that the recommendation
was returned without action because the time limit on submitting World War
II awards had expired. There the matter rested for several years.
In the late 1960s another attempt was begun to win approval of a Medal
of Honor for Ben Salomon. Dr. John I. Ingle, Dean of the University of Southern
California School of Dentistry, learned from his friend, Ben's father, the
story of his son's heroics. In 1968 Ingle contacted Maj. Gen. Robert B. Shira,
chief of the Army Dental Corps, and urged him to reopen the case. Over the
next year the award recommendation was reconstructed. This effort was even
more difficult than the one in the late 1940s and early 1950s. None of the
previous award recommendations could be located. Major McCarthy had committed
suicide in 1953, and no one even remembered the names of the other eyewitnesses
who had submitted statements for the 1951 submission. The services of Edmund
Love were called upon, and he attended a 27th Division reunion but could
only find one soldier from the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment. This
veteran remembered Salomon, but was wounded and knocked unconscious early
in the action. Some items of interest were found in Ben Salomon's personnel
file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Extensive
correspondence was conducted with veterans of the 27th Division. Two of the
individuals with Love when Salomon's body was found were located, and they
willingly provided sworn statements. Another officer, who remembered the
wounded coming back from the overrun battalions talking about Salomon's exploits,
provided a statement. Edmund Love wrote an extensive account of the events
not only surrounding the fighting on 7 July 1944, but also the previous
attempts to have the Medal of Honor awarded to Salomon. Research indicated
that the passage of congressional legislation in 1960 had removed the legal
restrictions on time limits for submission of awards. On 29 October 1969
the Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Hal B. Jennings, signed the third Medal
of Honor recommendation for Captain Salomon.
A legal review by the Judge Advocate General's office stated that the
1929 Geneva Convention allowed medical personnel to bear arms in self-defense
and in defense of the wounded and sick. With the previous reasons for disapproval,
namely the time limitation on submission of awards and the assumption that
Salomon's actions violated the Geneva Convention, now eliminated, the recommendation
was quickly processed by the Senior Army Decorations Board and the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, both of which recommended approval. On 21 July 1970 the Secretary
of the Army, Stanley R. Resor, recommended approval of the Medal of Honor
for Ben Salomon and forwarded the papers to the Secretary of Defense for
From the beginning the Office of the Secretary of Defense took a critical
view of the recommendation. At first the papers were returned to the Army
citing an unfavorable Department of Defense legal opinion. After considerable
research and argument, all lawyers agreed that according to regulations Salomon
was eligible for consideration of an award. The recommendation still languished.
In 1972 it was returned to the Army for another review by the new Secretary
of the Army, Robert F. Froehlke. On 28 March Froehlke returned it to the
Secretary of Defense stating in part:
After a careful review of the 1944 Medal of Honor case involving Captain
Ben Salomon, I'm convinced that the Army is absolutely right in trying to
redress a 27-year old error of judgment. The case has been painstakingly
reconstructed. It has been endorsed unanimously for approval by the Army Senior
Decorations Board and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and my predecessor, Stan
Resor....this one deserves to be approved.
It was all to no avail. On 10 June 1972 the Office of the Secretary of
Defense returned Salomon's Medal of Honor recommendation to the Army without
acting on it, merely stating that it was based on circumstantial information.
The heroism of Ben Salomon in giving his life for his patients was not
immediately forgotten. In 1973 a dental clinic at Fort Benning, Georgia was
dedicated to his memory. His fellow alumnae of the U.S.C. School of Dentistry
kept him in their thoughts; in the mid-1960s a new major clinic at the U.S.C.
School of Dentistry had been named in his honor. The Army largely forgot
him until the mid-1990s when an Army Dentist, Col. John E. King, while conducting
research for a history of the Dental Corps during Vietnam, came across the
story of Ben Salomon in neglected files in the office of the Chief of the
Dental Corps. Coincidentally, about the same time, Dr. Robert West, an alumnus
of the U.S.C. School of Dentistry, who was working on a book to commemorate
the centennial anniversary of the school, also became interested in Ben Salomon.
He contacted Dr. Ingle, who put him in touch with former acquaintances from
the office of the Chief of the Dental Corps; in turn they referred Dr. West
to Colonel King. When called by West, King readily agreed to send him the
documents used in the 1969 recommendation for Salomon's Medal of Honor.
With advice and assistance from the Army's Military Awards Branch and
his Congressman, Dr. West assembled the required documents and submitted
them to the Army in April 1998 through his Congressman, Representative Brad
Sherman, as required by law. In September 1998 the recommendation went forward
to the Senior Army Decorations Board for processing. As the nomination
moved through the lengthy review process, Major General Patrick D. Sculley,
Deputy Surgeon General, U.S. Army, and Chief of the Dental Corps, maintained
close contact with Mr. Patrick T. Henry, the Assistant Secretary of the Army
for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, to make sure that CPT Salomon’s package
remained on track. After recommendations for approval by the Army and
the Office of the Secretary of Defense, legislation was introduced to waive
the time limitation for awarding the Medal of Honor to Captain Salomon. With
the signing into law of the FY 2002 Defense Authorization Act, the protracted
struggle for Ben Salomon to receive his long overdue recognition finally ended.
On 1 May 2002, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Dr.
Robert West, representing the U.S.C. School of Dentistry. The presentation
of Captain Ben Salomon's Medal of Honor verifies Edmund Love's words of many
During the war in the Pacific, as a historian, in seven battles with four
different divisions, I studied the individual actions of thousands of men.
I personally prepared, at the request of various division and regimental
commanders, the papers which resulted in the award of seven Congressional
Medals of Honor and countless lesser decorations. I do not know of a man more
richly deserving of this high honor than Captain Salomon, whom I never met
William T. Bowers
COL, U.S. Army, Retired
Office of Medical History
Directorate of Health Care Operations