Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Stories of Sacrifice

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World War II - U.S. Navy

John Harlan Willis

  • Rank: Pharmacist's Mate First Class
  • Conflict/Era: World War II
  • Unit/Command:
    3d Battalion, 27th Marines,
    5th Marine Division
  • Military Service Branch: U.S. Navy
  • Medal of Honor Action Date: February 28, 1945
  • Medal of Honor Action Place: Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as platoon corpsman serving with the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, during operations against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 28 February 1945. Constantly imperiled by artillery and mortar fire from strong and mutually supporting pillboxes and caves studding Hill 362 in the enemy cross-island defenses, Willis resolutely administered first aid to the many marines wounded during the furious close-in fighting until he himself was struck by shrapnel and was ordered back to the battle-aid station. Without waiting for official medical release, he quickly returned to his company and, during a savage hand-to-hand enemy counterattack, daringly advanced to the extreme front lines under mortar and sniper fire to aid a marine lying wounded in a shell hole. Completely unmindful of his own danger as the Japanese intensified their attack, Willis calmly continued to administer blood plasma to his patient, promptly returning the first hostile grenade which landed in the shell hole while he was working and hurling back seven more in quick succession before the ninth one exploded in his hand and instantly killed him. By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life, he inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force. His exceptional fortitude and courage in the performance of duty reflect the highest credit upon Willis and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Medal of Honor Recipient John H. Willis
Medal of Honor Recipient John H. Willis
Additional Details
  • Accredited to: Tennessee
  • Awarded Posthumously: Yes
  • Presentation Date & Details: December 12, 1945

    Presented to his widow, Mrs. Winfrey Willis Duke, by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.

  • Born: June 10, 1921, Columbia, Maury County, TN, United States
  • Died: February 28, 1945, Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands
  • Buried: Rose Hill Cemetery (PM) (Sec.13), Columbia, TN, United States

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