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Congressional Medal of Honor Society

Stories of Sacrifice

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Korean War - U.S. Navy

John Kelvin Koelsch

  • Rank: Lieutenant, j.g.
  • Conflict/Era: Korean War
  • Unit/Command:
    Navy Helicopter Rescue Unit,
    U.S.S. Princeton
  • Military Service Branch: U.S. Navy
  • Medal of Honor Action Date: July 3, 1951
  • Medal of Honor Action Place: near Wonsan, Korea

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Navy helicopter rescue unit. Although darkness was rapidly approaching when information was received that a marine aviator had been shot down and was trapped by the enemy in mountainous terrain deep in hostile territory, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch voluntarily flew a helicopter to the reported position of the downed airman in an attempt to effect a rescue. With an almost solid overcast concealing everything below the mountain peaks, he descended in his unarmed and vulnerable aircraft without the accompanying fighter escort to an extremely low altitude beneath the cloud level and began a systematic search. Despite the increasingly intense enemy fire, which struck his helicopter on one occasion, he persisted in his mission until he succeeded in locating the downed pilot, who was suffering from serious burns on the arms and legs. While the victim was being hoisted into the aircraft, it was struck again by an accurate burst of hostile fire and crashed on the side of the mountain. Quickly extricating his crewmen and the aviator from the wreckage, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch led them from the vicinity in an effort to escape from hostile troops, evading the enemy forces for nine days and rendering such medical attention as possible to his severely burned companion until all were captured. Up to the time of his death while still a captive of the enemy, Lt. (j.g.) Koelsch steadfastly refused to aid his captors in any manner and served to inspire his fellow prisoners by his fortitude and consideration for others. His great personal valor and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Medal of Honor Recipient John K. Koelsch
Medal of Honor Recipient John K. Koelsch
Additional Details
  • Accredited to: Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California
  • Awarded Posthumously: Yes
  • Presentation Date & Details: August 2, 1955

    The Pentagon, presented by Sec. of the Navy Charles S. Thomas to his Mother, Mrs. Beulah H. Koelsch

  • Born: December 22, 1925, London, England
  • Died: October 16, 1951, Prison Camp, North Korea
  • Buried: Arlington National Cemetery (MH) (30-1123-RH), Arlington, VA, United States

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