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Ben L. Salomon

by William T. Bowers, U.S. Army
(1914 - 1944)

Ben Salomon was a Jewish American soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor during World War II.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on September 1, 1914, Salomon later 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.

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 and Dr. Ben Salomon became an infantry private.

After basic training, Ben joined the 102nd 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, he 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 was sent to Hawaii where he was commissioned a first lieutenant in 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.

In June 1944, newly promoted Captain Salomon went ashore on Saipan with the 105th Infantry Regiment. 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 June 22.

On June 27, the 2nd Battalion secured the Nafutan peninsula, but at an extremely high cost. On July 4, in the final drive to clear the remained of Saipan, the 2d Battalion of the 105th Infantry Regiment was inserted on the coastal plain next to the ocean near the village of Tanapag. Although the Battalion advanced almost 800 yards, it bogged down against increasingly desperate Japanese resistance. With reports of a planned Japanese night counterattack, the 2ndd Battalion established a tight perimeter defense of foxholes well supported by infantry heavy weapons and artillery.

On the evening of July 6, Japanese Army commander General Saito ordered all remaining Japanese soldiers - possibly as many as five or six thousand men - to gather about a mile in front of the 2nd Battalion positions 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."

The Japanese approach was somewhat concealed by heavy brush which began about 400 yards from the American position, and at about five in the morning the tidal wave of the Japanese attack burst out of the brush. The Americans opened fire inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy but the Japanese continued to advance and soon were inside the foxhole perimeter.

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 Japanese attack, his station was overwhelmed with more than thirty wounded. While working to save the most seriously wounded, Japanese soldiers entered the aid tent. Salomon shot the first enemy, who had bayoneted a wounded American lying, and then clubbed two othes with a rifle before shooting one and bayoneting the other. Four more Japanese soldeirs began to crawl under the sides of the tent - Salomon shot one, bayoneted one, stabbed another and head-butted the fourth before running 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 July 7 and early on July 8, the Americans regained their positions. By the end of fighting, 919 American soldiers were either dead or seriously wounded, an 83 percent casualty rate.

The 27th Division historian, Capt. Edmund G. Love, moved through hospitals and unit assembly areas and camps all over the Pacific interviewing survivors of the attack and eventually made recommendations for the Medal of Honor to a couple of soldiers who were killed. While two of his recommendations were accepted, the one for Ben Salomon was denied. Major General George Griner, the commanding offier of the 27th Division, explained:

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.
After the war, Love returned to the United States and, in 1946, he wrote an article for The Infantry Journal that described the fighting on Saipan and specifically mentioned Ben Salomon's heroics. Salomon's father heard the article read over the radio, wrote a letter of inquiry to the War Department and the Secretary of War, Judge Robert Patterson, eventually asked Love to prepare another award recommendation for resubmission.

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. Major McCarthy provided an affidavit and indicated other veterans that might have knowledge of Salomon's actions.

In the summer of 1951, Love finally secured all of the necessary statements and submitted the recommendation through the Office of the Chief of Military History, however, the recommendation was once again returned without action because the time limit on submitting World War II awards had expired.

In the late 1960’s another attempt was begun to win approval of a Medal of Honor for Salomon. Dr. John I. Ingle, Dean of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, learned about Ben’s heroics and in 1968 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 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 July 7, 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 October 29, 1969, the Army Surgeon General 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 July 21, 1970, the Secretary of the Army recommended approval of the Medal of Honor for Ben Salomon and forwarded the papers to the Secretary of Defense for final approval.

At first, the recommendation was again returned, now citing an unfavorable Department of Defense legal opinion. After considerable research and argument, it was agreed that according to regulations Salomon was eligible for consideration of an award but the recommendation still languished. In 1972, it was returned to the Army for another review by the Secretary of the Army and on March 28 it was sent 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 ... this one deserves to be approved.

It was to no avail - on June 10, 1972, the Office of the Secretary of Defense returned Salomon's Medal of Honor recommendation yet again, stating now that it was based on circumstantial information.

In the mid-1990's, Army Dentist, Col. John E. King, came across the story of Ben Salomon in neglected files in the office of the Chief of the Dental Corps while conducting research for a history of the Dental Corps during Vietnam. About the same time, Dr. Robert West, an alumnus of the USC School of Dentistry, also became interested in Ben Salomon and was referred to Colonel King who gladly sent West all 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. In September 1998, the recommendation went to the Senior Army Decorations Board for processing. 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 and the protracted struggle for Ben Salomon to receive his long overdue recognition finally ended.

On May 1, 2002, President George W. Bush posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Ben Salomon and presented the award to Dr. Robert West. Finally, the words of Edmund Love from so many years ago were verified:

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 in life.

Salomon’s citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Captain Ben L. Salomon was serving at Siapan, in the Marianas Islands on July 7, 1944, as the Surgeon for the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. The Regiment’s 1st and 2nd Battalions were attacked by an overwhelming force estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese soldiers. It was one of the largest attacks attempted in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although both units fought furiously, the enemy soon penetrated the Battalions’ combined perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the first minutes of the attack, approximately 30 wounded soldiers walked, crawled, or were carried into Captain Salomon’s aid station, and the small tent soon filled with wounded men. As the perimeter began to be overrun, it became increasingly difficult for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then saw a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of the wounded soldiers lying near the tent. Firing from a squatting position, Captain Salomon quickly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his attention back to the wounded, two more Japanese soldiers appeared in the front entrance of the tent. As these enemy soldiers were killed, four more crawled under the the tent walls. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their way as best they could back to the regimental aid station, while he attempted to hold off the enemy until they were clear. Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of the wounded and rushed out of the tent. After four men were killed while manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took control of it. When his body was later found, 98 dead enemy soldiers were piled in front of his position. Captain Salomon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself his unit and the United States Army.

Sources: Office of Medical History of the Surgeon General;
.S. Army Center of Military History;
Congerssional Medal of Honor Foundation.