The medical personnel of the armed forces are often unsung heroes. They serve and protect like every other serviceman, but are not often awarded the Medal of Honor. One of the exceptions to this is Ben L. Salomon, a US Army dentist turned surgeon who served during WWII.
Benjamin Salomon was already a dentist when he was drafted into the Army as an infantry private in 1940. His dental knowledge was not all that Salomon had to offer the army. During rifle and pistol qualifications he was rated an Expert Marksman. He also had medical knowledge which could be used during battlefield surgery.
His abilities were noticed by the higher command and he worked his way up to sergeant. He then transferred to the Army Dental Corps and was commissioned as a first lieutenant. He was called the “best all-around soldier” in his unit.
In May 1944, Salomon was promoted to captain and assigned to the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. Salomon was not content with being the Dental Officer of the unit and would join the rest of the unit on hikes and compete in the physical fitness competitions. This was unusual as medical personnel were not expected to bear arms or participate in the infantry’s physical training.
One month after Salomon became a captain, he experienced his first battle. The 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment’s field surgeon had been wounded, so Salomon volunteered to replace him when the unit went to Saipan to fight the Japanese forces. Little did he know that this would be his only battle.
When Salomon’s unit landed in Saipan, they found themselves in one of the most intense fights in the Pacific arena. The Japanese army was not willing to concede the island and the US army was adamant that they needed to take it. By the time Salomon’s unit arrived, the Japanese had taken the approach of advance and attack to their own deaths.
As the field surgeon for the unit, Salomon was stationed 50 yards behind the front line entrenchments. In the medical tents, he worked to triage the severely wounded men. The Japanese reached the trenches and Salomon’s position by 6 July 1944.
On 7 July 1944, the Japanese made it over the trenches and to the medical tents. Salomon was treating wounded soldiers when he looked up and saw a Japanese soldier storm into the tent and bayonet one of the wounded and unarmed soldiers. In response, Salomon grabbed an M1 rifle which was on a table close by and fired, killing the enemy soldier.
This would not be the only life that Salomon took that day. As he turned back to the wounded soldiers, he saw two more enemy soldiers burst into the tent. The close conditions led to Salomon swinging the rifle and clubbing the first soldier, then jamming the second with the butt of the weapon. He then shot one and bayoneted the other.
Four more Japanese soldiers made their way into the medical tent and tried to catch Salomon by surprise. One of the soldiers had a knife which Salomon kicked out of his hand before firing his rifle, killing one soldier and using his bayonet to kill another.
Out of bullets, Salomon picked up the knife and engaged with the two remaining enemy fighters. He killed one using the knife before head-butting the other, who was then shot by one of the patients in the tent.
After dispatching the enemy soldiers, Salomon ordered his colleagues to evacuate the wounded. He would stay behind to hold off the enemy to give them the extra time they needed. As Captain Salomon loaded his rifle, the 30 wounded soldiers and orderlies in the tent started to retreat.
During his last stand, Salomon commandeered a machine gun and was last seen firing it at oncoming Japanese troops. When the American troops returned to the area after the battle, they found Salomon’s body slumped over the gun, surrounded by the bodies of 98 Japanese soldiers. He had been shot 76 times and 24 bayonet wounds.
This initial Medal of Honor recommendation for Captain Ben Salomon was denied because medical personnel were considered ineligible due to the terms of the Geneva Convention. After numerous other attempts over the years, Salomon’s bravery was finally recognized with the Medal of Honor in 2002.
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