Ben Salomon

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Benjamin Lewis Salomon (1914 —1944) was a United States Army dentist during World War II, assigned as a front-line surgeon since there were no equivalents of today's advanced paramedics. During the Battle of Saipan, the Japanese started overrunning his hospital unit, he stood a rear-guard action in which he had no hope of personal survival, allowing the safe evacuation of the wounded, killing 98 enemy troops before being he died. In 2002, Salomon was posthmously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Battle of Saipan, although this was not understood in the U.S. at the time, caused the collapse of the Tojo Government, and increasing influence of a peace faction in the Japanese government. It was characterized by horror and heroism; where Salomon the healer had to kill to save, Guy Gabaldon, a Marine infantryman, convinced 1,500 Japanese to surrender and save their lives.

The eventual award of the Medal of Honor involved considerable conflict with the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Laws of Land Warfare[1], which both forbade medical personnel to use crew-served weapons such as the machine gun he used in the final defense, but also forbade attacks on well-marked medical facilities such as Salomon's.

Biography

Ben Salomon was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 1, 1914. He graduated from Shorewood High School and attended Marquette University. He completed his undergraduate education at the University of Southern California (USC). He graduated from the USC Dental College in 1937 and began a dental practice.

Salomon is one of only seven known Eagle Scouts who also received the Medal of Honor.[2] The others are Aquilla J. Dyess, Robert Edward Femoyer, Eugene B. Fluckey, Mitchell Paige, Leo K. Thorsness and Jay Zeamer, Jr..

In 1940, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and began his military service as an infantry private. In 1942, he was notified that he was to become an officer in the Army Dental Corps — he was commissioned a First Lieutenant on August 14, 1942. In May 1943, he was serving as the regimental dental officer of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry 27th Infantry Division. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1944.[3]

In June 1944, Salomon saw his first combat — going ashore on Saipan with the 105th Infantry. With little dental work to do during active battle, Salomon volunteered to replace the 2nd Battalion's surgeon who had been wounded. On July 7, Salomon's aid station was set up about 50 yards behind the forward edge of the battle area. The tent was filling with wounded and soon after, Japanese soldiers began to enter the tent. Salomon was able to fend off the enemy in the tent and ordered the wounded to be evacuated while he stayed behind to cover their withdrawal.[3]

Days later, when an Army team returned to the site, Captain Salomon's body was found slumped over a machine gun, with the bodies of 98 enemy troops piled up in front of his position. His body had 76 bullet and many bayonet wounds, up to 24 of which may have been received while he was still alive.[3][4]

The long road to the Medal of Honor

Capt. Edmund G. Love, the 27th Division historian, was one of the team who found Salomon's body. At the request of Brig. Gen. Ogden J. Ross, the assistant commander of the 27th Division, Love gathered eyewitness accounts and prepared a recommendation for the Medal of Honor for Captain Salomon.

The recommendation was returned by Maj. Gen. George W. Griner, the commanding general of the 27th Division. Officially, Griner declined to approve the award because Salomon 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."[3] In addition to a possible bias, the guideline for awarding the Medal of Honor to medical non-combatants states that one may not receive the Medal of Honor for actions in an "offensive". More recent interpretations of the Convention, as well as the US Laws of Land Warfare, allow use of personal weapons (i.e., rifles and pistols) in self-defense or in defense of patients and staff, as long as the medical soldier does not wear the Red Cross. Part of the problem in Salomon's citation was that a machine gun is considered a "crew-served", not an individual weapon.

Prior to Salomon, only two Jews were awarded Medals of Honor during World War II and none for Korea. Many more were refused under questionable circumstances, possibly including Salomon's. Among them were Pfc. Leonard Kravitz (uncle and namesake of the pop star Lenny Kravitz) and Corporal Tibor Rubin, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2005.[5]

In 1951, Love again resubmitted the recommendation through the Office of the Chief of Military History. The recommendation was returned without action with another pro-forma reason: the time limit for submitting World War II awards had passed. In 1969, another Medal of Honor recommendation was submitted by Lt. Gen. Hal B. Jennings, the Army Surgeon General. In 1970, Stanley R. Resor, Secretary of the Army, recommended approval and forwarded the recommendation to the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The recommendation was returned without action.

In 1998, the recommendation was re-submitted by Dr. Robert West (USC Dental School) through Congressman Brad Sherman.[6] Finally, on May 1, 2002, President George W. Bush[7] presented Captain Ben Solomon's Medal of Honor to Dr. Robert West.[3] Solomon's Medal of Honor is displayed at the USC Dental School.[8] The Army Medical Department, at this point, was supportive.

Medal of Honor citation

CAPTAIN BEN L. SALOMON
UNITED STATES ARMY

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 Saipan, 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 2d 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 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.

References

  1. Section 223 "Conditions Not Depriving Medical Units and Establishments of Protection",
  2. Ben Salomon. Medal of Honor Society (2002-05-01). Retrieved on 2008-07-21.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Col. William T. Bowers, (U.S. Army, Retired). Ben Salomon. Medal of Honor Recipients: United States Army Medical Department. Office of Medical History, Office of the Surgeon General. Retrieved on 2008-07-22.
  4. Recognition of Army dentist's heroism 'rights a wrong'
  5. Tibor Rubin. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved on 2008-07-21.
  6. *Congressman Brad Sherman (May 1, 2006). Sherman Instrumental in Awarding Medal of Honor, President Presents Constituent With Fallen Hero’s Medal. Press Release, Office of Congressman Brad Sherman,. Retrieved on 2006-07-26.
  7. George W. Bush (May 1, 2002). Remarks on presenting the congressional Medal of Honor posthumously to Captain Ben L. Salomon and Captain Jon E. Swanson. Retrieved on 2006-07-26.
  8. Seymour "Sy" Brody. Capt. Ben L. Salomon: Jewish Medal of Honor Recipient in World War II. Jewish Heroes in America. Retrieved on 2006-07-26.