Army dentist earned the Medal of Honor after being shot 76 times while fighting to the death
While people generally don’t think of healthcare providers as warriors, there is no doubt that many serving in the US military are ready, willing, and able to add exceptions of their rule to “do no harm.”
When push comes to shove in the heat of battle, unlikely heroes can emerge- including a Jewish dentist by the name of Ben L. Salomon, whose selfless actions and ultimate sacrifice earned himself the Medal of Honor.
Born in Milwaukee in 1914, Salomon was an active young man, eventually making the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts (which was a much bigger deal at the time than it is today).
After high school, he attended Marquette University, eventually transferring to the University of Southern California for dental school. He graduated in 1937 and opened his own practice.
Opening a practice, Salomon enjoyed his work until he was drafted a few years later and entered the infantry as a private.
Despite being a rather unassuming and bespectacled individual, Salomon was a crack shot with a rifle and handgun. However, it was soon discovered that Private Salomon was actually Dr. Salomon, and he was informed that he would soon be commissioned to the Army Dental Corps.
Now a First Lieutenant, Salomon was well-respected by all, and was even declared the “best all-around Soldier” by the 102nd Infantry Regiment’s commander. He made captain in two years.
In 1944, Salomon found dental work to be rather light in a combat zone, and volunteered to go ashore at Saipan to replace a wounded surgeon.
Located only fifty yards from the frontline, Salomon was heavily exposed and treated the astounding number of casualties sustained during the battle.
On July 7, Salomon would be called to go above and beyond when, after the position had been overrun, he was forced to put his rifleman skills to good use and hold off the Japanese that began bayonetting wounded Soldiers near the tent.
What followed, as described in his Medal of Honor citation, involved close-quarters combat:
“Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third,” the citation read. “Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier.”
Ordering the wounded to be evacuated, Captain Benjamin Salomon manned a machine gun, coming to peace with the notion that he was willing to die in order to save his troops.
For an unknown amount of time, Salomon -wearing a red cross brassard on his arm- held off the advance, facing down the enemy with fierce determination.
When the position was re-taken several days later, Salomon’s body was found slumped over a machine gun, with the bloated bodies of 98 enemy troops piled up in front of his position. After examining his corpse, it was found that his body had 76 bullet wounds and many bayonet wounds, and around 24 the aforementioned wounds were believed to be sustained while he was still alive.
Technicalities, bureaucracy, and other hold ups delayed any sort of medal for Salomon to be posthumously honored with, though determination by an Army unit historian and a dentist ultimately resulted in Salomon being posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Salomon’s award can be seen at the Army Medical Department Museum in San Antonio, Texas.
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