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One Tough Dentist

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Steven Senne/Associated Press

Twenty years in the past this month President

George W. Bush

walked into the Rose Garden and honored certainly one of America’s best army heroes, whose valor had been largely missed for practically six a long time. Even right now, what number of Americans know the story of U.S. Army Capt. Ben Salomon?

Salomon’s exploits remained obscure for generations—even his family didn’t know the extent of his actions—due to the distinctive set of circumstances surrounding his heroism. The story got here to nationwide consideration basically by chance. At that 2002 ceremony President Bush posthumously awarded Salomon the Medal of Honor and famous:

For Captain Ben Salomon, no residing relations stay to witness this second. And although they by no means met, Captain Salomon is represented right now by a real buddy, Dr. Robert West. Welcome, sir.

Five years in the past, Dr. West was studying about his fellow alumni of the University of Southern California’s dental faculty. He came across the story of Ben Salomon of the category of 1937 . . . 

What a narrative it’s. Before exploring why it took greater than half a century for Salomon to be acknowledged appropriately—and solely then as a result of a fellow alum occurred to be doing analysis in preparation for the a hundredth anniversary of USC’s dental faculty—let’s look at the actions of Capt. Salomon on a horrific day way back within the western Pacific. In a historical past maintained by the U.S. Army medical division, Col. William T. Bowers (ret.) units the scene:

In June 1944, newly promoted Captain Salomon went ashore on Saipan with the a hundred and fifth Infantry Regiment for his first style of battle. In energetic fight operations there was little work for the regimental dentist, so Ben instantly volunteered to interchange the 2nd Battalion’s surgeon who had been wounded in a mortar assault on 22 June.

Two weeks later, the dentist-turned-surgeon can be saving many lives. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society quotes the official quotation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on the threat of his life above and past the decision of obligation. Captain Ben L. Salomon was serving at Saipan, within the Marianas Islands on July 7, 1944, because the Surgeon for the 2nd Battalion, a hundred and fifth Infantry Regiment, twenty seventh Infantry Division. The Regiment’s 1st and 2nd Battalions have been attacked by an amazing power estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese troopers. It was one of many largest assaults tried within the Pacific Theater throughout World War II. Although each items fought furiously, the enemy quickly penetrated the Battalions’ mixed perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the primary minutes of the assault, roughly 30 wounded troopers walked, crawled, or have been carried into Captain Salomon’s help station, and the small tent quickly stuffed with wounded males. As the perimeter started to be overrun, it turned more and more tough for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then noticed a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of many wounded troopers mendacity close to the tent. Firing from a squatting place, Captain Salomon rapidly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his consideration again to the wounded, two extra Japanese troopers appeared within the entrance entrance of the tent. As these enemy troopers have been killed, 4 extra crawled underneath the the tent partitions. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of 1, shot one other, and bayoneted a 3rd. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier within the abdomen and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the state of affairs, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their manner as finest they may again to the regimental help station, whereas he tried to carry off the enemy till they have been clear. Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of many wounded and rushed out of the tent. After 4 males have been killed whereas manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took management of it. When his physique was later discovered, 98 useless enemy troopers have been piled in entrance of his place. Captain Salomon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to obligation are in line with the very best traditions of army service and replicate nice credit score upon himself his unit and the United States Army.

Except for the half the place our hero dies, this wonderful story reads like a scene from Captain America. But Captain Salomon was actual. How was he not honored within the Forties? Ellen Sorokin wrote within the Washington Times in 2002:

Soon after the motion in Saipan ended, Capt. Salomon’s commander nominated him to obtain the medal. However, the paperwork stopped after his division officers strictly interpreted a Geneva Convention rule that prohibited medical personnel from receiving valor awards.

That’s the place West, the USC-trained dentist and in addition a World War II veteran, was in a position to decide up the path greater than 50 years later. According to Ms. Sorokin:

During his analysis, Dr. West discovered that the posthumous award was denied due to an error, not a technicality. Dr. West had found that the commanding normal reviewing Capt. Salomon’s suggestion for a medal misunderstood the Geneva Convention rule.

The rule states that medical personnel have been prohibited from bearing arms towards enemy troops for offensive functions, however they may bear arms in self-defense or in protection of the wounded or sick. That meant, Dr. West discovered, that medical personnel may obtain valor awards if these equivalent to Capt. Salomon have been defending their sufferers and help stations or hospitals.

However, by the point that interpretation got here via, the time restrict on nominations had handed.

West spent years writing letters to numerous authorities officers and eventually succeeded in seeing Salomon honored earlier than his personal loss of life in 2012. That’s in response to a report within the San Diego Union Tribune.

But this wonderful story nonetheless leaves one questioning how the regimental dentist was not solely in a position to rise to the event to defend his help station, however to carry out in fight on the extent of the best particular operations warriors. Fortunately for the lads in his care, Salomon had initially been drafted into the infantry earlier than the United States entered the warfare. Col. Bowers notes:

After primary coaching Ben joined the 102d Infantry Regiment and rapidly proved to be a pure soldier and chief. He gained awards as an knowledgeable rifle and pistol marksman, and his commanding officer acknowledged that he was “the best all-around soldier” within the regiment. Within a 12 months he had risen to the rank of sergeant and was accountable for a machine gun part. In 1942 Salomon obtained notification that he was to grow to be an officer within the Dental Corps. At first Ben tried to stay within the infantry, and his commanding officer requested that he be commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry. The request was denied, and Salomon reported to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, the place he was commissioned a primary lieutenant on 14 August 1942. After a number of months of labor in a hospital, Lieutenant Salomon was assigned in May 1943 because the regimental dental officer of the a hundred and fifth Infantry Regiment, a part of the twenty seventh Infantry Division.

Characteristically, Ben jumped into his new duties with enthusiasm and ability. Despite not having practiced dentistry for 2 years, Lieutenant Salomon was rapidly acknowledged as a wonderful dentist by his sufferers and his fellow dentists. He developed a routine of dealing with dental appointments within the morning and becoming a member of his regiment within the subject for coaching within the afternoon. Ben was not only a employees observer, but additionally an energetic participant in all actions from scorching, dusty hikes and vary firing to crawling via the mud of the impediment programs. He gained the entire regimental competitions. Later, his regimental commander described the distinctiveness of his dental officer:

Ben Salomon was the very best teacher in infantry techniques we ever had. He gave all people who ever met him an actual carry. He had a manner of inspiring individuals to do issues that they may not have carried out in any other case. I feel it was as a result of he himself was essentially the most important man most of us ever met.

As President Bush acknowledged in 2002:

America will all the time know Benjamin Louis Salomon . . . one younger man who was the match for 100, an individual of true valor who now receives the distinction due him from a grateful nation.


James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”


Follow James Freeman on Twitter.

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