Medal of Honor Awards for the Week of May 7-13

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Medal of Honor Awards for the Week of May 7-13

CPO Oscar Peterson, photographer unknown,
U.S. Navy photo, taken in late 1930s
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

This week I'm doing something a bit different. Searching the internet, I came across four men who received the Medal of Honor for their exemplary deeds. I decided to spotlight each of them. All of them were involved in the Second World War.

CPO Oscar V. Peterson, Battle of the Coral Sea' May 7, 1942 (posthumous)

Born in 1899 in Wisconsin, Peterson enlisted in the Navy in 1920. By the beginning of U.S. entry into the war, he was serving aboard the oiler ship USS Neosho (AO-23). Peterson was the chief watertender of the vessel, a position responsible for tending to the fires and boilers in the ship's engine room (an alternative terms for the position include fireman and stoker).

On May 7, 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea was raging. The Neosho was heavily damaged by Japanese dive bombers. In one bombing attack, Peterson and members of the repair party he led were severely wounded. Despite his injuries, he managed to close four bulkhead steam line valves, but suffered third-degree burns to his face, shoulders, arms and hands in the process. By shutting the valves, Peterson isolated the steam to the engine room and helped keep the ship operational.

Peterson's ship stay afloat until May 11, when it sank. The severely burned CPO and other survivors were picked up by another ship. His wounds were tended to, but he died on May 13, and was buried at sea off the coast of Australia.

Medal of Honor Citation

For extraordinary courage and conspicuous heroism above and beyond the call of duty while in charge of a repair party during an attack on the U .S .S. Neosho by enemy Japanese aerial forces on 7 May 1942. Lacking assistance because of injuries to the other members of his repair party and severely wounded himself, Peterson, with no concern for his own life, closed the bulkhead stop valves and in so doing received additional burns which resulted in his death. His spirit of self-sacrifice and loyalty, characteristic of a fine seaman, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

For some unknown reason, CPO Peterson's medal was not presented to his family in a formal ceremony; it was simply mailed to his widow. On April 3, 2010, sixty-eight years after the Battle of the Coral Sea, a Medal of Honor presentation ceremony was held in Richfield, Idaho, to make amends for the one Peterson's wife never received. The medal was presented to his surviving son. On the same day, a memorial marker honoring Peterson was dedicated in the Richfield Cemetery.


Lt. Milton T. Ricketts, date unknown; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of U.S. Navy
Lt. Milton T. Ricketts, date unknown
Photographer unknown, image courtesy of U.S. Navy

Lt. Milton T. Ricketts, Battle of the Coral Sea; May 8, 1942 (posthumous)

Born in Baltimore, MD in 1913, Ricketts was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

In the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lt. Ricketts was serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). He was in charge of a damage control party, as the flattop was targeted by Japanese dive bombers. A Japanese bomb exploded beneath his group's assigned station, killing, wounding, or stunning nearly all the men.

Ricketts received a mortal wound, but he was still able to turn on a fire hose to bring a nearby fire under control before he succumbed.

Medal of Honor Citation

For extraordinary and distinguished gallantry above and beyond the call of duty as Officer-in-Charge of the Engineering Repair Party of the U.S.S. Yorktown in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May 1942. During the severe bombarding of the Yorktown by enemy Japanese forces, an aerial bomb passed through and exploded directly beneath the compartment in which Lt. Ricketts' battle station was located, killing, wounding or stunning all of his men and mortally wounding him. Despite his ebbing strength, Lt. Ricketts promptly opened the valve of a near-by fireplug, partially led out the fire hose and directed a heavy stream of water into the fire before dropping dead beside the hose. His courageous action, which undoubtedly prevented the rapid spread of fire to serious proportions, and his unflinching devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.


Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class William Halyburton, Jr., photo taken c. 1944; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of the U.S. Navy
Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class William Halyburton, Jr., photo taken c. 1944
Photographer unknown, image courtesy of the U.S. Navy

Pharmacist Mate 2nd Class William Halyburton, Jr, battle of Okinawa; May 10, 1945 (posthumous)

Born in Canton, North Carolina in 1924, William Halyburton was planning on becoming a minister. However, in 1943, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve. After receiving training in combat medicine, he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division and shipped to the Pacific war zone in 1944.

In April of 1945, Halyburton and his comrades landed on Okinawa. Halyburton was serving with a Marine rifle company against the Japanese when they suffered numerous casualties after advancing into Awacha Draw. Exposed to enemy fire, he rushed to aid a fallen Marine the furthest away from the unit's front. Shielding the man with his own body while administering aid, Halyburton was mortally wounded. For this action, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Marine Rifle Company in the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyu Chain, 10 May 1945. Undaunted by the deadly accuracy of Japanese counterfire as his unit pushed the attack through a strategically important draw, Halyburton unhesitatingly dashed across the draw and up the hill into an open fire-swept field where the company advance squad was suddenly pinned down under a terrific concentration of mortar, machinegun and sniper fire with resultant severe casualties. Moving steadily forward despite the enemy's merciless barrage, he reached the wounded marine who lay farthest away and was rendering first aid when his patient was struck for the second time by a Japanese bullet. Instantly placing himself in the direct line of fire, he shielded the fallen fighter with his own body and staunchly continued his ministrations although constantly menaced by the slashing fury of shrapnel and bullets falling on all sides. Alert, determined and completely unselfish in his concern for the helpless marine, he persevered in his efforts until he himself sustained mortal wounds and collapsed, heroically sacrificing himself that his comrade might live. By his outstanding valor and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of tremendous odds, Halyburton sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

Private (later Sergeant) John R. McKinney; Photographer unknown
Private (later Sergeant) John R. McKinney
Photographer unknown

Private John R. McKinney, Tayabas Province, Luzon, Philippines; May 11, 1942

Born in Woodcliff, Georgia in 1921, He enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1942. He was part of the American invasion of the Philippines in 1944.

In the early hours May 11, 1945 on the island of Luzon, Philippines, Pvt. McKinney had stood guard duty and had just gone to his tent. The lead elements of a Japanese attack force of over 100 soldiers slipped past the guard post. A Japanese NCO threw open McKinney's tent flap and slashed down with his sword, no doubt to minimize the sound of the undiscovered attack (the sword severed part of McKinney's ear). McKinney, a skilled hunter from Georgia, grabbed the rifle he slept with, bashed the Japanese NCO in the chin and finished him with another blow to the head.

In the next 36 minutes, McKinney protected the flank of his company and his sleeping comrades by killing over 100 enemy soldiers according to the careful survey of the area conducted by one of the company's NCOs after the battle. McKinney did so through point-blank, kill-or-be-killed encounters as well as rapid-fire, accurate shots with various M1 rifles he picked up and emptied in multiple encounters with charging enemies. Early in the engagement he returned to his foxhole where he eliminated first one wave and then part of the second wave of the main attack force. Several in the second wave made it to McKinney's foxhole where he first shot and then clubbed his assailants in hand-to-hand combat.

Medal of Honor Citation

…for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty on 11 May 1945, while serving with Company A, 123d Infantry Regiment, 33d Infantry Division, in action at Tayabas Province, Luzon, Philippine Islands. Sergeant McKinney fought with extreme gallantry to defend the outpost which had been established near Dingalan Bay. Just before daybreak approximately 100 Japanese stealthily attacked the perimeter defense, concentrating on a light machinegun position manned by three Americans. Having completed a long tour of duty at this gun, Private McKinney was resting a few paces away when an enemy soldier dealt him a glancing blow on the head with a saber. Although dazed by the stroke, he seized his rifle, bludgeoned his attacker, and then shot another assailant who was charging him. Meanwhile, one of his comrades at the machinegun had been wounded and his other companion withdrew carrying the injured man to safety. Alone, Private McKinney was confronted by ten infantrymen who had captured the machinegun with the evident intent of reversing it to fire into the perimeter. Leaping into the emplacement, he shot seven of them at pointblank range and killed three more with his rifle butt. In the melee the machinegun was rendered inoperative, leaving him only his rifle with which to meet the advancing Japanese, who hurled grenades and directed knee mortar shells into the perimeter. He warily changed position, secured more ammunition, and reloading repeatedly, cut down waves of the fanatical enemy with devastating fire or clubbed them to death in hand-to-hand combat. When assistance arrived, he had thwarted the assault and was in complete control of the area. Thirty-eight dead Japanese around the machinegun and two more at the side of a mortar 45 yards distant was the amazing toll he had exacted single-handedly. By his indomitable spirit, extraordinary fighting ability, and unwavering courage in the face of tremendous odds, Private McKinley saved his company from possible annihilation and set an example of unsurpassed intrepidity.

McKinney survived the war. He died in 1997 at age 76, and is buried in Sylvania, GA.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.