Today I remember Captain Ben Salomon
May 25, 2015 by Thomas Wictor
This is Memorial Day. Today we remember our fallen warriors. I’d like to introduce to you Captain Benjamin Lewis Salomon, a dentist with the 105th Infantry Regiment. He’s one of only three dentists and twenty-seven Jews to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Salomon was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on September 1, 1914. He graduated from the University of Southern California Dental College in 1937 and set up practice in Los Angeles. In 1940 he was drafted and became a private in the infantry.
As a member of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, Salomon was known for his marksmanship with pistol and rifle. By 1942 he was a sergeant who led a machine-gun section and was described by his commander as “the best soldier in the regiment.” Against his will, Salomon was transferred into the Dental Corps, commissioned a First Lieutenant, and in May of 1943, he was assigned to the 105th Infantry Regiment.
A dentist in the morning, Salomon trained as an infantryman in the afternoons. He won all regimental marksmanship, hiking, and obstacle-course competitions. His commander recalled this period.
Ben Salomon was the best instructor in infantry tactics we ever had. He gave everybody who ever met him a real lift. He had a way of inspiring people to do things that they might not have done otherwise. I think it was because he himself was the most vital man most of us ever met.
In June of 1944 Captain Salomon landed on the island of Saipan (red arrow).
The 105th Infantry Regiment was part of the 27th Infantry Division.
There were about 31,000 Japanese troops on the island. The Americans landed about 71,000 soldiers and marines. As you can imagine, the US armed forces weren’t concerned about dental hygiene during this ferocious battle, so Captain Saloman volunteered to replace the wounded surgeon of the 2nd Battalion. Salomon took control of a traveling front-line aid station that advanced along with the battalion.
Between June 15 and June 27, 1944, the Second Battalion of the 105th Infantry Regiment lost 50 percent of its men. The US Army commander of the 27th Infantry Division was relieved by Marine Corps General Holland T. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, the father of amphibious warfare and a legendary figure who often went to the front lines in order to see for himself what his men were experiencing.
Asked about replacing a divisional commander during a battle, General Smith said this.
Ralph Smith is my friend, but, good God, I’ve got a duty to my country. I’ve lost 7,000 Marines. Can I afford to lose back what they have gained? To let my Marines die in vain? I know I’m sticking my neck out–the National Guard will try to chop it off–but my conscience is clear. I did my duty. When Ralph Smith issued an order to hold after I had told him to attack, I had no other choice but to relieve him.
On the evening of July 6, 1944, about 6000 Japanese soldiers, sailors, and civilians began assembling in front of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment. Their plan was to carry out the largest suicide charge of the war. The attack began at 5:00 a.m., July 7. Captain Salomon had placed his aid station fifty yards (46 meters) behind the foremost American foxholes. As he tended to about thirty wounded soldiers, the tent came under direct attack by the Japanese.
Ben shot the first one who had bayoneted a wounded American lying on a stretcher. Two more charged through the tent entrance. Ben clubbed them both with a rifle, then shot one and bayoneted the other. Four more began to crawl under the sides of the tent. He shot one, bayoneted one, stabbed another with a knife, and head butted the fourth. Ben ran out of the tent to get help to defend the aid station. He quickly saw that the situation was hopeless. The Japanese suicide masses had overwhelmed the two under-strength American battalions. Pockets of resistance fought on inside the perimeter, but the bulk of the survivors were being pushed back toward Tanapag village.
Salomon returned to the tent and ordered his aid men to evacuate the wounded while he stayed behind to hold off the enemy and cover their withdrawal. Salomon then grabbed a rifle and fought on with the few Americans still resisting inside the perimeter. Eventually he manned a machine gun after its gunner was killed. That was the last time anyone saw Ben Salomon alive.
A day after the Japanese were driven back—the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment suffering an 83 percent casualty rate in the process—Captain Saloman’s body was recovered. Unit historian Captain Edmund G. Love described what they found.
We had been walking through piles of dead men when the general gave a sudden start, and then stepped over to the figure of a man who was bent over the barrel of a heavy machine gun. Very quickly, almost before I saw what he was doing, the general took out a knife and cut the Red Cross brassard from Ben Salomon’s arm. Then he straightened up and looked around. There were ninety-eight Japanese bodies piled up in front of that gun position. Salomon had killed so many men that he had been forced to move the gun four different times in order to get a clear field of fire.
There was something else that we noted, too. There were seventy-six bullet holes in Salomon’s body. When we called a doctor over to examine him, we were told that twenty-four of the wounds [Many were from bayonets, ed.] had been suffered before Salomon died. There were no witnesses, but it wasn’t hard to put the story together. One could easily visualize Ben Salomon, wounded and bleeding, trying to drag that gun a few more feet so that he would have a new field of fire. The blood was on the ground, and the marks plainly indicated how hard it must have been for him, especially in that last move.
The commander of the 27th Infantry Division turned down Captain Love’s request that Ben Saloman be awarded the Medal of Honor.
I am deeply sorry that I cannot approve the award of this medal to Captain Salomon, although he richly deserves it. At the time of his death, this officer 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.
Salomon’s supporters refused to give up. After decades of struggle, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked for congressional legislation waiving the time limitation that prevented Captain Salomon from receiving the Medal of Honor. On May 1, 2002, President George W. Bush presented the award to Dr. Robert West, representing the U.S.C. School of Dentistry. There are no living relatives of the Salomon family.
Captain Salomon’s last words were, “I’ll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later.”
One young man who was the match for one hundred, a person of true valor who now receives the honor due him from a grateful country.
—George W. Bush
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