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Taking the Impact: Richard Sorenson
Taking the Impact: Richard Sorenson


Born: August 28, 1924
(Anoka, Minnesota)

Entered Service
: Minnesota

Branch: U.S. Marine Corps

Duty: World War II

Current Residence: Nevada

Medal of Honor:
Portraits of Valor
Beyond the Call to Duty

[Purchase Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call to Duty]

Since the Civil War, more than 39 million men and women have answered the call to serve. Of those, 3,440 served with such uncommon valor and extraordinary courage that they were presented with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. In this collection, more than one hundred of America's living Medal of Honor recipients are honored. Their tales of bravery are recounted by best-selling author Peter Collier, and also feature portraits by award-winning photographer Nick Del Calzo.

More Medal of Honor Profiles

Related Links

Military History Center

History Archive: World War II in the Pacific

History Directory: World War II

Marshall Islands, Western Pacific, 1944

[Click for larger image]
2003 by Nick Del Calzo

Richard K. Sorenson
Private, U.S. Marine Corps
4th Marine Division

By Peter Collier

On December 8, 1941, Richard Sorenson tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the Navy. He was only seventeen, and his parents refused to give permission. He finished his junior year in high school, but the next fall, the day after football season ended, he and some of his teammates joined the Marine Corps.

He trained at Camp Pendleton in 1943 with the 4th Marine Division. In January 1944, the unit sailed from San Diego and went directly into combat in the Marshall Islands. Sorenson was in a machine-gun squad in an assault battalion that landed on Namur, a small island in the Kwajalein atoll. It was defended by four thousand Japanese soldiers fighting from heavy concrete fortifications.

On February 1, the first day of the invasion, the Marines took over half of Namur, destroying enemy pillboxes by getting close enough to hurl satchel charges into their narrow gun slits. Sorenson's unit was in the forefront of the action. When night fell, he and thirty-five other men took cover behind the concrete foundation of a Japanese building the Marines had blown up that day. They didn't know that the rest of the American troops, who had no idea of the squad's whereabouts, had withdrawn to a more secure defensive line.

At dawn the next morning, the Japanese attacked Sorenson's position in what he later called a "full-fledged banzai charge." His squad had been fighting for its life for half an hour when a Japanese soldier got close enough to throw a grenade in their midst. Sorenson's first impulse was to jump to the other side of the concrete foundation, but he instantly realized that his buddies would take the impact and that the entire squad would be overrun, so he threw himself on the grenade and took the full force of the explosion.

Richard K. Sorenson during World War II.
2003 by Nick Del Calzo

He would have bled to death if a corpsman hadn't come up and quickly treated him, tying off a severed artery, spreading sulfa over his wounds, and giving him a shot of morphine. When he awoke an hour later, the rest of the Marine force had reached the squad and relieved it. As he was being carried back to a Higgins boat to be evacuated, one of the stretcher bearers was killed by a Japanese sniper.

Sorenson underwent six operations over the next nine months. He was convalescing in the Seattle Naval Hospital in mid-1944 when Captain Joel Boone, commanding officer of the hospital-himself a recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War I for crawling into the no-man's-land between the trenches to treat fallen Marines-told him he was to receive the medal. It was presented to him by General Joseph Fegan on July 19, 1944, in front of all the other applauding patients, doctors, and nurses.

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Medal Of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier, Photographs by Nick Del Calzo. All text is copyright 2003 by Peter Collier. All images are copyright 2003 by Nick Del Calzo.



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