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.
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had withdrawn to a more secure defensive line.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.
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,