R.I.P. Captain Benjamin L. Salomon.
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.
At 5 o’clock in the morning on July 7, 1944, a 30 year-old Jewish dentist from Milwaukee head-butted a Japanese infantryman straight- up in the fucking face and then shanked him with the knife he’d taken off another enemy soldier he’d just killed two seconds earlier. All around him, the surgical tent of the 105th Infantry Division was in chaos – wounded men were scrambling to their feet, nurses were urgently barking directions to troops, and the sounds of heavy machine gun and rifle fire ripped through jungle from every direction – but Captain Benjamin L. Salomon had officially morphed from a mild-mannered surgeon to an utterly-unstoppable one-man destroyer of worlds. Surrounded by the bodies of nearly a dozen enemy troops who had dared to threaten the lives of his patients, Salomon grabbed a fresh rifle off a table, fixed a bayonet on the end, slammed a clip into the breach, and rushed out of the tent. His final order before racing bayonet-first into the frenetic sounds of gunfire was to tell the wounded to get the fallback position ASAP. He’d cover their retreat himself, one man against a battalion of Japanese Imperial Infantry, and buy his patients as much time as he could.
Captain Salomon knew the odds for his survival weren’t good. But he was a soldier, and it was his job to protect his comrades. If he could save just a few men with his actions, he was going to do it without hesitation, and never regret it for a second.
Benjamin L. Salomon graduated Dental School at USC in 1937, but this guy wasn’t your stereotypical mild-mannered dentist who collected stamps and helped little kids in the waiting room find the answers to Highlights word searches. This guy was an Eagle Scout, had an iron constitution, and could run for days without tiring. When he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1940 he left his private dentistry practice, rated Expert Marksman during rifle and pistol qualification, and was declared the “best all-around soldier” in the 102nd Infantry Regiment according to his commanding officer. By the time World War II actually started for the U.S. at the end of 1941, Salomon was a Sergeant in command of a machine gun section.
Despite his mad chops with the .30 cal, when the Army went full-on “let’s fuck these guys up” mobilization the brass decided that Salomon’s skills with a scalpel were more crucial to the war effort than his precision with a Colt .45. He was given a promotion to First Lieutenant and issued a transfer to the Dental Corps in 1942, meaning basically that after a two year hiatus, this guy could now finally go back to being a practicing dentist again.
Except Ben Effin’ Salomon didn’t want to go back to being a dentist. He wanted to fight the enemy face-to-face. He declined the transfer. The Army told him, yo, this is the Army, you do what we say, and made him be a dentist anyways. Even after being appointed Dental Officer of the 105th Infantry Regiment, Salomon still went on all the unit’s runs and hikes and routinely won regimental physical fitness competitions even though he was a doctor competing against front-line infantrymen.
The 105th saw its first combat in June 1944, when they landed on the island of Saipan in the Marianas. The troops immediately found themselves in some of the most intense, up-close and downright horribly brutal fighting witnessed on any front of World War II, battling an ultra-intense, take-no-prisoners enemy that was absolutely determined to make the Americans pay in blood for every inch of ground they gained. Together with the 4th Marine Division, the soldiers of the U.S. Army 27th Division brutally clawed their way off the beaches of Saipan, but the fighting was so fucking intense that they lost half their men killed or wounded in the first few days of the battle. Ben Salomon wasn’t exactly thrilled to be stuck in a medical tent scratching his balls, hoping someone needed their wisdom teeth extracted while his fellow soldiers were out there fighting and dying, so with his buddies out there engaged in mortal hand-to-hand combat with a brutal enemy he offered to transfer to surgical service and help fix up the wounded.
Captain Salomon was granted his request, and the good doctor was sent ashore to work at a military emergency surgery field hospital just 50 yards behind the front line entrenchments. With machine gun fire ripping up the jungle less than a football field beyond him, Salomon worked tirelessly night and day to triage severely wounded men, reattach limbs, clamp down bleeding arteries, and set broken bones. It was bloody, precise, life-saving work, and it was all done while enemy bullets whizzed through the tent, attack aircraft screamed overhead, and naval artillery barrages shook the earth beneath him.
The Americans had suffered horrifically on Saipan, but the battle was also going even worse for the Japanese. The Imperial Japanese Army’s 43rd Division landed on the island three months ago with 30,000 men, but by July 6, 1944 only 5,000 remained. Those that were left were starving, exhausted, wounded, low on supplies, and running short of ammo. But these warriors knew that a U.S. airstrip on Saipan Island would give the Americans direct bomber access to the Japanese Home Islands, and every single survivor of the 43rd Division would have gladly sacrificed their lives to prevent that from happening. Each man was prepared to stare death in the face and fight to the end, no matter what.
That night, the order came down from General Saito Yoshitsugu to the 43rd Division:
“We will advance to attack the American forces and will all die an honorable death. Each man will kill ten Americans.”
Flares lit the night sky at 0500 hours on the 6th of July, 1944, followed immediately by determined screams and the thumping of weapons fire. Mortars rained down all across the U.S. lines as an almost endless wave of enemies a mile wide came charging out through the brush, bayonets held high, in a final suicide charge teeth-first into the suddenly-badly-outnumbered 105th Infantry Regiment. The Americans returned fire, sweeping the field with murderous storms of bullets, but the Japanese attack pressed on relentlessly, grenades flying in every direction, explosions and shouts rocking the battlefield in seemingly every direction at once. In his medical tent, Ben Salomon worked feverishly. No sooner did he stop one guy from bleeding than another, even more badly-injured man rolled up onto a gurney needing immediate attention.
Despite taking insane numbers of casualties, the Japanese attack finally reached U.S. trenches, and swarms of soldiers dove in, bayonets at the ready. Salomon, just 50 yards behind the U.S. machine gun nests, reached over for a scalpel, and looked up in time to see a Japanese Imperial Army soldier storm through the tent flap and immediately bayonet an unarmed, wounded American soldier as he lay out on his stretcher.
Ben Salomon instinctively grabbed an M1 rifle off a nearby table, crouched, and fired. The Japanese soldier was dead before he hit the ground.
When Ben Salomon was first nominated for the Medal of Honor, there was a lot of debate because the Geneva Convention states that no medical officer wearing a red cross armband is allowed to bear arms in combat. Also I’m pretty sure that shooting a guy violate the Hippocratic Oath, but I’m not 100% on that. But this was a fucked-up, brutal, no-holds-barred war to the death, and Ben Salomon wasn’t about to sit there and offer goddamned sandwiches and lemonade to a dude who was running around bayonetting all of his fucking patients, and I don’t blame him for a second. This guy is a goddamn hero and I don’t care what anyone has to say on the subject.
Well, shit, it was fucking on now, because the enemy was swarming through the base and it was total kill or be killed time. Salomon turned back to the operating table only to see two more Japanese troops bust into the tent, guns at the ready. They were so close that Salomon just swung his fucking rifle like a baseball bat, clubbing the first guy, jamming the butt of the rifle in the second guy’s stomach with lightning speed, then killing the first guy with a bullet and the second with a bayonet.
But that wasn’t it – four more guys were crawling under the damn tent from the sides, two on each side, in an effort to flank the dentist and catch him by surprise. One of the guys had a knife in his hand, so Salomon ran over and kicked that shit right out of the dude’s hand before he could get to his feet. Salomon sighted his rifle and fired, killing the attacker, and by the time he heard the distincting ping of an empty clip ejecting from an M1 Garand he was already in full on motherfucking blood rage mode and something lame like not having bullets wasn’t going to stop him from wrecking shit. Salomon bayonetted one dude, dropped the rifle, picked up that knife, and spun to face the other two infantrymen who were rushing in on him. Salomon killed one with a knife and straight-up fucking headbutted the other guy, staggering him back, and he was shot and killed by one of Salomon’s patients who had finally managed to dig out his .45 pistol.
At that point a radio transmission came in to fall back and regroup in the village that was a few hundred yards up the hill. Salomon grabbed a fresh rifle and told the guys in the tent to get on their feet and bust ass back there. Most of them were badly wounded and needed extra time to get to safety, and Captain Ben Salomon was going to give it to them. He pulled back the slide, loaded a round in the chamber of his rifle, and rushed out through the tent flap.
Most of the 30+ men in the hospital were able to get out of there with their lives. When the last orderly left the hospital tent, he looked back over his shoulder to see Captain Benjamin Salomon single-handedly manning a heavy belt-fed .30-caliber machine gun, spraying fire in sweeping arcs while enemy troops swarmed around him from every direction.
On the afternoon of July 8, 1944, the United States Army retook the positions along the beach, finally sweeping aside the last remnants of the defending Japanese force on Saipan Island. When Captain Edward Love surveyed the scene after the battle, he discovered Captain Benjamin L. Salomon’s body slumped over his machine gun. He counted 98 dead enemy soldiers sprawled out before him. Looking at the scene, it was clear that Salomon had single-handedly repositioned the incredibly-heavy .30-caliber machine gun four separate times, each move being required because enemy dead had piled up so high in front of him that he couldn’t get a clear line of fire through the stack of corpses. He did this despite being wounded no fewer than 24 times by enemy bullets, bayonets, and artillery shrapnel.
Captain Ben L. Salomon killed more than a hundred enemy soldiers not because he loved death, or because he loved killing, or because he hated Japanese people or held some weird personal grudge against any man on the other side of his gun barrel. He did this because he was a soldier. And this is what soldiers do. They routinely put their lives on the line for their friends, their country, and their beliefs, and they do it willingly, without hesitation.
This is why we have one day every year where we take a moment to remember the actions of every man and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Keep this in mind on Memorial Day.
Captain Benjamin L. Salomon was nominated for the Medal of Honor on five occasions for his actions on the beaches of Saipan. In 2002 he became just the third Jewish soldier from World War II to receive the United States’ highest award for heroism in battle.
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.
– Cpt. Edward Love