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Memorial Day

May 31, 2010, 6:42 am

On May 31, 1951, Rodolfo Hernandez of Colton, California, earned his salt:

HERNANDEZ, RODOLFO P.

Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company G, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Place and date: Near Wontong-ni, Korea, 31 May 1951. Entered service at: Fowler, Calif. Born: 14 April 1931, Colton, Calif. G.O. No.: 40, 21 April 1962. Citation: Cpl. Hernandez, a member of Company G, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. His platoon, in defensive positions on Hill 420, came under ruthless attack by a numerically superior and fanatical hostile force, accompanied by heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire which inflicted numerous casualties on the platoon. His comrades were forced to withdraw due to lack of ammunition but Cpl. Hernandez, although wounded in an exchange of grenades, continued to deliver deadly fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants until a ruptured cartridge rendered his rifle inoperative. Immediately leaving his position, Cpl. Hernandez rushed the enemy armed only with rifle and bayonet. Fearlessly engaging the foe, he killed 6 of the enemy before falling unconscious from grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds but his heroic action momentarily halted the enemy advance and enabled his unit to counterattack and retake the lost ground. The indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty clearly demonstrated by Cpl. Hernandez reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.

On May 31, 1945, Clarence Craft of San Bernardino, California, was somewhat occupied:

CRAFT, CLARENCE B.

Rank and organization: Private, First Class, U.S. Army, Company G, 382d Infantry, 96th Infantry Division. Place and date: Hen Hill, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 31 May 1945. Entered service at: Santa Ana, Calif. Birth: San Bernardino, Calif. G.O. No.: 97, 1 November 1945. Citation: He was a rifleman when his platoon spearheaded an attack on Hen Hill, the tactical position on which the entire Naha-Shuri-Yonaburu line of Japanese defense on Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, was hinged. For 12 days our forces had been stalled, and repeated, heavy assaults by 1 battalion and then another had been thrown back by the enemy with serious casualties. With 5 comrades, Pfc. Craft was dispatched in advance of Company G to feel out the enemy resistance. The group had proceeded only a short distance up the slope when rifle and machinegun fire, coupled with a terrific barrage of grenades, wounded 3 and pinned down the others. Against odds that appeared suicidal, Pfc. Craft launched a remarkable 1-man attack. He stood up in full view of the enemy and began shooting with deadly marksmanship wherever he saw a hostile movement. He steadily advanced up the hill, killing Japanese soldiers with rapid fire, driving others to cover in their strongly disposed trenches, unhesitatingly facing alone the strength that had previously beaten back attacks in battalion strength. He reached the crest of the hill, where he stood silhouetted against the sky while quickly throwing grenades at extremely short range into the enemy positions. His extraordinary assault lifted the pressure from his company for the moment, allowing members of his platoon to comply with his motions to advance and pass him more grenades. With a chain of his comrades supplying him while he stood atop the hill, he furiously hurled a total of 2 cases of grenades into a main trench and other positions on the reverse slope of Hen Hill, meanwhile directing the aim of his fellow soldiers who threw grenades from the slope below him. He left his position, where grenades from both sides were passing over his head and bursting on either slope, to attack the main enemy trench as confusion and panic seized the defenders. Straddling the excavation, he pumped rifle fire into the Japanese at pointblank range, killing many and causing the others to flee down the trench. Pursuing them, he came upon a heavy machinegun which was still creating havoc in the American ranks. With rifle fire and a grenade he wiped out this position. By this time the Japanese were in complete rout and American forces were swarming over the hill. Pfc. Craft continued down the central trench to the mouth of a cave where many of the enemy had taken cover. A satchel charge was brought to him, and he tossed it into the cave. It failed to explode. With great daring, the intrepid fighter retrieved the charge from the cave, relighted the fuse and threw it back, sealing up the Japs in a tomb. In the local action, against tremendously superior forces heavily armed with rifles, machineguns, mortars, and grenades, Pfc. Craft killed at least 25 of the enemy; but his contribution to the campaign on Okinawa was of much more far-reaching consequence for Hen Hill was the key to the entire defense line, which rapidly crumbled after his utterly fearless and heroic attack.

UPDATE:1945 Time article about Craft, courtesy of Brainz

On May 31, 1944, Furman Smith of South Carolina had a busy day, his last:

*SMITH, FURMAN L.

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 135th Infantry, 34th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Lanuvio, Italy, 31 May 1944. Entered service at: Central, S.C. Birth: Six Miles, S.C. G.O. No.: 6, 24 January 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. In its attack on a strong point, an infantry company was held up by intense enemy fire. The group to which Pvt. Smith belonged was far in the lead when attacked by a force of 80 Germans. The squad leader and 1 other man were seriously wounded and other members of the group withdrew to the company position, but Pvt. Smith refused to leave his wounded comrades. He placed them in the shelter of shell craters and then alone faced a strong enemy counterattack, temporarily checking it by his accurate rifle fire at close range, killing and wounding many of the foe. Against overwhelming odds, he stood his ground until shot down and killed, rifle in hand.

On May 31, 1862, so did Hiram Purcell of Pennsylvania:

PURCELL, HIRAM W.

Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company G, 104th Pennsylvania Infantry. Place and date: At Fair Oaks, Va., 31 May 1862. Birth: Bucks County, Pa. Date of issue: 12 May 1894. Citation: While carrying the regimental colors on the retreat he returned to face the advancing enemy, flag in hand, and saved the other color, which would otherwise have been captured.

Along with William Shafter of Michigan:

SHAFTER, WILLIAM R.

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, Company I, 7th Michigan Infantry. Place and date: At Fair Oaks, Va., 31 May 1862. Entered service at: Galesburg, Mich. Birth: Kalamazoo, Mich. Date of issue: 12 June 1895. Citation: Lt. Shafter was engaged in bridge construction and not being needed there returned with his men to engage the enemy participating in a charge across an open field that resulted in casualties to 18 of the 22 men. At the close of the battle his horse was shot from under him and he was severely flesh wounded. He remained on the field that day and stayed to fight the next day only by concealing his wounds. In order not to be sent home with the wounded he kept his wounds concealed for another 3 days until other wounded had left the area.

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