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On March 25th, we commemorate National Medal of Honor Day, providing an opportunity to explore the stories of the fifteen Virginians who were honored with the Medal of Honor during World War II. The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest and most prestigious military decoration for valor in action, bestowed upon service members who demonstrate “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”

In the Revolutionary War, General George Washington recognized three officers with the Badge of Military Merit for their bravery in battle. Though it largely faded from memory, this badge is acknowledged as America’s first military decoration, later evolving into the Purple Heart and helping inspire the creation of the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor originated as a Civil War Navy Decoration in 1861, officially established during the American Civil War. Congress elevated it to a permanent military decoration in 1863. While the criteria for the award have evolved since its inception, its fundamental purpose remains recognizing extraordinary military actions that surpass the normal scope of duty. Since the Civil War, more than 40 million individuals have served in the United States armed forces, yet only 3,530 have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

5 Medal of Honor Facts

  • Nineteen people have received the Medal of Honor twice.
  • A Coast Guard Medal of Honor was established in 1963 but has never been designed or awarded.
  • There have been 87 African-American recipients, 41 Hispanic-American recipients, 22 Native-American recipients, 22 Asian-American recipients, and one female recipient.
  • The Medal of Honor is the only US military award worn around the neck rather than pinned on the uniform.
  • As of January 2024, there are 63 living recipients of the Medal of Honor

Currently, there are three types of Medals of Honor a service member can receive: Army, Navy, and Air Force. Individuals in the Marines and Coast Guard receive a Navy Medal of Honor as they are under the Department of the Navy. Air Force Medals of Honor were not given out until 1956, so individuals who fought in branches like the US Army Air Force prior to the creation of the Air Force received the Army Medal of Honor. This includes the WWII Virginia veterans Demas Thurlow Craw, Joseph Raymond Sarnoski, and Raymond Harrell Wilkins.

Below is the list of all fifteen of the WWII Medal of Honor recipients, including the official citation of the action in combat that led to the prestigious decoration. Eight of these fifteen Medal of Honor recipients from Virginia received the medal posthumously: after they died or were killed in action, usually during the act of valor in combat that led to the Medal of Honor being awarded. These medals were received by a family member, most often by a mother or wife. Seven of the Virginia WWII Medal of Honor recipients were able to accept their medals in person, some even awarded by President Roosevelt and President Truman.

Survived: Ernest Herbert Dervishian, Desmond Thomas Doss, Robert B. Nett, John Lucian Smith, Junior James Spurrier, George Levick Street III, Alexander Archer Vandegrift Sr.

Posthumously awarded: Lewis Kenneth Bausell, Demas Tharlow Craw, Archer T. Gammon, Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr., Frank D. Peregory, Milton Ernest Ricketts, Joseph Raymond Sarnoski, Raymond Harrell Wilkins

Explore the stories of these courageous Virginians by clicking on their pictures.

Ernest Herbert Dervishian (1916-1984)

Technical Sergeant, Company B, 113D Infantry, 34th Infantry Division, US Army.

Dervishian, a graduate of John Marshall High School, the University of Richmond, and TC Williams School of Law, enlisted in the Army in 1941. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courageous actions in Anzio, Italy, where he neutralized three machine-gun nests and captured forty Germans single-handedly.

On February 1, 1945, the City of Richmond celebrated “Dervishian Day” in his honor, with the city government, schools, and many businesses closing early. The event included a ceremony attended by the governor and other dignitaries, as well as a parade that drew a reported 30,000 spectators. Governor Colgate W. Darden Jr. remarked, “Honor has come to a humble citizen and that citizen is still humble.”

As the son of Armenian immigrants, Richmond’s Armenian population presented Dervishian with a plaque of David of Sassoun – a symbol of heroic tradition. Additionally, he served as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Richmond from July 1947 to December 1959.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, in the vicinity of Cisterna, Italy. Second Lt. Dervishian (then TSgt.) and four members of his platoon found themselves far ahead of their company after an aggressive advance in the face of enemy artillery and sniper fire. Approaching a railroad embankment, they observed a force of German soldiers hiding in dugouts. Second Lt. Dervishian, directing his men to cover him, boldly moved forward and, firing his carbine, forced 10 Germans to surrender. His men then advanced and captured 15 more Germans occupying adjacent dugouts. The prisoners were returned to the rear to be picked up by advancing units. From the railroad embankment, 2d Lt. Dervishian and his men then observed nine Germans who were fleeing across a ridge. He and his men opened fire and three of the enemy were wounded. As his men were firing, 2d Lt. Dervishian, unnoticed, fearlessly dashed forward alone and captured all of the fleeing enemy before his companions joined him on the ridge. At this point four other men joined 2d Lt. Dervishian’s group. An attempt was made to send the four newly arrived men along the left flank of a large, dense vineyard that lay ahead, but murderous machine-gun fire forced them back. Deploying his men, 2d Lt. Dervishian moved to the front of his group and led the advance into the vineyard. He and his men suddenly became pinned down by a machine gun firing at them at a distance of 15 yards. Feigning death while the hostile weapon blazed away at him, 2d Lt. Dervishian assaulted the position during a halt in the firing, using a hand-grenade and carbine fire, and forced the four German crewmembers to surrender. The four men on the left flank were now ordered to enter the vineyard but encountered machine-gun fire which killed one soldier and wounded another. At this moment the enemy intensified the fight by throwing potato-masher grenades at the valiant band of American soldiers within the vineyard. Second Lt. Dervishian ordered his men to withdraw; but instead of following, jumped into the machine-gun position he had just captured and opened fire with the enemy weapon in the direction of the second hostile machine-gun nest. Observing movement in a dugout two or three yards to the rear, 2d Lt. Dervishian seized a machine-pistol. Simultaneously blazing away at the entrance to the dugout to prevent its occupants from firing and firing his machine gun at the other German nest, he forced five Germans in each position to surrender. Determined to rid the area of all Germans, 2d Lt. Dervishian continued his advance alone. Noticing another machine-gun position beside a house, he picked up an abandoned machine-pistol and forced six more Germans to surrender by spraying their position with fire. Unable to locate additional targets in the vicinity, 2d Lt. Dervishian conducted these prisoners to the rear. The prodigious courage and combat skill exhibited by 2d Lt. Dervishian are exemplary of the finest traditions of the US Armed Forces.

Photo Credits

Photos Courtesy of The Virginia World War II History Commission Records and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Desmond Thomas Doss (1916-2006)

Private First Class, 307th Infantry, Medical Detachment, 77th Infantry Division, US Army

Doss, employed at Newport News Naval shipyard during the Pearl Harbor attack, opted not to seek military deferment. He enlisted in the Army on April 1, 1942, driven by a sense of duty to his country. “I felt like it was an honor to serve my country according to the dictates of my conscience,” he affirmed.

Assigned as a combat medic, Doss adhered to his religious convictions by refusing to carry a weapon. Initially met with skepticism and ridicule from fellow soldiers, his bravery and numerous lives saved in hostile war zones earned him respect and admiration. Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor, was personally awarded the medal by President Harry S. Truman at the White House while he held the rank of Private First Class. During the ceremony, President Truman remarked, “I’m proud of you, you really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being president.” Several films have been made about Doss’s war experience, including the 2016 Oscar-winning film Hacksaw Ridge, starring Andrew Garfield, and The Conscientious Objector, directed by Terry Benedict.

For more information, see our previous blog post: “The Conscientious Objector: Desmond T. Doss.”

Medal of Honor Citation

He was a company aidman when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within eight yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On 5 May, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small-arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small-arms fire, and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On 21 May, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aidman from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited five hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, this time suffering a compound fracture of one arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of The Virginia World War II History Commission.

Robert Burton Nett (1922-2008)

First Lieutenant, Company E, 2D Battalion, 305th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division, US Army

During the Battle of Leyte, Nett displayed remarkable bravery by single-handedly eliminating seven enemy soldiers who posed a threat to his company. Despite enduring mortar fire for two days, he steadfastly held his position. His wife, Frances Kabler Nett of Lynchburg, also served in World War II in the Army Nurse Corps. They met while both being stationed in the Philippines. Nett continued his military service after World War II, also serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Medal of Honor Citation

He commanded Company E in an attack against a reinforced enemy battalion which had held up the American advance for two days from its entrenched positions around a three-story concrete building. With another infantry company and armored vehicles, Company E advanced against heavy machine-gun and other automatic-weapon fire with Lt. Nett spearheading the assault against the strongpoint. During the fierce hand-to-hand encounter which ensued, he killed seven deeply entrenched Japanese with his rifle and bayonet and, although seriously wounded, gallantly continued to lead his men forward, refusing to relinquish his command. Again he was severely wounded, but, still unwilling to retire, pressed ahead with his troops to assure the capture of the objective. Wounded once more in the final assault, he calmly made all arrangements for the resumption of the advance, turned over his command to another officer, and then walked unaided to the rear for medical treatment. By his remarkable courage in continuing forward through sheer determination despite successive wounds, Lt. Nett provided an inspiring example for his men and was instrumental in the capture of a vital strongpoint.

Photo Credits

Photo courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society

John Lucian Smith (1914-1972)

Major, Marine Fighting Squadron 223, US Marine Corps

Smith’s squadron, Marine Fighting Squadron 223, was credited with destroying eighty-three enemy planes in just three weeks. Smith himself is recognized for downing nineteen enemy aircraft near Guadalcanal, earning him the title of “ace” within his unit. Despite his accolades, Smith remained humble, stating, “I haven’t done anything more than others have done and are doing every day.” Smith’s remarkable achievements landed him on the cover of Life magazine on December 7, 1942. The 1951 film Flying Leathernecks, featuring John Wayne, is loosely inspired by Smith’s experiences.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Smith with the Congressional Medal of Honor at the White House. Among his other military honors are the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medals, and the Distinguished Service Order from King George VI. Continuing his military service, Smith also served in the Korean War and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and heroic achievement in aerial combat above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 233 during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area, August-September 1942. Repeatedly risking his life in aggressive and daring attacks, Maj. Smith led his squadron against a determined force, greatly superior in numbers, personally shooting down 16 Japanese planes between 21 August and 15 September 1942. In spite of the limited combat experience of many of the pilots of this squadron, they achieved the notable record of a total of 83 enemy aircraft destroyed in this period, mainly attributable to the thorough training under Maj. Smith and to his intrepid and inspiring leadership. His bold tactics and indomitable fighting spirit, and the valiant and zealous fortitude of the men of his command not only rendered the enemy’s attacks ineffective and costly to Japan but contributed to the security of our advance base. His loyal and courageous devotion to duty sustains and enhances the finest traditions of the US Naval Service.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command and the Daily Press (Newport News, VA).

Junior James Spurrier (1922-1984)

Staff Sergeant, Company G, 134th Infantry, 35th Infantry Division

Spurrier is credited with single-handedly killing twenty-five Germans and capturing twenty others in the town of Achain, France. Spurrier also received the following medals: Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star Medal, and Purple Heart, and several foreign medals including the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre.

Following his discharge after the war, Spurrier reenlisted in the Army in 1947 as a recruiter. He then transitioned to assisting veterans’ rehabilitation through his work with the Veterans of Foreign Affairs. Spurrier stated, “Most GI’s returning from the army—particularly those who entered the service fresh from school—don’t have any idea about how to look for a job, have no established credit and are bewildered by many aspects of the civilian life they left years ago.”

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy at Achain, France, on 13 November 1944. At 2:00 p.m., Company G attacked the village of Achain from the east. S/Sgt. Spurrier armed with a BAR passed around the village and advanced alone. Attacking from the west, he immediately killed three Germans. From this time until dark, S/Sgt. Spurrier, using at different times his BAR and M1 rifle, American and German rocket launchers, a German automatic pistol, and hand grenades, continued his solitary attack against the enemy regardless of all types of small-arms and automatic-weapon fire. As a result of his heroic actions, he killed an officer and 24 enlisted men and captured two officers and two enlisted men. His valor has shed fresh honor on the US Armed Forces.

Photo Credits

Photos Courtesy of William H. Simpson Collection, US Army Heritage and Education Center and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

George Levick Street III (1913-2000)

Lieutenant Commander, USS Tirante SS 420, US Navy

Street attended St. Christopher’s School in Richmond and graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1937. During the USS Tirante’s first war patrol, Lieutenant Commander Street made a bold decision to maneuver the submarine into enemy territory, where he successfully torpedoed a Japanese ammunition ship before slipping away undetected.

President Harry S. Truman presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Street at the White House.

Street emphasized that the Medal of Honor belonged not just to him but to all the men and officers aboard the ship who were involved in the action. He also acknowledged the sacrifices made by other submarines in Squadron 6, where half of the original squadron members did not return.

A parade held on October 22, 1945, in Richmond honored Street and celebrated his Medal of Honor, drawing an estimated 50,000 attendees. Street became the third serviceman from Richmond to receive the Medal of Honor, following Ernest Herbert Dervishian and posthumously Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr. Dervishian and Monteith’s family members attended the luncheon held for Street.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Tirante during the first war patrol of that vessel against enemy Japanese surface forces in the harbor of Quelpart Island, off the coast of Korea on 14 April 1945. With the crew at surface battle stations, Comdr. (then Lt. Comdr.) Street approached the hostile anchorage from the south within 1,200 yards of the coast to complete a reconnoitering circuit of the island. Leaving the 10-fathom curve far behind, he penetrated the mined and shoal-obstructed waters of the restricted harbor despite numerous patrolling vessels and in defiance of five shore-based radar stations and menacing aircraft. Prepared to fight it out on the surface if attacked, Comdr. Street went into action, sending two torpedoes with deadly accuracy into a large Japanese ammunition ship and exploding the target in a mountainous and blinding glare of white flames. With the Tirante instantly spotted by the enemy as she stood out plainly in the flare of light, he ordered the torpedo data computer set up while retiring and fired his last two torpedoes to disintegrate in quick succession the leading frigate and a similar flanking vessel. Clearing the gutted harbor at emergency full speed ahead, he slipped undetected along the shoreline, diving deep as a pursuing patrol dropped a pattern of depth charges at the point of submergence. His illustrious record of combat achievement during the first war patrol of the Tirante characterizes Comdr. Street as a daring and skillful leader and reflects the highest credit upon himself, his valiant command, and the US Naval Service.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command and the Virginia World War II History Commission Records.

Alexander Archer Vandegrift

Major General, 1st Marine Division, US Marine Corps

Vandegrift, a graduate of Charlottesville High School, attended the University of Virginia from 1906 to 1908. He commanded the first major US offensive in the Pacific during the Solomon Islands campaign, which lasted four months and earned him the Medal of Honor citation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Vandegrift with the Medal of Honor at the White House.

Continuing his military career after World War II, Vandegrift rose to become the first four-star general in the US Marine Corps. He served as Commandant of the Marine Corps, the highest-ranking officer, from 1944 to 1947. Vandegrift’s military service spanned four decades, including involvement in World War I, the Banana Wars, and the Chinese Civil War. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Act of Valor/Medal of Honor Citation

For outstanding and heroic accomplishment above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 1st Marine Division in operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during the period from 7 August to 9 December 1942. With the adverse factors of weather, terrain, and disease making his task a difficult and hazardous undertaking, and with his command eventually including sea, land, and air forces of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Vandegrift achieved marked success in commanding the initial landings of the US forces in the Solomon Islands and in their subsequent occupation. His tenacity, courage, and resourcefulness prevailed against a strong, determined, and experienced enemy, and the gallant fighting spirit of the men under his inspiring leadership enabled them to withstand aerial, land, and sea bombardment, to surmount all obstacles, and leave a disorganized and ravaged enemy. This dangerous but vital mission, accomplished at the constant risk of his life, resulted in securing a valuable base for further operations of our forces against the enemy, and its successful completion reflects great credit upon Maj. Gen. Vandegrift, his command, and the US Naval Service.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Virginia World War II History Commission Records and the Suffolk News Herald.

Lewis Kenneth Bausell (1924-1944)

Corporal, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, US Marine Corps

Bausell enlisted in the US Marine Corp following the attack on Pearl Harbor. When a grenade was thrown into the middle of his squad, he threw himself on the missile, sacrificing his own life to protect his men.

His parents were notified of the award from another World War II Virginia Medal of Honor recipient, Marine Corp Commandant Alexander Vandegrift, writing, “I take pride in informing you that the President of the United States has posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to your son, the late Corpl. Lewis K. Bausell, USMC for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty during action against Japanese forces on Peleliu Island, Palau Group September 15, 1944. I tender again my sympathy and condolence in your bereavement and also assure you that the entire service shares your pride in the heroic conduct of your son.”

Bausell posthumously received the Medal of Honor; it was presented to his mother, Margaret Lewis Baugh Bausell. A US Navy destroyer was named USS Bausell and christened by his mother in 1945, and the Pulaski County Middle School entrance was renamed Medal of Honor Way in honor of Bausell in 2022.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu Island, Palau Group, 15 September 1944. Valiantly placing himself at the head of his squad, Cpl. Bausell led the charge forward against a hostile pillbox which was covering a vital sector of the beach and, as the first to reach the emplacement, immediately started firing his automatic into the aperture while the remainder of his men closed in on the enemy. Swift to act, as a Japanese grenade was hurled into their midst, Cpl. Bausell threw himself on the deadly weapon, taking the full blast of the explosion and sacrificing his own life to save his men. His unwavering loyalty and inspiring courage reflect the highest credit upon Cpl. Bausell and the US Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Photo Credit

Virginia World War II History Commission Records

Demas Thurlow "Nick" Craw (1900-1942)

Colonel, XII Ground Air Support Command, US Army Air Force

Craw volunteered for a Peace Mission to negotiate with the French Commander in Morocco, aiming to prevent further bloodshed. Tragically, during his second attempt to secure a ceasefire, he was killed by hidden machine gun fire. General George Smith Patton Jr. lauded his death as an act of “superlative heroism.” Craw was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his wife, Mary V. Craw, and their 6-year-old son, Nicholas Wesson Craw, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 8 November 1942, near Port Lyautey, French Morocco, Col. Craw volunteered to accompany the leading wave of assault boats to the shore and pass through the enemy lines to locate the French commander with a view of suspending hostilities. This request was first refused as being too dangerous, but upon the officer’s insistence that he was qualified to undertake and accomplish the mission he was allowed to go. Encountering heavy fire while in the landing boat and unable to dock in the river because of shellfire from shore batteries, Col. Craw, accompanied by one officer and one soldier, succeeded in landing on the beach at Mehdia Plage under constant low-level strafing from three enemy planes. Riding in a bantam truck toward French headquarters, progress of the party was hindered by fire from our own naval guns. Nearing Port Lyautey, Col. Craw was instantly killed by a sustained burst of machine-gun fire at point- blank range from a concealed position near the road.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Syracuse Herald-Journal.

Frank Dabney Peregory (1916-1944)

Technical Sergeant, Company K, 3D Battalion, 116th Infantry, 29th Division, US Army

Peregory was a member of the Monticello Guard, which was called into Federal service as part of the 116th Infantry Regiment, Virginia National Guard. Peregory had previously been honored with the Soldier’s Medal for saving a fellow solider from drowning under a frozen surface of a deep canal. Just two days after participating in D-Day, Peregory single-handedly captured an enemy position that had stalled his battalion’s advance. The Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously and presented to his wife, Bessie Kirby Peregory, at the Charlottesville armory.

Medal of Honor Citation

On 8 June 1944, the 3d Battalion of the 116th Infantry was advancing on the strongly held German defenses at Grandcampe, France, when the leading elements were suddenly halted by decimating machine-gun fire from a firmly entrenched enemy force on the high ground overlooking the town. After numerous attempts to neutralize the enemy position by supporting artillery and tank fire had proved ineffective, T/Sgt. Peregory, on his own initiative, advanced up the hill under withering fire and worked his way to the crest, where he discovered an entrenchment leading to the main fortifications 200 yards away. Without hesitating, he leaped into the trench and moved toward the emplacement. Encountering a squad of enemy riflemen, he fearlessly attacked them with hand grenades and bayonet, killed eight, and forced three to surrender. Continuing along the trench, he singlehandedly forced the surrender of 32 more riflemen, captured the machine gunners, and opened the way for the leading elements of the battalion to advance and secure its objective. The extraordinary gallantry and aggressiveness displayed by T/Sgt. Peregory are exemplary of the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.

Photo Credit

Photo courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Archer Thomas Gammon (1918-1945)

Staff Sergeant, Company A, 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, 6th Armored Division, US Army

Gammon grew up in a large family of fifteen children, with his brothers Robert serving in the Army, James in the Coast Guard, and Walter in the Navy, alongside his sister Mildred Rogers, who also served in the Navy during World War II. During the Battle for Bastogne, Belgium, Gammon displayed remarkable courage by single-handedly eliminating nine German soldiers and forcing Tiger Royal tanks to retreat, for which he was honored.

Gammon was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, which was presented to his parents, Walter and Cordie S. Gammon. In 1947, an Army transportation ship was named USAT Sgt. Archer T. Gammon in his honor.

Medal of Honor Citation

He charged 30 yards through hip-deep snow to knock out a machine gun and its three-man crew with grenades, saving his platoon from being decimated and allowing it to continue its advance from an open field into some nearby woods. The platoon’s advance through the woods had only begun when a machine gun supported by riflemen opened fire and a Tiger Royal tank sent 88-mm shells screaming at the unit from the left flank. SSgt. Gammon, disregarding all thoughts of personal safety, rushed forward, then cut to the left, crossing the width of a platoon’s skirmish line in an attempt to get within grenade range of the tank and its protecting foot troops. Intense fire was concentrated on him by riflemen and the machine gun emplaced near the tank. He charged the automatic weapon, wiped out its crew of four with grenades, and, with supreme daring, advanced to within 25 yards of the armored vehicle, killing two hostile infantrymen with rifle fire as he moved forward. The tank had started to withdraw, backing a short distance, then firing, backing some more, and then stopping to blast out another round, when the man whose singlehanded relentless attack had put the ponderous machine on the defensive was struck and instantly killed by a direct hit from the Tiger Royal’s heavy gun. By his intrepidity and extreme devotion to the task of driving the enemy back no matter what the odds, SSgt. Gammon cleared the woods of German forces, for the tank continued to withdraw, leaving open the path for the gallant squad leader’s platoon.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and The Bee (Danville, VA).

Jimmie Watters Monteith, Jr. (1917-1944)

First Lieutenant, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, US Army

Monteith graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond in 1937 and attended Virginia Tech from 1937 to 1939 before enlisting in the Army. During the Normandy Beach landings on D-Day, Monteith displayed extraordinary bravery, repeatedly risking his life to lead his men through minefields and enemy fire, fortifying their defenses. Tragically, he made the ultimate sacrifice on that fateful day. He is interred at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. Posthumously, Monteith was awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his mother, Caroline Lewis Weaver Monteith.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. First Lt. Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire. Without regard to his own personal safety, he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where two tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machine-gun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, 1st Lt. Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain. When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding 1st Lt. Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, 1st Lt. Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by 1st Lt. Monteith is worthy of emulation.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Richmond News Leader.

Milton Ernest Ricketts (1913-1942)

Lieutenant, USS Yorktown, US Navy

Ricketts graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1935.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Ricketts, serving as lieutenant aboard the USS Yorktown, led an engineering repair party. When a bomb exploded, causing casualties among his men, Ricketts was severely wounded. Despite his injuries, he bravely managed to open a water valve, halting the spread of fire and saving numerous lives.

In honor of his bravery, a US Naval Destroyer ship was named after Ricketts and was christened by his widow, Betty Jane Ricketts, in 1943. She was also presented with Ricketts’ posthumously-awarded Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor Citation

For extraordinary and distinguished gallantry above and beyond the call of duty as officer-in-charge of the Engineering Repair Party of the USS Yorktown in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May 1942. During the severe bombing of the Yorktown by enemy Japanese forces, an aerial bomb passed through and exploded directly beneath the compartment in which Lt. Ricketts’ battle station was located, killing, wounding, or stunning all of his men and mortally wounding him. Despite his ebbing strength, Lt. Ricketts promptly opened the valve of a near-by fireplug, partially led out the firehose, and directed a heavy stream of water into the fire before dropping dead beside the hose. His courageous action, which undoubtedly prevented the rapid spread of fire to serious proportions, and his unflinching devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Photo Credit

Photo courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Joseph Raymond Sarnoski (1915-1943)

Second Lieutenant, 65th Bombardment Squadron, 43D Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force, US Army Air Force

After graduating from high school in 1936, Sarnoski enlisted in the Army and served for six years at Langley Field, Virginia.

Sarnoski volunteered as a bombardier for a crucial photogenic mapping mission of the Solomon Islands. When enemy planes attacked near the mission’s completion, Sarnoski valiantly defended his aircraft. Despite being mortally wounded, he managed to shoot down two enemy planes, enabling the pilot to complete the mission.

Prior to receiving the posthumous Medal of Honor, Sarnoski was honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, Silver Star, and Air Medal.

The Medal of Honor was posthumously presented to his wife, Marie Maddox Sarnoski, at the Richmond Army Air Base.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 16 June 1943, 2d Lt. Sarnoski volunteered as bombardier of a crew on an important photographic mapping mission covering the heavily defended Buka area, Solomon Islands. When the mission was nearly completed, about 20 enemy fighters intercepted. At the nose guns, 2d Lt. Sarnoski fought off the first attackers, making it possible for the pilot to finish the plotted course. When a coordinated frontal attack by the enemy extensively damaged his bomber and seriously injured five of the crew, 2d Lt. Sarnoski though wounded, continued firing and shot down two enemy planes. A 20-millimeter shell which burst in the nose of the bomber knocked him into the catwalk under the cockpit. With indomitable fighting spirit, he crawled back to his post and kept on firing until he collapsed on his guns. Second Lt. Sarnoski, by resolute defense of his aircraft at the price of his life, made possible the completion of a vitally important mission.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Pittsburgh Catholic.

Raymond Harrell Wilkins (1917-1943)

Major, 89th Bombardment Squadron, 3D Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force, US Army Air Force

Wilkins began his aviation career at Langley Field, Virginia. During 22 months of overseas service, he logged 284 hours of combat flying across 87 missions. Prior to receiving the Medal of Honor, Wilkins had been awarded an Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Silver Star.

The War Department said Wilkins deliberately took position over enemy vessels exposing his plane to violent anti-aircraft fire. His self-sacrifice allowed other American planes to safely withdraw.  The Medal of Honor was posthumously presented to his mother, Florida Vallier.

Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Rabaul, New Britain, on 2 November 1943. Leading his squadron in an attack on shipping in Simpson Harbor, during which intense antiaircraft fire was expected, Maj. Wilkins briefed his squadron so that his airplane would be in the position of greatest risk. His squadron was the last of three in the group to enter the target area. Smoke from bombs dropped by preceding aircraft necessitated a last-second revision of tactics on his part, which still enabled his squadron to strike vital shipping targets but forced it to approach through concentrated fire and increased the danger of Maj. Wilkins’ left flank position. His airplane was hit almost immediately, the right wing damaged, and control rendered extremely difficult. Although he could have withdrawn, he held fast and led his squadron into the attack. He strafed a group of small harbor vessels, and then, at low level, attacked an enemy destroyer. His 1,000-pound bomb struck squarely amidships, causing the vessel to explode. Although antiaircraft fire from this vessel had seriously damaged his left vertical stabilizer, he refused to deviate from the course. From below-masthead height he attacked a transport of some 9,000 tons, scoring a hit which engulfed the ship in flames. Bombs expended, he began to withdraw his squadron. A heavy cruiser barred the path. Unhesitatingly, to neutralize the cruiser’s guns and attract its fire, he went in for a strafing run. His damaged stabilizer was completely shot off. To avoid swerving into his wing planes, he had to turn so as to expose the belly and full wing surfaces of his plane to the enemy fire; it caught and crumpled his left wing. Now past control, the bomber crashed into the sea. In the fierce engagement Maj. Wilkins destroyed two enemy vessels, and his heroic self-sacrifice made possible the safe withdrawal of the remaining planes of his squadron.

Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Portsmouth Star.

Information on all of the World War II Virginia Medal of Honor Winners can be found in The Virginia World War II History Commission Records, 1941-1950, Accession 27544 and are open to researchers.

If you are interested in World War II history, LVA has received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to digitize our 250,000 separation notices of WWII veterans. The Marines and Army Qualification forms are available for transcription at the links below. The information gathered from the transcriptions will provide insight to the military and civilian lives of veterans.

Lauren Caravati

Digital Collections Specialist for WWII Separation Notices

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