Almost 58 years after U.S. Army dentist Benjamin Lewis Salomon was killed defending his aid station against Japanese troops, he has received the American military’s highest decoration.
President Bush made the posthumous dedication of the Medal of Honor last week.
A Los Angeles native, Capt. Salomon was 29 years old and acting as surgeon with the 27th Infantry Division on the South Pacific island of Saipan when his battalion was attacked by thousands of Japanese soldiers on July 7, 1944.
“The advancing enemy soon descended on Capt. Salomon’s aid station,” Bush recounted during the White House Rose Garden ceremony. “To defend the wounded men in his care, he ordered comrades to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded. He went out to face the enemy alone, and was last heard shouting, ‘I’ll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later.’
“In the moments that followed, Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers, saving many American lives but sacrificing his own. As best the army could tell, he was shot 24 times before he fell, more than 50 times after that. And when they found his body, he was still at his” machine gun.
Salomon graduated from the University of Southern California’s dental school, “itself a triumph at a time when American universities limited the number of Jews they accepted,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
After graduating in 1937, Salomon tried unsuccessfully to enlist as a dentist in both the American and Canadian armies. In 1940, he was drafted and trained as an infantryman, excelling as a rifle marksman and machine-gunner.
In 1942, he was finally commissioned as a regimental dentist, but during the Saipan invasion he volunteered to replace his unit’s wounded surgeon.
Salomon was an only child and was single, and had no immediate relatives who could receive the Medal of Honor in his place. Accepting was Dr. Robert West, a dentist and USC alumnus who for years had lobbied the army to recognize Salomon’s heroism.
“I think Ben Salomon is smiling down on us today,” West told Bush.
The award to Salomon is not connected to a list of 138 war veterans whose records are under review by the Pentagon to determine whether they were denied the Medal of Honor because of anti-Semitic discrimination.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.