Let us lift a toast to Ben L. Salmonson, Captain, Dentist, Baddest of Badasses. Hero.
In June of 1944 the US was in the process of invading Saipan to liberate it from the Japanese. Attached to an army unit was one Ben L. Salmonson, the regimental dentist. During active combat, there wasn’t much need for a regimental dentist so Captain Salmonson volunteered to replace a surgeon that had been wounded by mortar fire. He ended up working an aid station about 50 yards from the front lines.
On the night of July 6, the Japanese gathered for a counterattack suicide charge. Literally. Commander of the Japanese ordered: “We will advance to attack the American forces and will all die an honorable death. Each man will kill ten Americans.”
At about five in the morning, with forces of between five and six thousand men, the Japanese attacked the approximately eleven hundred American defenders. In minutes Salmonson’s aid station was overwhelmed with wounded. While Salmonson was desperately working to save the most seriously wounded, the Japanese entered the aid tent. One of them bayoneted one of the wounded soldiers.
No one knows what Salmonson said or thought at that moment. I imagine it was something like “Oh no you didn’t. Not my patients.” He picked up a gun and shot the offending Japanese soldier. He clubbed the next two with a rifle then stabbed one with the bayonet and shot the other. He head butted a fourth, providing an opportunity for another wounded soldier to shoot the Japanese. He then ran out of the tent seeking help to defend the aid station.
The situation was hopeless. The suicide attack had overwhelmed the Americans. While there were scattered pockets of resistance, most of the American troops were falling back toward the shore.
Salmonson was about to become one of these pockets of resistance. He grabbed a dropped rifle and joined a handful of others in defending against the Japanese. Eventually he took charge of a machine gun whose operator had been killed. This was the last anyone saw of Salmonson alive.
The next day, after continual fighting, in which the Americans had lost 919 men killed or seriously wounded, an 83% casualty rate, the Americans regained their position.
They found Captain Salmonson’s body slumped over the machine gun. He had been hit with bullets, bayonets, and no fewer than 24 times before succumbing to his injuries, and a total of 76 times. I guess they wanted to be sure that he wouldn’t rise and continue to fight.
In return, the trail of bodies showed that he had killed 98 Japanese soldiers. The blood trails showed that while wounded, Salmonson had relocated the machine gun several times to maintain clear fields of fire.
Because he was medical corps and not supposed to bear arms–and then following up with paperwork problems when it was recognized that the restriction was for offensive purposes and self defense, which is what Salmonson did, was okay–it took a long time indeed for the Army to properly recognize his heroism with the Congressional Medal of Honor. 48 years actually, with the Medal being awarded in 2002 by President George W. Bush.
Instead of each of the Japanese killing ten Americans, it took more than a hundred to kill one dentist.
Captain Salmonson holds an honored place at Odin’s table..