William Harrell: Marine w/ BOTH Hands Blown off, Separate Attacks--Kept Killing Enemy

Aug 02 , 2022

William Harrell: Marine w/ BOTH Hands Blown off, Separate Attacks--Kept Killing Enemy

William George Harrell was born in Rio Grande City, Texas on June 26, 1922. He went to Texas A&M for two years prior to his enlistment in the Marine Corps on July 3, 1942.
Harrell departed for overseas duty in February 1943 with Company A, 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, as an armorer. He landed on Iwo Jima where he would earn the Medal of Honor.

On the night of March 3, Sgt. Harrell and another man were in a long narrow two-man foxhole on a ridge 20 yards forward of the company command post. Beyond the foxhole the ridge fell off into a ravine which was in Japanese territory.

Because of their nearness to the enemy, the two men took turns standing one-hour watches throughout the night. During the night, an initial Japanese attack was repulsed, but the other Marine's weapon jammed and he returned to the command post to obtain another.

While he was gone, the enemy managed to get a grenade in the foxhole, which exploded, blowing off Harrell's left hand. The second Marine returned just as the Japanese were swarming up the foxhole and together he and Sgt. Harrell drove them off.

Thinking he was dying due to the severity of his wounds and saber cuts suffered in the last attack, Harrell ordered his companion to get to safety. Two more Japanese charged the foxhole, setting off another grenade. As Sgt. Harrell attempted to push it out of the hole it exploded, tearing off his right hand.

He was evacuated from Iwo Jima and treated at various field hospitals prior to his arrival in the United States.

He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at the White House on October 5, 1945. Harrell was discharged from the Marine Corps because of disability resulting from his wounds.

Sergeant Harrell died on August 9, 1964 and was laid to rest in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

Citation: 

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as leader of an assault group attached to the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division during hand-to-hand combat with enemy Japanese at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands on 3 March 1945. Standing watch alternately with another marine in a terrain studded with caves and ravines, Sgt. Harrell was holding a position in a perimeter defense around the company command post when Japanese troops infiltrated our lines in the early hours of dawn. Awakened by a sudden attack, he quickly opened fire with his carbine and killed two of the enemy as they emerged from a ravine in the light of a star shell burst. Unmindful of his danger as hostile grenades fell closer, he waged a fierce lone battle until an exploding missile tore off his left hand and fractured his thigh.

He was vainly attempting to reload the carbine when his companion returned from the command post with another weapon. Wounded again by a Japanese who rushed the foxhole wielding a saber in the darkness, Sgt. Harrell succeeded in drawing his pistol and killing his opponent and then ordered his wounded companion to a place of safety. Exhausted by profuse bleeding but still unbeaten, he fearlessly met the challenge of two more enemy troops who charged his position and placed a grenade near his head. Killing one man with his pistol, he grasped the sputtering grenade with his good right hand, and, pushing it painfully toward the crouching soldier, saw his remaining assailant destroyed but his own hand severed in the explosion.

At dawn Sgt. Harrell was evacuated from a position hedged by the bodies of 12 dead Japanese, at least five of whom he had personally destroyed in his self-sacrificing defense of the command post. His grim fortitude, exceptional valor, and indomitable fighting spirit against almost insurmountable odds reflect the highest credit upon himself and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.


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