The 27th’s Three: Baker, O’Brien, and Salomon (June 19-July 7, 1944)

The United States Army‘s 27th Infantry Division was known as “O’Ryan’s Roughnecks” for its World War I commander, Major General John F. O’Ryan. For service in World War II, the New York National Guard’s 105th Infantry Regiment was federalized on October 15, 1940 into the active Army.

The division’s soldiers earned three Medals of Honor during the war. All three were awarded to men of the 105th Infantry during the Battle of Saipan in the Pacific.

The three recipients were Thomas A. Baker, William J. O’Brien, and Ben L. Salomon.

Thomas Alexander Baker was born in Troy, New York on June 25, 1916. He was a Guardsman federalized with the regiment. His Medal was awarded posthumously for his cumulative actions from June 19 to July 7, 1944, culminating with his refusal to allow his comrades to evacuate himself after being wounded.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

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Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*BAKER, THOMAS A.

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company A, 105th Infantry, 27th Infantry Division. Place and date: Saipan, Mariana Islands, 19 June to 7 July 1944. Entered service at: Troy, N.Y.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Mariana Islands, 19 June to 7 July 1944. When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge. Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon 2 heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by 2 officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them. Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them. On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from 3 sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded. At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree . Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Baker’s remains were repatriated to the United States and today rest in peace in the Gerald R. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, Schuylerville, New York.

William Joseph O’Brien also hailed from Troy, New York and was born in 1899. He was also a National Guardsman and commanded the 105th’s 1st Battalion as a Lieutenant Colonel. His Medal was awarded for the period from June 20-July 7, 1944. Like Baker, he also refused to be evacuated after being wounded. His battalion was being overrun by an estimated 3,000-5,000 enemy. O’Brien was last seen manning a jeep-mounted .50-caliber machine gun as his position was swarmed by attacking Japanese.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

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Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*O’BRIEN, WILLIAM J.

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, 27th Infantry Division. Place and date: At Saipan, Marianas Islands, 20 June through 7 July 1944. Entered service at: Troy, N.Y. G.O. No.: 35, 9 May 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Marianas Islands, from 20 June through 7 July 1944. When assault elements of his platoon were held up by intense enemy fire, Lt. Col. O’Brien ordered 3 tanks to precede the assault companies in an attempt to knock out the strongpoint. Due to direct enemy fire the tanks’ turrets were closed, causing the tanks to lose direction and to fire into our own troops. Lt. Col. O’Brien, with complete disregard for his own safety, dashed into full view of the enemy and ran to the leader’s tank, and pounded on the tank with his pistol butt to attract 2 of the tank’s crew and, mounting the tank fully exposed to enemy fire, Lt. Col. O’Brien personally directed the assault until the enemy strongpoint had been liquidated. On 28 June 1944, while his platoon was attempting to take a bitterly defended high ridge in the vicinity of Donnay, Lt. Col. O’Brien arranged to capture the ridge by a double envelopment movement of 2 large combat battalions. He personally took control of the maneuver. Lt. Col. O’Brien crossed 1,200 yards of sniper-infested underbrush alone to arrive at a point where 1 of his platoons was being held up by the enemy. Leaving some men to contain the enemy he personally led 4 men into a narrow ravine behind, and killed or drove off all the Japanese manning that strongpoint. In this action he captured S machineguns and one 77-mm. fieldpiece. Lt. Col. O’Brien then organized the 2 platoons for night defense and against repeated counterattacks directed them. Meanwhile he managed to hold ground. On 7 July 1944 his battalion and another battalion were attacked by an overwhelming enemy force estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese. With bloody hand-to-hand fighting in progress everywhere, their forward positions were finally overrun by the sheer weight of the enemy numbers. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Lt. Col. O’Brien refused to leave the front lines. Striding up and down the lines, he fired at the enemy with a pistol in each hand and his presence there bolstered the spirits of the men, encouraged them in their fight and sustained them in their heroic stand. Even after he was seriously wounded, Lt. Col. O’Brien refused to be evacuated and after his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he manned a .50 caliber machinegun, mounted on a jeep, and continued firing. When last seen alive he was standing upright firing into the Jap hordes that were then enveloping him. Some time later his body was found surrounded by enemy he had killed His valor was consistent with the highest traditions of the service.

Lieutenant Colonel O’Brien was laid to rest in the Saint Peter’s Cemetery in Troy.

Benjamin Lewis Salomon was born on September 1, 1914 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received both his undergraduate and dental degrees from the University of Southern California and was a practicing dentist when he was drafted into the Army on March 5, 1941.

While he entered the service as a private, he was eventually commissioned as an officer in the Dental Corps and had volunteered to become the 105th Infantry’s 2nd Battalion’s surgeon when the previous man was wounded. On July 7, 1944 in the same massed Japanese attack that claimed both Baker and O’Brien, Salomon made a lone stand at his hospital that killed at least 98 of the enemy and allowed all the patients to be evacuated.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

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Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor

*SALOMON, BEN L.

Citation: Captain Ben L. Salomon was serving at Saipan, in the Marianas Islands on July 7, 1944, as the Surgeon for the 2d Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. The Regiment’s 1st and 2d Battalions were attacked by an overwhelming force estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese soldiers. It was one of the largest attacks attempted in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although both units fought furiously, the enemy soon penetrated the Battalions’ combined perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the first minutes of the attack, approximately 30 wounded soldiers walked, crawled, or were carried into Captain Salomon’s aid station, and the small tent soon filled with wounded men. As the perimeter began to be overrun, it became increasingly difficult for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then saw a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of the wounded soldiers lying near the tent. Firing from a squatting position, Captain Salomon quickly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his attention back to the wounded, two more Japanese soldiers appeared in the front entrance of the tent. As these enemy soldiers were killed, four more crawled under the tent walls. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their way as best they could back to the regimental aid station, while he attempted to hold off the enemy until they were clear. Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of the wounded and rushed out of the tent. After four men were killed while manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took control of it. When his body was later found, 98 dead enemy soldiers were piled in front of his position. Captain Salomon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Captain Salomon’s body was found several days later with 76 bullet and bayonet wounds, at least 24 of which were suffered while he still lived. His Medal award was delayed for decades, possibly as a result of anti-Semitism, but also because as a medical/dental officer, was considered a “non-combatant”. The posthumous award took place on May 1, 2002 by President George W. Bush.

Salomon’s Medal of Honor is held by the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. The warrior dentist rests in peace at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

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