Richard Keith Sorenson was born in Anoka, Minnesota on August 28, 1924. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on January 7, 1941, he wanted to enlist in the United States Navy to go to war for his country, but as he was just seventeen years old, he needed his parents’ permission, which they denied.
One year later, now eighteen, Sorenson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on December 13, 1942 and after initial training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, was placed on active service with the United States Marine Corps‘ brand-new 4th Marine Division, then forming up and preparing for war at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Sorenson was assigned to Company M, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment as an infantryman.
The 4th Marine Division spent extra time in training as they would depart the United States direct for a landing on an opposed shore. They sailed from California in January 1944. Their destination: Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The attack was codenamed Operation FLINTLOCK, and began on January 31, 1944.
As part of 3/24 Marines, Sorenson landed on the Namur portion of Kwajalein’s Roi-Namur island on February 1. The next day, with victory for the Americans in sight, the Japanese defenders launched desperate counterattacks that if they wouldn’t repel the invaders, they’d cause as much damage as possible.
Sorenson sought cover in a shell hole with five other Marines during one such counterattack. When a Japanese grenade landed in their midst, he selflessly covered the weapon with his own body absorb its blast and save the lives of his five comrades. Miraculously, and largely thanks to quick first aid rendered to him by a Navy Corpsman who tied off a severed artery and stabilized his other massive wounds, Sorenson survived the grenade explosion, and lived to receive the Medal of Honor he so assuredly deserved.
From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):
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SORENSON, RICHARD KEITH
Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 4th Marine Division
Place and date: Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll Marshall Islands, 1-2 February 1944
Entered service at: Minnesota
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with an assault battalion attached to the 4th Marine Division during the battle of Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 1-2 February 1944. Putting up a brave defense against a particularly violent counterattack by the enemy during invasion operations, Pvt. Sorenson and 5 other marines occupying a shellhole were endangered by a Japanese grenade thrown into their midst. Unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Pvt. Sorenson hurled himself upon the deadly weapon, heroically taking the full impact of the explosion. As a result of his gallant action, he was severely wounded, but the lives of his comrades were saved. His great personal valor and exceptional spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Sorenson endured six surgeries over nine months during his recovery. He learned that he would receive the Medal from the commander of the Seattle Naval Hospital, Captain Joel T. Boone, himself a Medal of Honor recipient for World War I.
He remained in the Marine Reserves after the war, was eventually commissioned as an officer, and was recalled to active service during the Korean War, although he served entirely in stateside roles and did not see further action. As a civilian, Sorenson worked in insurance but also spent many years working with the Veterans Administration (today the Department of Veterans Affairs), retiring in 1978 as the Director of veterans’ services for Nevada and several California counties.
Richard K. Sorenson passed away at age 80 on October 9, 2004 in Reno, Nevada. After memorial services there, his remains were transported back to his native Minnesota where he today rests in peace in the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis.
No vessel of the United States Navy has ever been named for this hero from their sister service. This is once again a good time to point out that we will have a USS Gabrielle Giffords in our fleet in the coming years.
The 24th Marine Regiment was deactivated in September 2013 as part of the restructuring of the 4th Marine Division. The Marines of the 24th’s 3rd Battalion were assimilated into the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines. Their headquarters, as reservists, are in St. Louis, Missouri.