William G. Walsh and Ross F. Gray two selfless heroes of Iwo Jima.

In these days when we have very few heroes left it is good to be reminded of some real heroes who made a difference by selfless actions and not self promotion.

William G. Walsh

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Gunnery Sergeant William Gary Walsh (April 7, 1922 – February 27, 1945) was a United States Marine who heroically sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. For his actions on February 27, 1945, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

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William Walsh was born on April 7, 1922, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He attended public schools in Boston before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps in April 1942. He went to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, and advanced training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

From Camp Lejeune, he went to Samoa and was assigned to a unit of Marine scouts. His next assignment was with the 2nd Marine Raider battalion, the famed Carlson’s Raiders. During the United States’ war with Japan in the Pacific, he saw action at Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, and in the Russell Islands.

Following two years of service in the Pacific theatre, he returned to the United States. He returned overseas later with the 5th Marine Division in time for the Iwo Jima invasion

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It was at Iwo Jima, while leading his men against a fortified hill on February 27, 1945, he threw himself on a hand grenade, sacrificing his life to save the lives of fellow Marines. For this heroic act, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Initially buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, GnySgt Walsh’s remains were later reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery on April 20, 1948.

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Ross F. Gray

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Sergeant Ross Franklin Gray (August 1, 1920 – February 27, 1945) was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor — the highest military honor of the United States — for his heroic service in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II — he single-handedly disarmed an entire mine field while under heavy enemy fire. He was killed in action six days later.

Gray enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in Birmingham, Alabama on July 22, 1942, and was assigned to active duty the same day. After receiving his recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina, he went to New River, North Carolina, and in September joined the 23rd Marines, 4th Marine Division. Promoted to private first class in April 1943, he was transferred to Company A, 1st Battalion 25th Marines, a month later.

Private First Class Gray left for overseas duty on January 13, 1944 and landed at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands where he took part in the Roi-Namur campaign.

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He was made an engineering corporal in March and in June made another assault landing — this time at Saipan. At the conclusion of the fighting at Saipan, Cpl Gray took part in the landing on Tinian Island, also in the Marianas.

Promoted to sergeant in August, he attended the 4th Marine Division Mine and Booby Trap School, upon completion of which he was rated qualified to instruct troops in the laying of mine fields; the reconnaissance of enemy minefields, day and night; the location, neutralization, disarming, and removal of mines; the neutralization of booby-trapped mines; and the day and night clearance of lanes through minefields. Examined and found qualified for promotion to the rank of staff sergeant, Sgt Gray, due to the lack of openings for that rate in his organization, was never promoted to the third pay grade.

On February 21, 1945, two days after the initial landing on Iwo Jima,  Gray was acting platoon sergeant of one of Company A’s platoons which had been held up by a sudden barrage of Japanese hand grenades in the area northeast of Airfield No. 1.

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Gray withdrew his platoon out of range of the grenades and moved forward to get a better look at the situation.. He saw his platoon was held up by several Japanese bunkers connected by covered communication trenches  with a mine field in front of them.

With typical Gray tenacity and in spite a hail of enemy small arms fire, Gray cleared a path through the mine field up to the mouth of one of the fortifications, then returned to his own lines, where with three volunteers, he went back to the battalion dump and acquired twelve satchel charges. Placing these in a defiladed area within his platoon that was protected from immediate enemy fire, he took one weighing twenty-four pounds. Under covering fire from the three volunteers, Gray advanced up the path he had cleared and threw the charge into the enemy position in order to take it out of action.

Gray came under fire from a machine gun in another opening of the same position,  Gray returned to the defiladed spot, obtained another charge, returned to the position and this time completely destroyed it. Spotting another emplacement, he went through the mine field for the seventh and eighth time to get another charge and destroy another enemy stronghold.

He continued this one-man attack, all the time under heavy small arms fire and grenade barrage, until he had destroyed six enemy positions.  During Gray’s attack on the enemy positions , he was unarmed so that he could more easily carry the charges and accessories.

After he had eliminated all six Japanese bunkers, Gray disarmed the whole mine field before returning to his platoon.

For his personal valor, daring tactics, and tenacious perseverance in the face of extreme peril on February 21, Sgt Gray was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman

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The coveted award was presented to the hero’s father by Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill, United States Navy, then Commandant of the Eighth Naval District, at the football field at Centreville High School in the presence of the Governor of the State of Alabama, Chauncey Sparks, on April 16, 1946.

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Sergeant Gray was initially buried in the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, but later his remains were returned to the United States for private burial in Woodstock, Alabama.

The frigate USS Gray (FF-1054) was named after Sergeant Gray.

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