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John Harlan Willis
Pharmacist's Mate First Class John Willis
Born (1921-06-10)June 10, 1921
Died February 28, 1945(1945-02-28) (aged 23)
Place of birth Columbia, Tennessee
Place of death Iwo Jima
Place of burial Rose Hill Cemetery,
Columbia, Tennessee
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1940-1945
Rank Pharmacist's Mate First Class
Unit 3rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment
Battles/wars World War II
 • Battle of Iwo Jima
Awards Medal of Honor

John Harlan Willis (June 10, 1921 – February 28, 1945) was a United States Navy sailor and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.[1]


Willis was born on June 10, 1921, in Columbia, Tennessee. After graduating from Columbia Central High School, he enlisted in the Navy from his birth state in November 1940. He received recruit training at Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia and corpsman training at the Norfolk Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia. In March 1941, Willis was promoted to Seaman, Second Class and was briefly assigned to the Naval Hospital, Parris Island, South Carolina, transferring to Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, in the late spring. In August 1941 he was promoted to Hospital Apprentice First Class and, in December, to Pharmacist's Mate Third Class. After receiving a promotion to Pharmacist's Mate Second Class in September 1942, Willis served with Naval Operating Base Units, organizing and training units for overseas service. In July 1943 he was promoted to Pharmacist's Mate First Class. That November he joined the Training Detachment, Field Medical School Battalion, Fleet Marine Force Training Center at Camp Elliott, San Diego, California, transferring in early 1944 to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California.[2]

With the 3rd Battalion 27th Marines, he participated as a Platoon Corpsman in the Battle of Iwo Jima. On February 28, 1945, while aiding fallen Marines during a fierce action near Japanese-held Hill 362, he was wounded and ordered back to the battle-aid station. Disregarding his injuries, Willis returned to the battle area to resume casualty assistance. He was helping a wounded Marine when the enemy attacked with hand grenades. After throwing eight grenades back at the enemy, he was killed when one exploded in his hand. For his actions during the battle, Willis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.[2]

Willis, aged 23 at his death, was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Columbia, Tennessee.[2]

Medal of Honor citationEdit

Willis' official Medal of Honor citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Platoon Corpsman serving with the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, during operations against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 28 February 1945. Constantly imperiled by artillery and mortar fire from strong and mutually supporting pillboxes and caves studding Hill 362 in the enemy's cross-island defenses, Willis resolutely administered first aid to the many marines wounded during the furious close-in fighting until he himself was struck by shrapnel and was ordered back to the battle-aid station. Without waiting for official medical release, he quickly returned to his company and, during a savage hand-to-hand enemy counterattack, daringly advanced to the extreme frontlines under mortar and sniper fire to aid a marine lying wounded in a shellhole. Completely unmindful of his own danger as the Japanese intensified their attack, Willis calmly continued to administer blood plasma to his patient, promptly returning the first hostile grenade which landed in the shell-hole while he was working and hurling back 7 more in quick succession before the ninth exploded in his hand and instantly killed him. By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life, he inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force. His exceptional fortitude and courage in the performance of duty reflect the highest credit upon Willis and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.[1]


The destroyer escort USS John Willis (DE-1027) was named in his honor. One of the barracks located at the now-closed Naval Hospital Millington, Tennessee was named Willis Hall. The building in now part of the University of Memphis' Millington Center but retains the name Willis Hall.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 US Army Center of Military History, "Medal of Honor Recipients, World War II (T-Z)"; retrieved 2012-12-24.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Naval Historical Center, "Pharmacist's Mate First Class John H. Willis, USN, (1921-1945)"; retrieved 2011-12-24.

External linksEdit

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