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Richard Keith Sorenson
Richard K. Sorenson, Medal of Honor recipient
Born (1924-08-28)August 28, 1924
Died October 9, 2004(2004-10-09) (aged 80)
Place of birth Anoka, Minnesota
Place of death Reno, Nevada
Place of burial Fort Snelling National Cemetery Minnesota
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1943–1946, 1947–1955
Rank First Lieutenant
Unit 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines
Battles/wars Battle of Kwajalein
Awards Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
Other work Veterans Administration

Richard Keith Sorenson (August 28, 1924 – October 9, 2004) was a United States Marine who, as a private, received the Medal of Honor during World War II for his heroism during the Marine landing on Kwajalein Atoll on the night of February 1,-February 2, 1944. He threw himself on an exploding Japanese grenade, that was part of US munitions captured during the Battle of Battan, to save the lives of five fellow Marines. Miraculously, although fragments of the grenade ripped through his thighs, hips, right arm and right leg, he lived through the action. Of the 27 Marines who similarly threw themselves on grenades to save the lives of their fellow Marines during World War II, Sorenson was one of only four who survived.[1] Fellow Medal of Honor recipients Richard E. Bush, Jacklyn H. Lucas and Carlton R. Rouh were the other three survivors.

After recovering from the wounds, Sorenson continued to serve in the Marine Corps until he was discharged in 1946 at the rank of sergeant. He enlisted in the Reserves in 1947. He reached the rank of master sergeant, and received a commission as a Marine Corps officer in 1953 and remained in the Corps until 1955.


The son of a U.S. Navy World War I veteran, Sorenson was born in Anoka, Minnesota. He graduated from high school in 1942.

World War IIEdit

Sorenson enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 13, 1942. He reported to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California in January 1943 for recruit training. In April 1943, he joined Company M, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, at Camp Pendleton, where he underwent intensive training before sailing for Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands on January 11, 1944.

Private Sorenson landed with his battalion at Namur, Kwajalein on February 1, 1944. On that first day of the invasion, Sorenson was wounded in the action for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After a fierce night of battle, a Japanese soldier threw a grenade in the midst of his squad. Pvt Sorenson threw himself on the grenade and took the full force of the explosion. A corpsman tied off a severed artery and covered the severe wounds, and Sorenson was evacuated to a transport to Hawaii. He would undergo six surgeries in the next nine months.

He was hospitalized at Pearl Harbor until May, and then was transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Seattle, Washington. In mid-1944, he was informed that he would be receiving the Medal of Honor — by the commanding officer of the hospital, Captain Joel Boone, who was a recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War I. On July 19, 1944, a month after being promoted, Private First Class Sorenson was presented the Medal of Honor by Major General Joseph C. Fegan, then commanding the Department of the Pacific.

Released from the hospital later in July, PFC Sorenson was ordered to the Marine Air Detachment at the Naval Air Station, Minneapolis, where he was promoted to corporal that August. The following month he was assigned to the headquarters of the Central Recruiting Division in Chicago, Illinois, and promoted to sergeant. He was transferred from Chicago to the Midwestern Recruiting Division in St. Louis, Missouri in September 1945, and while attached to that division, served at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station, Fargo, North Dakota. From there he was ordered to Great Lakes, Illinois, where he was discharged February 23, 1946.

Civilian life; return to the Marine CorpsEdit

Back in civilian life, Sorenson worked as a contact representative for the Veterans Administration in Minneapolis and Alexandria, Minnesota. He also attended St. John's University at Collegeville, Minnesota, and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 10, 1947. He was ordered back to extended active duty on November 17, 1950, and for the next three years, was stationed at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Minneapolis. There, he was promoted to staff sergeant in May 1951, and to Master Sergeant in June 1953. In November 1953, following his appointment as a second lieutenant, he was ordered to the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, where he completed the Basic School for Marine officers in April 1954.

Sorenson then served as Assistant Supply Officer of the 7th Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton, where he was appointed a first lieutenant in September 1954. He was transferred to the 2nd Replacement Battalion at Camp Pendleton in January 1955, and that March, was ordered overseas for duty with the 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. With that unit he served in Japan and on Okinawa before returning to the United States that November to be discharged after voluntarily reverting to the rank of Master Sergeant.

Post-Marine Corps careerEdit

After leaving the Marine Corps in 1955, Sorenson returned to work for the Veterans Administration until 1957. For the next 10 years, he worked as an insurance underwriter, but then returned to the V.A. He remained with the V.A. until his retirement as director of Veterans Affairs for the state of Nevada and nine counties of California in 1985.

As a civilian, Sorenson was active in his community — serving on the board of directors for the United Way, the regional Boy Scout Council, and the board of directors for the Navy League.

Richard Sorenson died at age 80 in Reno, Nevada. He was survived by his wife and five children. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota.


In addition to the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart he received for the wounds he suffered at Kwajalein, MSgt Sorenson holds the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with one bronze star; the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal with one bronze star; the American Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Purple Heart BAR.svg
Gold star
Marine Corps Good Conduct ribbon.svg
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
Bronze star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon.svg
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg
Medal of Honor
Purple Heart Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with one bronze star American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze star World War II Victory Medal National Defense Service Medal

Medal of Honor citationEdit

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to


for service as set forth in the following 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 Fourth Marine Division during the battle of Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, on February 1–2, 1944. Putting up a brave defense against a particularly violent counterattack by the enemy during invasion operations, Private Sorenson and five other Marines occupying a shellhole were endangered by a Japanese grenade thrown into their midst. Unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Private 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 United States Naval Service.


Richard K. Sorenson is one of three Minnesota Medal of Honor recipients from the Northeast Twin Cities who are named on the Anoka County Veteran's memorial at Bunker Hills Anoka County Park in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The other two are Richard E. Kraus and James D. La Belle.

See alsoEdit


  1. Richard Sorenson, Nevada Day Grand Marshalls, 2003.
PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

Further readingEdit

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