GLENDALE -- U.S. Army Dental Corps Capt. Ben Salomon struggled to hold
off enemy troops advancing on a field hospital in Saipan in World War II.
He killed almost 100 invading soldiers before he was shot to death,
but it has taken almost 50 years for his heroism to be recognized with
the Medal of Honor.
On Sunday, Robert West will accept a replica of the Medal of Honor at
a ceremony at Forest Lawn, Glendale, where Salomon and his parents are
interred. West accepted the actual medal about three weeks ago in
Washington D.C. and presented it to the Army Dental Corps.
Because Salomon was working as a medic before he took hold of the
machine gun, his battalion headquarters refused to grant him a medal,
stating that the Geneva Convention bars medical officers from bearing
Various alumni of the USC Dentistry School, which Salomon attended,
campaigned throughout the years to get a Medal of Honor for Salomon. It
was just a “technicality” that he had been working as a medic at the
time, they said.
West came across Salomon’s story in 1997 and began writing letters in
his support but soon uncovered some conflicting information.
“I realized that it wasn’t a technicality, it was an error,” West
said. The Geneva Convention prohibits medical personnel from bearing arms
for offensive purposes. Salomon had been defending his wounded troops.
“That made me more determined and I became obsessed with it,” West
He contacted numerous government officials, including Rep. Brad
Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who formally submitted Salomon’s case for
review in April 1998.
Because a U.S. representative specifically requested the review, time
restrictions on awarding the medal to Salomon were waived.
After several levels of review, the Defense Secretary signed off on
the award in March.
“I’m honored that I could help right a historical wrong,” Sherman said
in a news release. “That I could help honor the greatness of his American
spirit is a testament to its strength.”
As Japanese soldiers tried to crawl into a first aid tent on the
morning of July 4, 1044, Salomon battered them back with a bayonet and a
rifle, West said. He went outside to check on the machine-gunners
protecting the tent and was heard to say: “Everybody’s dead out there. I
can do these guys more good out there than I can in here.”
He told the medics to evacuate the wounded to the safety of the
regiment, adding: “I’ll hold them off until you get them to safety.”
That was the last time they saw him alive. According to a regimental
historian on scene, they discovered Salomon’s body bent over the barrel
of a machine gun with his hand on the trigger.
They counted 98 bodies in front of where he lay and said it was
evident he had killed so many enemies that he had been forced to move the
gun four times to get a field of fire. As a result of his actions, many
of his comrades escaped to safety.
“He was a dentist, but first of all, he was a soldier, and he died as
a soldier,” West said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know that it finally
West will present the replica to the dentistry school.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Ceremony to commemorate the granting of the Medal of Honor to
Capt. Ben Salomon, the first member of the Army Dental Corps to receive
the award. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) will present a replica at
the mausoleum where Salomon and his parents are interred.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Forecourt of the Great Mausoleum, Holly Terrace Entrance,
Forest Lawn, 1712 S. Glendale Ave.
INFO: Space is limited. RSVP to Sherman’s district office at 999-1990.