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Dentist awarded posthumous Medal of Honor

Gretchen Hoffman

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,

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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

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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

arms.

Various alumni of the USC Dentistry School, which Salomon attended,

campaigned throughout the years to get a Medal of Honor for Salomon. It

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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

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said.

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

happened.”

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.


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