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President awards soldiers Medals of Honor
Standing between daughters Brigid Swanson Jones and Holly Walker, Sandra Swanson accepts the thanks and praise of President George W. Bush for her husband's sacrifice during the Vietnam War. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Capt. Jon E. Swanson and to Capt. Ben L. Salomon who died defending his battalion aid station during World War II at the White House May 1. Photo by Joe Burlas(Click on the photo to view a higher resolution photo)
by Joe Burlas
Washington (Army News Service, May 2, 2002) -- President George W. Bush honored two soldiers with posthumous Medals of Honor May 1 during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Capt. Ben L. Salomon, a dentist, was recognized for his efforts in defending his regimental aid station from a Japanese attack in the Marianas Islands during World War II, and Capt. Jon E. Swanson was recognized for his work in marking enemy troop and anti-aircraft positions from a damaged aircraft in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
Army Secretary Thomas E. White, Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack L. Tilley inducted both men into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes during a ceremony May 2.
"We gather in tribute to two young men who died long ago in service to America," Bush said. "In awarding the Medal of Honor to Captain Ben Salomon and Captain Jon Swanson, the United States acknowledges a debt that time has not diminished."
A dentist by training, Salomon replaced a wounded surgeon in a battalion aid station near the frontlines of the 27th Infantry Division in early July 1944. On July 7, those frontlines were overrun by Japanese troops. After killing several Japanese who entered the aid station, Salomon told everyone in the area to evacuate to the regimental aid station while he held off the attacking troops alone.
Salomon was found dead the next morning holding a machine gun. There were 98 dead Japanese soldiers piled in front of him. He had been hit by enemy fire more than 70 times -- 24 of those wounds were inflicted while he was alive, according to an examining doctor.
The doctor's initial Medal of Honor recommendation was returned without action due to a mistaken opinion that the Geneva Convention forbade the award of valor medals to medical personnel. A much later legal opinion determined that medical personnel may be awarded valor awards for defending their patients, aid station or hospital.
On his second tour in Vietnam, Swanson flew his last mission Feb. 26, 1971, in support of allied ground troops in contact with the enemy in Cambodia. When his CH-6A helicopter ran out of heavy ordnance, was low on fuel and heavily damaged by enemy fire, he continued to mark targets for other attack aircraft using smoke grenades. Swanson's actions helped destroy five enemy bunkers and three anti-aircraft weapons before his helicopter exploded and crashed into the ground.
Despite recommendations of approval from the chain of command all the way up to the then-serving chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Executive Office declined to award Swanson the Medal of Honor in 1971. Instead, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. A recent review of the case made it clear that the Medal of Honor was warranted, Bush said.
Swanson's remains, and that of his gunner, Staff Sgt. Larry Harrison, were only recently returned to the United States, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Andrew Swanson, who attended both the White House and Pentagon ceremonies in honor of his brother.
"The recovery team visited the crash site five times to bring back all of the remains," Andrew said. "We knew in 1999 that he had been found because dental records identified some of recovered teeth as his gunner's."
Despite many DNA tests, most of the recovered bones could not be positively identified as they were severely burned, Andrew said. Due to the lack of identification, the remains of Swanson and Harrison will be interned together in a group grave May 3 in Arlington National Cemetery.
"It is appropriate that we honor Ben Salomon and Jon Swanson in Washington (D.C.) because it is here in our nation's capitol -- in granite, marble and stone -- we remember our nation's heroes," White said during the Pentagon ceremony. "(The Hall of Heroes) has no associate members, no honorary members. Rank or political clout cannot get you in. Membership is only for certified heroes."
By SCOTT LINDLAW
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Decades after they died in battle, President Bush conferred on Jon E. Swanson and Ben L. Salomon the nation's highest military commendation, the Medal of Honor.
``The United States acknowledges a debt that time has not diminished,'' the president said Wednesday.
In an emotional ceremony in the Rose Garden, Bush stood with Swanson's widow, who lives in Boulder, Colo., and two daughters, and with the man who prodded the government to grant Salomon the award.
Swanson, in his second tour of duty, was flying a helicopter over Cambodia on Feb. 26, 1971, pinpointing and bombing enemy positions, when his plane came under heavy enemy fire.
He ran out of heavy ordnance and began dropping smoke grenades to alert other American warplanes to enemy positions, Bush said. He made it back to safety with his helicopter heavily damaged, and volunteered to return to the scene to continue marking targets, Bush said.
``Had he stayed on the ground, no one would have faulted him,'' the president said. ``But he had seen that more targets needed marking to eliminate the danger to the troops on the ground.''
Swanson flew directly into enemy fire until his helicopter exploded in flight, Bush said.
Swanson was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but a recent review made plain he deserved the Medal of Honor, Bush said.
``The Medal of Honor recognizes acts of bravery that no superior could rightly order a soldier to perform,'' Bush said. ``The courage it signifies - gallant, intrepid service at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty - is written forever in the service record of Army Captain John Swanson.''
Salomon, a medic with the 107th Infantry Division during World War II, sacrificed himself to save patients when 5,000 Japanese troops launched a charge during the Battle of Saipan on July 7, 1944. He was in a tent station when the enemy troops attacked and he ordered enlisted medics to evacuate the wounded to a rear area.
The two machine gunners assigned to defend his aid station were killed, so Salomon told his medics he would man a machine gun. The patients and medics all made it out safely, but Salomon was found dead at his post the next day, gun at his side.
``Captain Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers, saving many American lives but sacrificing his own,'' Bush said. ``As best the Army could tell, he was shot 24 times before he fell, more than 50 times after that.''
Robert West, a World War II veteran and dentist from Calabasas, Calif., pursued the honors on Salomon's behalf and received the award for him. He learned of Salomon's heroics in 1995 while researching notable alumni for the University of Southern California's centennial celebration. Salomon was a 1937 graduate of the university's dental school.
``For a long time I didn't think this was going to happen,'' said West. ``But it has been a labor of love.''
Bush Awards Medals to Army Surgeon, Vietnam Pilot
Wed May 1, 6:01 PM ET
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Wednesday awarded the Medal of Honor to a World War Two Army surgeon who died after killing 98 Japanese soldiers to protect his wounded comrades and to a Vietnam War helicopter pilot killed as he flew into enemy fire attacking a machine gun nest.
The medals, the nation's highest award for valor in action against enemy forces, were awarded posthumously to Army Capt. Ben Salomon, who died on Saipan on July 7, 1944, and to Army Capt. Jon Swanson, killed in Cambodia on Feb. 26, 1971.
"We gather in tribute to two young men who died long ago in the service to America," Bush said at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. "Captain Salomon and Captain Swanson never lived to wear this medal, but they will be honored forever in the memory of our country."
Praising recipients of the medal as some of the "bravest ever to wear our country's uniform," Bush described how Salomon killed several Japanese soldiers who attacked his aid tent filled with U.S. wounded as his battalion came under "ferocious attack" in the Marianas Islands.
With his battalion under attack by an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese, Bush said Salomon ordered his comrades to evacuate the wounded from the tent and was last heard shouting "I'll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later."
According to his medal citation, Salomon then grabbed a rifle from a wounded soldier and ran out to face the enemy, later taking over a U.S. machine gun position when four of his comrades died.
"In the moments that followed, Captain Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers, saving many American lives, but sacrificing his own," Bush said. "As best the Army could tell, he was shot 24 times before he fell, more than 50 times after that. And when they found his body, he was still at his gun."
Because Salomon has no living relatives, Bush presented the medal to Dr. Robert West, a man who did not know Salomon but who also graduated from the University of Southern California's Dental School and became interested in the surgeon's story.
Bush said West discovered Salomon had been denied a Medal of Honor years earlier because of a technicality as a result of an "honest mistake."
The president also lavishly praised Swanson as he presented the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam War helicopter pilot's wife Sandee and daughters Holly and Brigid.
On his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Swanson flew slowly at treetop level to provide air support to South Vietnamese troops on the ground in Cambodia, destroying five enemy bunkers and evading intense fire from the ground.
With all his heavy arms exhausted, Swanson saw a machine gun nest and dropped smoke grenades to guide U.S. gunships to attack it, making himself vulnerable to heavy enemy fire."Captain Swanson made it back to safety, his ammunition nearly gone, and his Scout helicopter heavily damaged. Had he stayed on the ground, no one would have faulted him," Bush said. "But he had seen ... that more targets needed marking to eliminate the danger to the troops on the ground. He volunteered to do the job himself, flying directly into enemy fire, until his helicopter exploded in flight."
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