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First Name: Henry

Last Name: Gurke

Birthplace: Neche, ND, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: Neche, ND

Date of Birth: 06 November 1922

Date of Death: 09 November 1943

Rank: Private First Class

Years Served: 1942-1943
Henry Gurke

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Henry Gurke
Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

Private First Class Henry Gurke (6 November 1922 - 9 November 1943) was a U.S. Marine who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during the Solomon Islands Campaign of World War II.

Henry Gurke was born in Neche, ND, on 6 November 1922. He was baptized in the Lutheran Church and attended the local schools. After graduation from high school in 1940, he entered the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in July and was stationed in Larimore, ND. He stayed in the CCC until October 1941 and rose to the position of Assistant Leader, then returned to Neche where he drove a two-ton truck until his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps on 15 April 1942.

Private Gurke went through recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, then went into the 2d Separate Pack Howitzer Battalion of the 22nd Marines and was in C Battery only one month before shipping overseas on the SS Lurline on 30 July 1942 - only three and a half months after his enlistment in the Marines. He landed at Apia, Upolu, British Samoa, one month later. Within two weeks the 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marines, with Pvt Gurke's battery attached, went to Uvea Island of the Wallis Islands to relieve the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, which left to rejoin the 1st Marine Division then engaged in the grueling fight for Guadalcanal. In September 1942, Pvt Gurke was transferred to Company D, 3rd Raider Battalion. After four months at Wallis, the Raiders left for Pago Pago, American Samoa, stayed there about three weeks, then moved south to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, landing there in January 1943.

The following month the Raiders went over to Guadalcanal for a few days en route to the Russell Islands. However, this was not the long awaited combat they had hoped for and trained for. Pavuvu Island in the Russells was occupied by Pvt Gurke's battalion, without opposition, from 21 February to 18 March 1943. The battalion returned to Espiritu Santo in March. Gurke was promoted to Private First Class on 1 August 1943.

Transferred to Company M, 3rd Raider Battalion, 2nd Raider Regiment of the I Marine Amphibious Corps in June, PFC Gurke was at Nouméa, New Caledonia, in October and finally met the enemy at Bougainville in November. He "celebrated" his 21st birthday on 6 November 1943 and three days later gave his life for a fellow Marine and for the country he had served well for the past nineteen months.

Private First Class Gurke was in a shallow two-man foxhole with a fellow Marine, a Browning Automatic Rifle-man (BAR-man), around dawn on 9 November 1943, delivering a fierce stream of fire against the advancing Japanese in defense of a vital road block in the area near Empress Augusta Bay. Judging from the increased ferocity of the enemy grenade attack that the enemy was determined to annihilate him and his buddy because of the fierce effective fire they were rendering, PFC Gurke roughly thrust his companion aside when a Japanese grenade landed in their foxhole and threw himself on the deadly missile. For his heroic self-sacrifice, Gurke was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps.

Place and date: Near Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville Island, 9 November 1943.

Citation: For extraordinary heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty while attached to the 3d Marine Raider Battalion during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area on 9 November 1943. While his platoon was engaged in the defense of a vital road block near Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville Island. Pfc. Gurke, in company with another Marine, was delivering a fierce stream of fire against the main vanguard of the Japanese. Concluding from the increasing ferocity of grenade barrages that the enemy was determined to annihilate their small, 2-man foxhole, he resorted to a bold and desperate measure for holding out despite the torrential hail of shells. When a Japanese grenade dropped squarely into the foxhole, Pfc. Gurke, mindful that his companion manned an automatic weapon of superior fire power and therefore could provide more effective resistance, thrust him roughly aside and flung his own body over the missile to smother the explosion. With unswerving devotion to duty and superb valor, Pfc. Gurke sacrificed himself in order that his comrade might live to carry on the fight. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Gurke's parents at ceremonies in the Navy Department on 31 May 1944. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy made the presentation in the name of the President.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart


In 1945, the destroyer USS Gurke (DD-783) was named in PFC Gurke's honor.

Death and Burial

Private First Class Henry Gurke was killed in action on 9 November 1943. His body was originally buried at Bougainville; later moved to Munda, New Georgia; and then to Finschhafen, New Guinea. It was finally returned to the U.S. for burial at Neche Union Cemetery in Neche, ND.

Honoree ID: 1417   Created by: MHOH




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