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First Name: William

Last Name: Harrell

Birthplace: Rio Grande City, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: Harlingen, TX
Middle Name: George

Date of Birth: 16 June 1922

Date of Death: 09 August 1964

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served: 1942-1946
William George Harrell

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


William George Harrell
Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corp
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

Sergeant William George Harrell (16 June 1922 - 9 August 1964) was a U.S. Marine who was awarded his nation's highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

William George Harrell was born in Rio Grande City, TX, on 26 June 1922 and later moved to Mercedes, TX. He attended high school in Mercedes, graduating in 1939, and then went on to Texas A&M University for two years prior to his enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps on 3 July 1942 in Harlingen, TX.

Marine Corps Service

Completing his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, CA, he was temporarily in the 1st Guard Company at that base prior to his transfer to Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, Camp Elliott, San Diego, CA, in September 1942. He was promoted to Private First Class upon his arrival at Camp Elliott, and while there was later advanced to Corporal.

Following completion of the Basic Rocket Course, Cpl Harrell departed for overseas duty in February 1943 with Company A, 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, as an armorer. He served in Hawaii then went on to Saipan and, later, to Iwo Jima.

On 3 March 1945, Sgt Harrell and another man dug in for the night in a long narrow two-man foxhole on Iwo Jima, on a little ridge 20 yards forward of the depression where the company command post was established. Beyond the foxhole the ridge fell off into a ravine which was in Japanese territory. Because of their nearness to the enemy, the two men took turns standing one-hour watches throughout the night while the other slept.

An attack by the Japanese was repulsed, but the other Marine's weapon jammed and he returned to the command post to obtain another. While he was gone, the enemy managed to get a grenade in the foxhole, which exploded, blowing off Sgt Harrell's left hand.

The second Marine returned just as the Japanese were swarming up the foxhole and together he and Sgt Harrell drove them off. Thinking he was dying due to the severity of his wounds and saber cuts suffered in the last repulse, Sgt Harrell ordered his companion to retire to safety.

His friend left, but only to get another rifle. During his absence, two Japanese charged the foxhole, setting off another grenade. As Sgt Harrell attempted to push it out of the hole it exploded, tearing off his right hand. He was evacuated and treated at various field hospitals prior to his arrival in the U.S. He was a patient at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, MD, while awaiting the presentation of the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps, 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division.

Place and date: Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 3 March 1945.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as leader of an assault group attached to the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division during hand-to-hand combat with enemy Japanese at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, on 3 March 1945. Standing watch alternately with another marine in a terrain studded with caves and ravines, Sgt. Harrell was holding a position in a perimeter defense around the company command post when Japanese troops infiltrated our lines in the early hours of dawn. Awakened by a sudden attack, he quickly opened fire with his carbine and killed 2 of the enemy as they emerged from a ravine in the light of a star shellburst. Unmindful of his danger as hostile grenades fell closer, he waged a fierce lone battle until an exploding missile tore off his left hand and fractured his thigh. He was vainly attempting to reload the carbine when his companion returned from the command post with another weapon. Wounded again by a Japanese who rushed the foxhole wielding a saber in the darkness, Sgt. Harrell succeeded in drawing his pistol and killing his opponent and then ordered his wounded companion to a place of safety. Exhausted by profuse bleeding but still unbeaten, he fearlessly met the challenge of 2 more enemy troops who charged his position and placed a grenade near his head. Killing 1 man with his pistol, he grasped the sputtering grenade with his good right hand, and, pushing it painfully toward the crouching soldier, saw his remaining assailant destroyed but his own hand severed in the explosion. At dawn Sgt. Harrell was evacuated from a position hedged by the bodies of 12 dead Japanese, at least 5 of whom he had personally destroyed in his self-sacrificing defense of the command post. His grim fortitude, exceptional valor, and indomitable fighting spirit against almost insurmountable odds reflect the highest credit upon himself and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

He was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at the White House on Friday, 5 October 1945. Sgt Harrell was discharged from the Marine Corps at his present rank in February 1946 because of disability resulting from his wounds.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart
Presidential Unit Citation
Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 1 Bronze Star
World War II Victory Medal

Murder, Death and Burial

Sergeant William George Harrell died by his own hand on 9 August 1964 in San Antonio, TX. He is buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, TX, in Section W, Grave 3247.

The tragic circumstances surrounding Harrell's death remain a mystery. On the evening of 8 August 1964, Harrell had been at a party with friends. Sometime after midnight on 9 August, in his own residence, Harrell shot and killed his friends, Mr. and Mrs. Zumwalt, and then turned the gun on himself. The bodies were discovered the following morning by Harrell's family when they returned from an out-of-town trip. The motivation for the killings was never determined.

Honoree ID: 1430   Created by: MHOH




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