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First Name: Donald

Last Name: Ruhl

Birthplace: Columbus, MT, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: Butte, MT
Middle Name: Jack

Date of Birth: 02 July 1923

Date of Death: 21 February 1945

Rank: Private First Class

Years Served: 1942 - 1945
Donald Jack Ruhl

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Donald Jack Ruhl

Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Private First Class Donald Jack Ruhl (2 July 1923 - 21 February 1945) 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 Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

Donald Jack Ruhl was born in Columbus, MT, on 2 July 1923. Educated in the grammar schools of Columbus, he graduated from high school in Joliet, MT, in 1942.

From 1937 to about May 1942, the blue-eyed, brown-haired youth worked as a general farm hand on a 400-acre farm in Joliet. His wages were $15 a week, including room and board and, as the farm had no mechanical equipment, he worked hard for his pay. In the spring of 1942, shortly before his graduation, he went to work for the Independent Refining Company of Laurel, MT, as a laboratory assistant for $32 a week. His only relaxation was found in hunting small game with his 12-gauge shotgun.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on 12 September 1942 in Butte, MT, and went on active duty the same day. He was transferred to the recruit depot in San Diego, CA, and, during his training, fired a score of 224 with the service rifle to qualify as a sharpshooter. Ruhl also made the grade as a "combat swimmer." For sport, the 5'11, 147-pound farmer boxed in the recruit matches; he also participated in baseball, basketball, and swimming.

Upon completion of boot camp in November, Ruhl was transferred to Company B, Parachute Training School at San Diego. Promoted to Private First Class on 19 December 1942 at the conclusion of the five-week course, the qualified parachutist joined Company C, 3rd Parachute Battalion of the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Elliott in San Diego.

Ruhl went overseas on board the USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) on 12 March 1943 as a 60-millimeter mortar crewman. Enroute to New Caledonia, which was to be a training base for the Parachute Marines, he crossed the equator on 17 March and was duly initiated into the realm of King Neptune.

After six months of training at New Caledonia, his unit sailed for Guadalcanal on board the USS American Legion (APA-17) in September 1943. In October the unit, which was now Company L, 3rd Parachute Battalion, 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, I Marine Amphibious Corps, boarded ship and moved on to the newly-won Vella Lavella island in the Southern Solomons. About two and one-half months later, Ruhl was again aboard ship. This time it was an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), and the destination was Bougainville Island.

The 3rd Parachute Battalion saw its first combat there at Bougainville and then, in January, returned to Guadalcanal from where they sailed for the U.S. aboard the USAT David C. Shanks. Arriving in San Diego on 14 February 1944, Ruhl was transferred to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines of the fledgling 5th Marine Division when the Parachute units were disbanded on 21 February 1944.

Ruhl left the U.S. once more on 19 September 1944, aboard the USAT Sea Corporal. It arrived at Hilo, HI, five days later. He started on his last series of ship rides when he left Hilo on the USS Missoula (APA-211) in January 1945. After stops at Honolulu, Maui, and Eniwetok, he arrived at Saipan in February. There he changed over to the USS LST-481. That ship carried the Marines to the shores of Iwo Jima.

D-Day at Iwo Jima was 19 February 1945. On that day Ruhl and Lieutenant John K. Wells were sent to check out a hump of grass. After they passed the hump, the barrel of a machine gun swiveled out of it toward a group of Marines trying to destroy it. After a few casualties, a Marine managed to drop an incendiary grenade down a hole in the roof. Wells saw smoke coming from a door, which suddenly swung open. All they could see were green sneakers running through the smoke. Wells and Ruhl fired on the Japanese with rifle and submachine gun fire. "One man was still crawling," said Wells more than sixty years later. Ruhl ran up and finished off the Japanese soldier. "He just laid him out for inspection," Wells remembers. After that, Ruhl dug a tank trap and settled in. Early the next morning, he left the safety of his tank trap and moved out, under a tremendous volume of mortar and machine gun fire, to rescue a wounded Marine lying in an exposed position about forty yards forward of the front lines.

Half-carrying and half-pulling the wounded man, Ruhl removed him to a position out of reach of enemy rifles. Calling for an assistant and a stretcher, he again braved the heavy fire to carry the casualty 300 yards back to an aid station on the beach. Returning to his outfit, he volunteered to investigate an apparently abandoned Japanese gun emplacement about seventy-five yards forward of the right flank. By staying in the gun emplacement through the night, he prevented the enemy from again taking possession of the valuable weapon.

The next morning, D-Day plus two, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines pushed forward in the assault against the vast network of fortifications surrounding the base of Mt. Suribachi. During the advance Ruhl, accompanied by Sgt. Harry Hanson, ran up to a trench line unaware that there were Japanese in the trench. He almost "Bonked heads with them" remembers Wells. Ruhl was able to fire only two shots with his Garand. Suddenly an explosive charge was tossed out of the trench and landed at Hanson's feet. Calling a warning to Hanson, Ruhl instantly dove on the explosives and absorbed the full charge of the explosion with his body. His action not only saved Hanson, it also prevented the fragments from wounding other nearby Marines. Rather than using his position on the edge of the bunker to easily drop down into a more protected spot, he sacrificed his life to save his fellow Marines. For his act of heroism, Ruhl was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Two days later, Company E raised the first American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi.

Medal of Honor

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

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifleman in an assault platoon of Company E, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 to 21 February 1945. Quick to press the advantage after 8 Japanese had been driven from a blockhouse on D-day, Pfc. Ruhl single-handedly attacked the group, killing 1 of the enemy with his bayonet and another by rifle fire in his determined attempt to annihilate the escaping troops. Cool and undaunted as the fury of hostile resistance steadily increased throughout the night, he voluntarily left the shelter of his tank trap early in the morning of D-day plus 1 and moved out under a tremendous volume of mortar and machinegun fire to rescue a wounded marine lying in an exposed position approximately 40 yards forward of the line. Half pulling and half carrying the wounded man, he removed him to a defiladed position, called for an assistant and a stretcher and, again running the gauntlet of hostile fire, carried the casualty to an aid station some 300 yards distant on the beach. Returning to his platoon, he continued his valiant efforts, volunteering to investigate and apparently abandoned Japanese gun emplacement 75 yards forward of the right flank during consolidation of the front lines, and subsequently occupying the position through the night to prevent the enemy from repossessing the valuable weapon. Pushing forward in the assault against the vast network of fortifications surrounding Mt. Suribachi the following morning, he crawled with his platoon guide to the top of a Japanese bunker to bring fire to bear on enemy troops located on the far side of the bunker. Suddenly a hostile grenade landed between the 2 marines. Instantly Pfc. Ruhl called a warning to his fellow marine and dived on the deadly missile, absorbing the full impact of the shattering explosion in his own body and protecting all within range from the danger of flying fragments although he might easily have dropped from his position on the edge of the bunker to the ground below. An indomitable fighter, Pfc. Ruhl rendered heroic service toward the defeat of a ruthless enemy, and his valor, initiative and unfaltering spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of almost certain death sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Ruhl's Medal of Honor was presented to his parents on 12 January 1947 at Greybull, WY, where they made their home. The ceremonies were conducted by the veterans' organization of Greybull.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Purple Heart

Death and Burial

Private First Class Donald Jack Ruhl was killed in action on 21 February 1945. Ruhl's body was initially buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, but was later returned to the U.S. and re-interred at Hillside Cemetery in Greybull, WY.

Honoree ID: 1627   Created by: MHOH




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