Bush Awards Medals of Honor to WWII, Vietnam Soldiers (Updated)
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 2, 2002 Proving heroism has no deadline, President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously May 1 to a World War II Army dentist who died while single- handedly fighting off a horde of enemy troops and to an Army pilot who died marking enemy targets to save friendly soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Sandra Swanson, flanked by daughters Brigid Swanson Jones and Holly Walker, accepts President Bush's thanks and praise for her husband's sacrifice during the Vietnam War. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Capt. Jon E. Swanson at the White House May 1, 2002. Photo by Joe Burlas.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Bush awarded the medals at a White House Rose Garden ceremony. Dr. (Capt.) Benjamin L. Salomon received the award for heroism on the Pacific island of Saipan on July 7, 1944. Capt. Jon E. Swanson received the award for his bravery on Feb. 26, 1971, in the skies over Cambodia.
Swanson's family received the award from the president. Salomon, who has no living relatives, was represented by Dr. Robert West, a fellow alumnus of the University of Southern California dental school. West was the individual most responsible for pursuing the award for Salomon.
Salomon was a dentist serving as a surgeon with the 27th Infantry Division. The division had invaded Saipan, in the Marianas Islands. He was at his battalion's aid station when the unit came under a massive attack by thousands of Japanese soldiers.
"The American units sustained massive casualties, and the advancing enemy soon descended on Captain Salomon's aid station," President Bush said during the ceremony.
Salomon killed several enemy soldiers as they tried to enter the aid station from different directions. As the attacks continued, he ordered comrades to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded.
"He went out to face the enemy alone and was last heard shouting, 'I'll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later,'" Bush said.
Salomon replaced a dead machine gun crew and began firing on the attackers. When American troops retook the ground, they found his body still at the machine gun -- and surrounded by 98 dead Japanese soldiers.
No one doubted Salomon deserved the Medal of Honor. Soon after the action, his regimental commander put him in for the award. The paperwork stopped after division strictly interpreted a Geneva Convention rule that medical personnel cannot receive valor awards.
The time limit on nominations had passed by the time a different interpretation came through -- that medical personnel could receive valor awards if they were defending their patients and aid stations or hospitals.
Many people tried to get Salomon his due in the intervening years, but paperwork was misplaced or lost, the Army couldn't find two people who witnessed his heroism, and so on. Robert West took on the effort five years ago, and Ben Salomon finally received the recognition he deserved.
Swanson was an Army pilot supporting South Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. He was serving his second tour in Vietnam. Flying an OH-6 helicopter, Swanson was called in to provide close air support.
"Flying at tree-top level, he found and engaged the enemy, exposing himself to intense fire from the ground," Bush said. "He ran out of heavy ordnance, yet continued to drop smoke grenades to mark other targets for nearby gunships.
"Captain Swanson made it back to safety, his ammunition nearly gone, and his scout helicopter heavily damaged," Bush continued. "Had he stayed on the ground, no one would have faulted him. 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."
The Swanson family came to Washington to receive his medal, but also to bury his remains.
When Swanson was shot down in 1971, the Army listed him and his observer, Staff Sgt. Larry Harrison, as "killed in action – body not recovered." U.S. military officials kept trying to recover the two men's remains, however.
In 1992, a joint U.S.-Cambodian search team found wreckage, crew artifacts, small fragments of human remains, data plates and other evidence. All these were sent to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
Recovery teams went back into the site in 1999 and found more human remains after expanding the search area. CIL scientists identified Swanson and Harrison in late 2001. On May 3, 2002, the two will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
Swanson received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions even though he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. A review of his actions upgraded the award.
"The two events we recognize today took place a generation apart, but they represent the same tradition," Bush said. "That tradition of military valor and sacrifice has preserved our country, and continues to this day. Captain Salomon and Captain Swanson never lived to wear this medal, but they will be honored forever in the memory of our country."