During the World War II Battle of Peleliu, six marines selflessly threw themselves on top of grenades to protect the men around them, earning them each the Medal of Honor, though five had to be awarded posthumously.
The Battle of Peleliu was waged on the small Pacific island now known as Palau from September to November 1944. It was supposed to be a short battle to take the island’s airstrip, but the Japanese were better fortified than expected, causing the battle to drag on for two months. Fought by the First Marine Division and the army’s 81st Infantry Division, the bloody battle had the highest casualty rate in the Pacific.
The first day of battle, 15 September, saw 25-year-old First Lieutenant Carlton Rouh of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, perform his act of bravery. He was checking to make sure a Japanese pillbox was clear when he was shot by the Japanese hiding inside it. He was being helped to safety by two men when the Japanese threw a grenade at them. Rouh pushed the men aside and covered the grenade with his body to shield them. Despite being pierced through the lung, Rouh survived the blast.
Also on the 15th, 20-year-old Corporal Lewis Bausell of the same battalion was clearing out pillboxes along with other marines when a Japanese soldier came at some of them with a grenade that killed the Japanese soldier and injured the marines around him. Then another Japanese soldier threw a grenade at the marines, so Bausell threw himself on the grenade to protect the others. He died three days later from his wounds.
Three days later, on the 18th, 21-year-old Private First Class Charles Roan of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, was ordered to withdraw along with his squad, since they had gotten partially cut off from their company. Before they could make it back, they got into a grenade fight with some Japanese in a nearby cave. One of the Japanese grenades injured Roan, but when another landed near him, he covered it with his body. His death saved the lives of four men.
On the 25th, a week after PFC Roan’s actions, 20-year-old PFC John New of that same battalion was in an observation post for directing mortar fire along with two other marines when a Japanese soldier threw a grenade at them. New threw himself on the grenade, losing his own life but saving the lives of the other two marines.
A little over a week after that, on 3 October, 18-year-old PFC Richard Kraus of the 8th Amphibious Tractor Battalion, 3rd Amphibious Corps, volunteered to go with three others to rescue an injured marine from the front lines. However, the group eventually had to turn back because of the number of grenades being thrown at them. On their way back, they came across two Japanese soldiers, one of whom threw a grenade at the group. Klaus sacrificed himself for his three fellow marines by absorbing the full impact of the blast.
The next day, the 4th, 21-year-old PFC Wesley Phelps of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, took part in a grenade battle with some Japanese on the opposite side of a crest. Phelps was in a foxhole with another marine when a grenade landed between them. Phelps yelled a warning to his friend, then rolled on top of the grenade, losing his life but saving the other man.