John Harlan Willis
Pharmacist's Mate First Class, U.S. Navy. For actions at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands.
February 28, 1945
Willis was born June 10, 1921, in Columbia, TN, graduated from Columbia High School and enlisted in November 1940. After receiving several promotions, Willis worked organizing and training units for overseas service. After being promoted to Pharmacist's Mate First Class, he joined the Training Detachment at Camp Elliott, San Diego, CA, and transferred in early 1944 to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, CA.
As a platoon corpsman with the 3rd Battalion, he participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima. On February 28, 1945, he was wounded while aiding injured Marines near Japanese-held Hill 362. He was ordered back to the battle-aid station but disregarded his injuries and returned to the battle to resume aid to the injured. He was helping a wounded Marine when the enemy attacked with hand grenades. Willis threw eight grenades back at the enemy, but was killed when one exploded in his hand. For his actions during the battle, Willis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Willis was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia. The destroyer escort USS John Willis (DE-1027) bears his name. A barracks at the now-closed Naval Hospital in Millington, TN was named Willis Hall. Now part of the University of Memphis' Millington Center it retains the name Willis Hall.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Platoon Corpsman serving with the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, during operations against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, February 28, 1945. Constantly imperiled by artillery and mortar fire from strong and mutually supporting pillboxes and caves studding Hill 362 in the enemy's cross-island defenses, Willis resolutely administered first aid to the many marines wounded during the furious close-in fighting until he himself was struck by shrapnel and was ordered back to the battle-aid station. Without waiting for official medical release, he quickly returned to his company and, during a savage hand-to-hand enemy counterattack, daringly advanced to the extreme frontlines under mortar and sniper fire to aid a marine Iying wounded in a shellhole. Completely unmindful of his own danger as the Japanese intensified their attack, Willis calmly continued to administer blood plasma to his patient, promptly returning the first hostile grenade which landed in the shell-hole while he was working and hurling back 7 more in quick succession before the ninth one exploded in his hand and instantly killed him. By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life, he inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force. His exceptional fortitude and courage in the performance of duty reflect the highest credit upon Willis and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.