Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Corpsman William Halyburton Jr.


Medal of Honor Recipient Navy Corpsman William Halyburton Jr.
Medal of Honor Recipient Navy Corpsman William Halyburton Jr.

USA – -( Actions worthy of the Medal of Honor don’t always come from a compilation of courageous deeds; they can happen in the shortest window of time. That was likely the case for Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Halyburton Jr., a corpsman who died on his first day in combat toward the end of World War II.

Halyburton was born on Aug. 2, 1924, in Canton, North Carolina, to parents Mae and William Halyburton. He had two brothers, Bob and Joe. In 1940, the family moved to Miami, but Halyburton only stayed for a short while before moving back to North Carolina to live with his aunt and uncle in Wilmington, according to newspaper reports from the 1940s.

Halyburton played sports and was a devout Christian during his time at New Hanover High School, from which he graduated in 1943. He entered the seminary at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina; however, those plans had to be put on hold when he was drafted to serve in World War II.

According to a 2010 Asheville Citizen-Times article, Halyburton was a conscientious objector, meaning he would serve but would not bear arms. So, in August 1943, he was allowed to choose the Naval Reserve, where he joined the hospital corps and spent more than a year in training.

Medal of Honor Recipient Navy Corpsman William Halyburton Jr. Navy Blues
Medal of Honor Recipient Navy Corpsman William Halyburton Jr.

By January 1945, Halyburton had reached the rank of pharmacist’s mate 2nd class and was sent overseas as a medic for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. The division had pushed its way across the Pacific and was preparing to battle for Okinawa, an island near Japan’s home shores.

On May 10, 1945 — Halyburton’s first day in combat, according to his mother — the 1st Marine Division was on the island and preparing to move across the Awacha Draw, a strategically important ravine that was heavily fortified by the Japanese. Americans dubbed it “Death Valley” since many soldiers and Marines fell as they tried to cross it.

Halyburton was serving with a rifle company that day, and he watched a lot of Marines fall. They weren’t able to be carried away to safety, so the wounded were treated where they fell or would have to be retrieved later.

Enemy fire on his unit was intense, but, as they crossed the draw, the young medic didn’t hesitate. He ran across the ravine, up a hill, and into a fire-swept field where his company’s advance squad was pinned down. Despite a nonstop barrage of mortar, machine gun, and sniper fire, Halyburton ran until he reached the furthest wounded Marine.

As he started to give that Marine aid, the wounded man was struck a second time by a Japanese bullet. Halyburton quickly put his own body between the wounded man and the line of fire, continuing to give aid until he was also gravely wounded. The 20-year-old collapsed and died while trying to save his comrade.

Halyburton’s outstanding devotion to duty amid such a terrifying situation led to his immediate nomination for the Medal of Honor. On May 8, 1946 — nearly a full year after he died — Halyburton’s family was presented the nation’s highest honor for valor on his behalf. During a ceremony at Bayfront Park in Miami, Navy Rear Adm. John F. Shafroth Jr. bestowed the medal to Halyburton’s brothers, who had also served in the Navy during the war. Halyburton was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

While he only spent one day in combat, his legacy has lived on. In 1984, the guided-missile frigate USS Halyburton was commissioned in his honor. Several other military structures were also named for him, including Halyburton Naval Health Clinic in Cherry Point, North Carolina; a barracks at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida; and a road at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

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“Greater love hath no man …”

Thank you for these remembrances.


Unfortunately, all too often the good die fast. In conversation with a Norwegian soldier and a German officer, the German said they had killed Norway’s finest men in the first 5 minutes of battle. Never again.


Interesting article. I missed Nam as 1A with a draft number of 39, i.e. Uncle Sam skipped over my draft number as they didn’t draft for the first three months of 72. I enlisted as a CO combat medic in the Army Reserves in 86. Half our Field Hospital unit went to Desert Storm, and half didn’t. As I was in the middle of my final quarter in college I wasn’t activated and DS was over quickly. A salute to fellow COs who serve(ed) our country honorably.


One of my cousins became a combat medic because he didn’t want to have to kill anyone. His death destroyed his family and left a hole in the hearts of the rest of us. He was shot and killed while participating in the rescue of a downed helicopter crew.

SGT Steve Ronald Reiser, Thedford, NE on The Virtual Wall® Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall


I’m sorry to hear about your families loss and heartache. It reminds me of my main teacher for AiT in Houston. He was a Nam medic and on the first day asked if there were any COs in the class. Afterwards he stated that’s okay, they die just as fast as non-COs. However, for those of us who choose to serve our country and yet be true to our faith it isn’t how or when you die, it is where you plan on spending eternity. Notwithstanding, I serve a God who gave his son to death so that ALL might… Read more »


Why is he wearing USMC insignia? When I was in our corpsmen wore navy insignia. WW2 v. Vietnam era?


It is not how long you serve but how you served. God Bless William Halyburton Jr. May you rest in peace.


After victory in Okinawa, troops were preparing for the invasion of mainland Japan. The atomic bombs changed that plan. In the book “Into the Rising Sun”, the book’s author (O’Donnell) quoted one marine who had survived the Okinawa invasion as saying (paraphrased) “It’s a good thing we dropped the atomic bombs. Had I invaded the Japanese mainland, I would’ve killed every man, woman, and child on the island” – an attitude common amongst the battle-weary Marines. I’m feeling the same way about US citizens and their relentless effort to deny me my God-given rights. I’m ready to kill every man, woman, and child… Read more »


Well, at least limit your crazy idea to the adults.


It’s war. War is ugly.