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This Day in History: Billy Halyburton’s sacrifice at Okinawa

On this day in 1945, a United States Navy hospital corpsman engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. William David Halyburton was a North Carolina native who had once planned to serve as a minister.

In fact, Halyburton had gone so far as to enroll in Davidson College, where he planned to complete his studies. But then all his plans got put on hold. He joined the Navy in August 1943, just two days after his 19th birthday.

By the time Halyburton left for the Pacific in December 1944, he was a Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class. On May 10, 1945, he was serving with a Marine Rifle Company at Okinawa. The Marines were pushing back against an intense attack. Unfortunately, as Halyburton’s Medal citation describes, the Japanese were shooting down our Marines with “deadly accuracy.”

Halyburton was undeterred. Those Marines needed help, and he intended to give it to them.

He dashed across an open field amidst “a terrific concentration of mortar, machinegun and sniper fire,” and he made it to the wounded Marine who was farthest away. He was administering first aid when his patient was hit yet again by another Japanese bullet. Halyburton promptly used his body to shield the fallen Marine from the shrapnel and bullets that were flying everywhere. He continued on with his first aid, refusing to leave his patient. Unfortunately, Halyburton took a hit while he was working to save the wounded Marine. The wound was mortal.

Think about it. As Halyburton set off across that field, he couldn’t have known whether the Marine was already too wounded to survive. He put his life on the line anyway, hoping it would be enough to save the Marine. And he went after the Marine who was farthest away and hardest to save.

Brave. Selfless. Heroic.

One of Halyburton’s high school classmates would later speak of the boy he’d known: “Billy Halyburton was one of a kind. . . . He was a man, all right, but he was still a compassionate, caring individual who belied his wartime status. Billy was one of those who truly believed in caring for his fellow man. That was his duty, that was his outlook, that was his way of life.”

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