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This Day in History: The Heroes of Peleliu

On this day in 1925, a hero is born. John D. New was the first person in Mobile, Alabama to join the Marines after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

New is remembered for the sacrifice that he made at the Battle of Peleliu, nearly three years later. Unfortunately, the casualty rate during that World War II battle was high—too high. Americans expected to take the island of Peleliu from the Japanese in a few days. Instead, the effort lasted for two months.

Of the eight men who earned Medals during the conflict, a whopping six of these were awarded to Marines who threw themselves on grenades in order to protect others.

Think about that for a minute. Six Marines saw live grenades and reflexively ran *toward* the danger. Death was almost certain to follow, but they did it anyway to save a fellow Marine.

One of the saddest parts? Their stories can be hard to tell. For one thing, most of these Marines did not live to tell us what they thought or felt during those critical moments. Moreover, from a story-telling standpoint, the move is so quick—and so final: One swift decision, then the moment is done. A life is lost, given for another.

The sacrifice and the bravery are the same. Yet other Medal recipients can get more attention simply because their heroism involved a long, thrilling action sequence that turns into a good story.

At Peleliu, only one Marine ran toward a grenade and lived to tell the tale. His memory of the action is fuzzy. He’d just taken a bullet right below his ribs when a Japanese soldier emerged from a dugout behind him. The enemy soldier threw a grenade toward Carlton R. Rouh and several other Marines.

“I got to my feet,” he later recounted, “I remember that. Then after that I can remember things only in patches with blind spots in between.”

He’d placed himself between the other Marines and the grenade, taking the full brunt of the explosion himself. Another Marine rushed toward Rouh, covering him as more Japanese emerged from the dugout. Rouh was evacuated and miraculously lived.

Five other brave Marines at Peleliu were not so fortunate. They ran toward grenades—and gave their lives.

Today, then, perhaps we can take a moment to remember five Marines with stories that tend to get lost in the shuffle: Charles H. Roan, John D. New, Lewis K. Bausell, Richard E. Kraus, and Wesley Phelps.

Each was a hero.

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