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Hero Not Forgotten

USC Alumnus and army dentist Benjamin Lewis Salomon posthumously awarded Medal of Honor.

by Tom Tugend

May 30, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Almost 58 years after U.S. Army dentist Capt. Benjamin Lewis Salomon was killed defending his aid station against Japanese troops, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the American military's highest decoration, by President Bush.

Salomon, a Los Angeles native, was 29 years old and acting as surgeon with the 27th Infantry Division on the South Pacific island of Saipan, when his battalion was attacked by thousands of Japanese soldiers on July 7, 1944.

As Bush recounted during a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 1, "the advancing enemy soon descended on Capt. Salomon's aid station. To defend the wounded men in his care, he ordered comrades to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded. He went out to face the enemy alone, and was last heard shouting, 'I'll hold them off until you get them to safety. See you later.'

"In the moments that followed, Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers, saving many American lives but sacrificing his own. As best the army could tell, he was shot 24 times before he fell, more than 50 times after that. And when they found his body, he was still at his [machine] gun."

Salomon graduated from the USC dental school, "itself a triumph at a time when American universities limited the number of Jews they accepted," the Los Angeles Times reported.

After his 1937 graduation, Salomon tried unsuccessfully to enlist as a dentist in both the American and Canadian armies. In 1940, he was drafted and trained as an infantryman, excelling as a rifle marksman and machine-gunner.

In 1942, he was finally commissioned as a regimental dentist, but during the Saipan invasion he volunteered to replace his unit's wounded surgeon.

Salomon was unmarried, an only child and had no immediate relatives to receive the Medal of Honor, Dr. Robert West of Calabasas accepted in their place. West, a dentist and USC alumnus, had lobbied the Army for years to recognize Salomon's heroism.

"I think Ben Salomon is smiling down on us today," West told the president.

The award to Salomon is independent of a list of 138 war veterans, whose records are currently under review by the Pentagon to determine whether they were denied the Medal of Honor because of past discrimination against Jewish servicemen.

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