Honoring Utah’s Medal of Honor Recipients

Wednesday, March 25 marks National Medal of Honor Day, which honors those who have received the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.

Take a brief look at the Utahns who have received the nation’s highest military award for their extraordinary bravery and sacrifice.

 


Mervyn Sharp Bennion

Bennion, who was born in Vernon, Utah Territory, graduated third in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910.

As captain of the USS West Virginia, he was stationed in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He was mortally wounded by a splinter when a bomb exploded on the USS Tennessee, but despite his grave injuries, he continued to direct operations at his post. In the process, Bennion saved the lives of numerous sailors and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. 

In 2016, the Utah Department of Veterans & Military Affairs named the Central Utah Veterans Home in his honor on the 75th anniversary of his death.


William Edward Hall

Hall, who was born in Storrs, Utah, joined the United States Naval Reserve in 1938. By May 1942, he was a Lieutenant, Junior Grade and scout plane pilot with Lexington’s Scouting Squadron 2.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Hall repeated and effectively executed counterattacks against a superior number of enemy planes despite heavy and fierce fighter opposition. On May 8, after taking down three enemy planes, Hall was seriously wounded, but still successfully brought his damaged scout-bomber safely back aboard his ship.

After his service, Hall served in the Veterans Administration for 26 years. He passed away in 1996 and is buried in Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.


Brian Miles Thacker

Utah’s only Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient, Thacker is from Ohio but graduated from Weber State University in 1969. He was drafted and commissioned as a First Lieutenant through the Army ROTC Program.

While serving as a First Lieutenant, his base, in the Kontum Province of Vietnam, was attacked by enemy forces. He played a crucial role in the defense of the base, sitting in a dangerously exposed observation position while directing friendly airstrikes and artillery fire against the assaulting enemy forces. When evacuation became necessary, he stayed behind to cover the retreat and became trapped behind enemy lines. 

Thacker successfully evaded capture, despite being injured, until he was rescued by friendly forces eight days later.

For his bravery, President Richard Nixon awarded Thatcher with the Medal of Honor on Oct. 15, 1973.


Jose F. Valdez 

Although he was born in New Mexico, Valdez joined the Army in Pleasant Grove, Utah, where the National Guard building now bears his name. 

On January 25, 1945, Valdez was on patrol with five of his fellow soldiers near Rosenkranz, France, when they unexpectedly confronted an enemy counterattack. Valdez opened fire against an enemy tank headed towards the patrol. He managed to force the tank to withdraw and killed three enemy soldiers, resulting in the Germans to send in two companies of infantrymen. 

He then offered to cover the members of his platoon as they withdrew and successfully escaped back to American lines. Severely wounded, Valdez managed to drag himself back to American lines but succumbed to his injuries three weeks later. 


George Edward Wahlen

Wahlen, who was born in Ogden, Utah, was a Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class in the Navy when U.S. Marines began an assault on Iwo Jima, an island south of Japan. 

While onshore, Wahlen was wounded three times in thirteen days. Despite his injuries, he continued to tirelessly treat others who were wounded and provide assistance to his combat group. On March 3, 1945, a shell went off near Wahlen, killing several Marines outright and breaking Wahlen’s leg. He crawled 50 yards administer first aid to still another fallen fighter. 

Wahlen spent nine months recovering from his injuries and after being discharged, he re-enlisted in the Army, becoming an officer and serving in the Korea and Vietnam Wars. After retiring from service, he spent a decade working for the Veterans Administration.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City as well as the Veterans’ Nursing Home in Ogden, Utah, are both named in his honor. Wahlen died at age 84 and was buried on June 12, 2009.


Note: In addition to these five Medal of Honors accredited to Utah, several other individuals with Utah ties have received the award. These include Bernard Francis Fisher, Edward Stanley Michael, Gerry H. Kisters and Frederick Jarvis. Additionally, Peter Tomich is often included in lists of Medal of Honor recipient ties due to his heroism aboard the USS Utah during the attack on Pearl Harbor. 


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