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July 09, 2017

Remembering a Nice Jewish Dentist, 73 Years After His Death

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There isn't all that much we know about Ben Salomon. He has no living relatives that we know of, and any friends or acquaintances have more than likely passed on. With the very youngest of what has been called "The Greatest Generation" now in their late 80s or early 90s, it would take quite a bit of detective work to find anyone who knew him.

What we do know is he was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 1, 1914. He was an Eagle Scout, graduated from Shorewood High School then got his undergraduate degree from Marquette University and from there went on to graduate from the USC Dental School in 1937 and began a dental practice. In 1940, he was drafted into the U.S. Army as a private but by May 1943, he was serving as the regimental dental officer of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, attaining the rank of captain in 1944.

On June 15th of that year, Salomon went ashore on the Japanese bastion of Saipan with the 27th along with two divisions of Marines. It is there, on the night of July 7th where he and his comrades in the 105th found themselves in the middle of the largest banzai charge of the Pacific war.

Medal of Honor Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Captain Ben L. Salomon was serving at Saipan, in the Marianas Islands on July 7, 1944, as the Surgeon for the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. The Regiment's 1st and 2d Battalions were attacked by an overwhelming force estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese soldiers. It was one of the largest attacks attempted in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although both units fought furiously, the enemy soon penetrated the Battalions' combined perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the first minutes of the attack, approximately 30 wounded soldiers walked, crawled, or were carried into Captain Salomon's aid station, and the small tent soon filled with wounded men. As the perimeter began to be overrun, it became increasingly difficult for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then saw a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of the wounded soldiers lying near the tent. Firing from a squatting position, Captain Salomon quickly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his attention back to the wounded, two more Japanese soldiers appeared in the front entrance of the tent. As these enemy soldiers were killed, four more crawled under the tent walls. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their way as best they could back to the regimental aid station, while he attempted to hold off the enemy until they were clear. Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of the wounded and rushed out of the tent. After four men were killed while manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took control of it. When his body was later found, 98 dead enemy soldiers were piled in front of his position. Captain Salomon's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Captain Salomon was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the recommendation was rejected by the 27th's commanding general, citing medical officers and other non-combatants cannot receive the award for offensive actions (although many have suspected anti-semitism played a part in the rejection). Over the years, the recommendation was resubmitted four more times but rejected on the same grounds. Finally, on May 1st, 2002, President Bush presented the medal to the chairman of the USC Dental School, where it is on display.

I've become somewhat obsessed with this story because I believe I might have a connection to Ben Salomon; it's a bit of a stretch but nevertheless it's there. My uncle was a PFC in Company K of the 105th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Division. Now, the 27th is based in New York and at that time many of its ranks came from the Albany/Schenectady/Troy area as well as NYC and elsewhere. Salomon was from Milwaukee and my uncle from Chicago. At 28, he was considerably older than most of the men he served with but just two years younger than Salomon, and both were Jewish. All that considered, there's no doubt in my mind that these two, older Jewish guys from the midwest, surrounded by younger New Yorkers, must have crossed paths and perhaps even developed a friendship.

We'll never know; my uncle was killed a week earlier on July 1st. Had he survived that night, he would have been in the middle of that banzai charge along with Salomon. And had they survived that, and the rest of the bloody battle to take the island, the next stop for the 27th was Okinawa.

It's strange to have a connection to a relative that you never knew. Oddly enough, that connection has grown more profound as the years have passed. My dad (his brother) never talked about him all that much and I never pressed him because I sensed it was too painful. Discovering Ben Salomon's story was exciting in its promise of learning more about my uncle, but aside from the commonalities cited above, there is nothing more to be learned.

As for Captain Ben L. Salomon, what we can say for sure is that he saved dozens of lives, as both a healer and as a soldier.


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posted by J.J. Sefton at 07:15 PM

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