May 26, 2023

Memorial Day: Maj. Henry Courtney, Jr., USMC

Monday is Memorial Day. This year, I want to leave you with a story about a Marine Corps officer who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism during the Battle of Okinawa. Less than 20% of Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously – but one of those recipients was a young lawyer named Henry Courtney, Jr.  Here’s a link to his bio on the Defense Department’s website, and this is his Medal of Honor citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as executive officer of the 2d Battalion, 22d Marines, 6th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima, in the Ryukyu Islands, 14 and 15 May 1945. Ordered to hold for the night in static defense behind Sugar Loaf Hill after leading the forward elements of his command in a prolonged firefight, Maj. Courtney weighed the effect of a hostile night counterattack against the tactical value of an immediate marine assault, resolved to initiate the assault, and promptly obtained permission to advance and seize the forward slope of the hill. Quickly explaining the situation to his small remaining force, he declared his personal intention of moving forward and then proceeded on his way, boldly blasting nearby cave positions and neutralizing enemy guns as he went.

Inspired by his courage, every man followed him without hesitation, and together the intrepid marines braved a terrific concentration of Japanese gunfire to skirt the hill on the right and reach the reverse slope. Temporarily halting, Maj. Courtney sent guides to the rear for more ammunition and possible replacements. Subsequently reinforced by 26 men and an LVT load of grenades, he determined to storm the crest of the hill and crush any planned counterattack before it could gain sufficient momentum to effect a breakthrough. Leading his men by example rather than by command, he pushed ahead with unrelenting aggressiveness, hurling grenades into cave openings on the slope with devastating effect. Upon reaching the crest and observing large numbers of Japanese forming for action less than 100 yards away, he instantly attacked, waged a furious battle, and succeeded in killing many of the enemy and in forcing the remainder to take cover in the caves.

Determined to hold, he ordered his men to dig in and, coolly disregarding the continuous hail of flying enemy shrapnel, to rally his weary troops, tirelessly aided casualties and assigned his men to more advantageous positions. Although instantly killed by a hostile mortar burst while moving among his men, Maj. Courtney, by his astute military acumen, indomitable leadership, and decisive action in the face of overwhelming odds, had contributed essentially to the success of the Okinawa campaign. His great personal valor throughout sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

If you visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s website, you can read the citations for each recipient of our nation’s highest award for valor. This Memorial Day, I’d encourage you to take a few moments to read a few of the citations for posthumous awards, and if you do, maybe keep these words from Archibald MacLeish in mind:

Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope
Or for nothing, we cannot say, it is you who must say this
They say we leave you our deaths, give them their meaning
We were young, they say, we have died, remember us.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend. Our blogs will be back on Tuesday.

 John Jenkins