BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. George Wahlen was born in Ogden Utah in 1924. His parents Albert and Doris were salt of the earth hard working Mormons. At age 17, Wahlen trained as an aircraft mechanic and served at Hill Field in Utah, leading five other mechanics as crew chief for the United States Army Air Corps. His father refused to signed the enlistment papers, so George waited until his 18th birthday before volunteering for the draft. When he volunteered for the draft, he thought there would be a good chance he would be working on aircraft in light of his past experience. As those of us who have served in the military know, common sense and logic don’t always come out on top. Whalen ended up being trained as a Navy Corpsman. Fearing that he would end up making beds and emptying bedpans for the duration of the war he volunteered for combat duty with the Marine Corps. He request was granted and he was attached to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division, as a pharmacist’s mate second class, and participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945.
In September of 1944 Wahlen and his unit were put on board a ship headed for Guam. They were about half way to Guam when the senior brass decided that they were not needed in Guam and the ship was ordered to return to Hawaii where the unit did another six months of training. In February 1945 they embarked again, this time heading for Iwo Jima. This time there would be no turning back.
As he was going ashore on February 19, Wahlen made his landing at Iwo Jima on February 19th 1945. He was a “Jack Mormon” not a practicing Mormon but he found himself praying, “Please help me not let one of my buddies down; please help me do my job.” His prayers were heard, his unit was in constant action over the next several days. Whilst treating a wounded Marine on February 26th Whalen himself was wounded by an enemy grenade that sent shrapnel into his face leaving him temporarily blinded in one eye. Wahlen refused treatment and carried on doing his work in the midst of intense fighting. At one point despite the intense fire, he ran through the fire to carry a wounded Marine to safety on his back. When an adjacent unit lost its corpsman, he ran intense rifle and heavy mortar fire to take care of its wounded. He treated 14 of their wounded before returning to his own unit.
Although wounded again on March 2, Wahlen refused to be evacuated. On the following day March 3, he moved out with his company in an assault that took the unit over more than six hundred yards of open terrain in the face of heavy Japanese fire. Wahlen received another wound in his leg and was unable to walk. Despite his own wounds he crawled fifty yards through intense Japanese fire to assist another wounded Marine. Of the 240 men in Wahlen’s company, only five came through the battle of Iwo Jima without being wounded or killed. Counting replacements brought up during the fighting, the company suffered a 125 percent casualty rate.
Wahlen was taken back to Guam on a hospital ship, then to Hawaii, and finally to Camp Pendleton, where he was hospitalized until his release from the Navy in December 1945. While at Pendleton, he received two Navy Crosses and was ordered to go to Washington to receive the Medal of Honor. President Harry Truman made the presentation on October 5, 1945. “Well,” he said to Wahlen with a smile, “I’m sure glad a pill pusher finally made it up here.”
After being discharged from the Navy Wahlen attended Weber State College and received an Associates Degree. After graduating from Weber he entered the U.S. Army where he served in various capacities in the medical field for 20 years including a tour of duty in Korea and Vietnam. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Church College of Hawaii. In 1969 he retired from the Armed Forces and was employed by the Veteran’s Administration for 12 years. At this time he completed 2 years of graduate study at the University of Utah. His personal awards include: The Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, three Purple Hearts, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one star and the Vietnam Service Medal with four campaign stars, the Direct Service to Public Award from the Central Office of the Veterans Administration in Washington D.C. and the Weber State College Presidential Citation for service to the veteran students and many other recognitions
Medal of Honor
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class George Edward Wahlen, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Medical Corpsman with Company F, Second Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, FIFTH Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima in the Volcano group on 3 March 1945. Painfully wounded in the bitter action on 26 February, Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class Wahlen remained on the battlefield, advancing well forward of the frontlines to aid a wounded Marine and carrying him back to safety despite a terrific concentration of fire. Tireless in his ministrations, he consistently disregarded all danger to attend his fighting comrades as they fell under the devastating rain of shrapnel and bullets, and rendered prompt assistance to various elements of his combat group as required. When an adjacent platoon suffered heavy casualties, he defied the continuous pounding of heavy mortars and deadly fire of enemy rifles to care for the wounded, working rapidly in an area swept by constant fire and treating 14 casualties before returning to his own platoon. Wounded again on 2 March, he gallantly refused evacuation, moving out with his company the following day in a furious assault across 600 yards of open terrain and repeatedly rendering medical aid while exposed to the blasting fury of powerful Japanese guns. Stouthearted and indomitable, he persevered in his determined efforts as his unit waged fierce battle and, unable to walk after sustaining a third agonizing wound, resolutely crawled 50 yards to administer first aid to still another fallen fighter. By his dauntless fortitude and valor, Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class Wahlen served as a constant inspiration and contributed vitally to the high morale of his company during critical phases of this strategically important engagement. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming enemy fire upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Action Date: 3-Mar-45
Rank: Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class
Company: Corpsman (Attached), Company F
Battalion: 2d Battalion
Regiment: 26th Marines
Division: 5th Marine Division
Maj. George Edward Wahlen passed away Friday, June 5, 2009 after a short battle with cancer. His faith strengthened latter in life and he served his church where he has served in many capacities including, Home Teacher, Counselor in the bishopric, and High Priest Group Leader. He is buried at Lindquist’s Memorial Gardens of the Wasatch at Ogden Utah in Section Good Sheppard Family Estate, Lot 115, Space 1.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.