Major Henry Talmage Elrod, USMC, Medal of Honor, WWII
Major Henry Talmage Elrod, USMC, Medal of Honor, WWII

BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D.     Henry Talmage Elrod was born on September 27, 1905. Elrod spent his childhood at the place of his birth, Turner County, Georgia. After spending time at the University of Georgia and Yale University , Elrod joined the Marine Corps in December, 1927, and was appointed a Marine second lieutenant in February, 1931.

After spending more than 12 months at the Marine Corps Basic School in Philadelphia as a student aviator, Elrod was posted to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida. There he served as a company officer and as student aviator. Earning his wings in February, 1935, he was transferred to Marine Corps Base Quantico, where he served as a Marine Aviator until January, 1938. While at Quantico, Elrod also served as his squadron’s school, personnel, and welfare officer.

Leaving Quantico in July, 1938, Elrod was posted to a squadron in San Diego and served as their material, parachute, and personnel officer.  In January, 1941, he was detached to the Hawaiian area.

On December 4, 1941, Captain Elrod along with twelve aircraft, twelve pilots, and the ground crew of Major Paul Putnam’s fighter squadron, VMF-211 flew to Wake Island.  As they say, the rest is history.  Hostilities in the air over Wake Island commenced on December 8, 1941. On December 12, Elrod single-handedly attacked a flight of 22 enemy planes and shot down two. He took part in several low-altitude bombing and strafing runs on enemy ships; during one of these attacks, he became the first man to sink a warship, the Japanese destroyer Kisaragi, with small caliber bombs delivered from a fighter aircraft.

Elrod had a couple of other firsts to his credit. He was the first Marine Aviator to receive a Medal of Honor.  He was also the first Marine Aviator recipient of the Medal of Honor to be married to a Marine.

Eventually, as a result of the overwhelming enemy hostile fire, all the U.S. aircraft had been destroyed .  Elrod organized his remaining troops into a beach defense unit which repulsed repeated Japanese attacks. On December 23, 1941, Captain Elrod was mortally wounded while protecting his men who were carrying ammunition to a gun emplacement.

On November 8, 1946, Elrod was posthumously promoted to Major and his widow was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for his heroic actions during the defense of Wake Island. His widow is also a former commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Major Henry T. Elrod was initially buried on Wake Island, but was reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in October 1947 His grave can be found in Section 12, Grave 3246.

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

CAPTAIN HENRY T. ELROD
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while attached to Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED ELEVEN, during action against enemy Japanese land, surface and aerial units at Wake Island, from 8 to 23 December 1941. Engaging vastly superior forces of enemy bombers and warships on 9 and 12 December, Captain Elrod shot down two of a flight of twenty-two hostile planes and, executing repeated bombing and strafing runs at extremely low altitude and close range, succeeded in inflicting deadly damage upon a large Japanese vessel, thereby sinking the first major warship to be destroyed by small caliber bombs delivered from a fighter-type aircraft. When his plane was disabled by hostile fire and no other ships were operative, Captain Elrod assumed command of one flank of the line set up in defiance of the enemy landing and conducting a brilliant defense, enabled his men to hold their positions and repulse determined Japanese attacks, repeatedly proceeding through intense hostile fusillades to provide covering fire for unarmed ammunition carriers. Capturing an automatic weapon during one enemy rush in force, he gave his own firearm to one of his men and fought on vigorously against the Japanese. Responsible in a large measure of the strength of his sector’s gallant resistance, on 23 December, Captain Elrod led his men with bold aggressiveness until he fell, mortally wounded. His superb skill as a pilot, daring leadership and unswerving devotion to duty distinguished him among the defenders of Wake Island, and his valiant conduct reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

/S/HARRY S. TRUMAN

Wreckage of Wildcat 211-F-11, flown by Major (then Captain) Elrod on December 11, 1941, in the attack that sank the Japanese destroyer Kisaragi.

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