Courage in Action

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It was 65 years ago, almost to the day when William D. Halyburton,  Jr. made the ultimate sacrifice – he laid down his life to save another.

Halyburton was 19 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as Apprentice Seaman in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class William David Halyburton Jr. was a recent graduate of New Hanover High School, Wilmington, N.C. His enrollment at Davidson College, Davidson, N.C., where he planned to prepare himself for the ministry, was put aside to go into the United States Navy during World War II.


One week after his enlistment on August 4, 1943, he transferred to the Naval Training Station, Bainbridge, Maryland, where he was advanced to Seaman Second Class in the fall.

While he trained at the Hospital Corps School, also in Bainbridge, his rating changed to Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class.

During the next 2 years, he took instruction at several training centers completing his training and receiving the rank of Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class.

After combat training at Camp Pendleton, California, he embarked aboard the transport U.S.S. General M. M. Patrick on December 14 to join the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, leaving the United States for duty on the island of Okinawa.

On May 10, 1945, the Marines moved out to attack Awacha Draw, a strategically important ravine.

Heavily supported by flamethrower tanks and artillery, the 2d Battalion succeeded in advancing into the heart of Awacha itself.  Suddenly the enemy attacked the Marines and a heavy concentration of mortar, machine-gun and sniper fire fell down on them, causing numerous casualties.

Unhesitatingly, Halyburton rushed across the draw, exposing himself to intense enemy fire, to help the wounded.  As he ministered to a wounded Marine, the man was hit a second time by an enemy bullet.  Halyburton shielded his patient with his body, thereby placing himself in the line of fire.

Although the area around him as swept with shrapnel and bullets, Halyburton persevered in his life-saving efforts until he suffered mortal wounds.

By his selfless act on the hotly contested Japanese-held island of Okinawa, Halyburton, a Navy pharmacist’s mate second class, distinguished himself in a manner worthy of the Medal Of Honor.

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to


for service as set forth in the following


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Marine ‘Rifle Company in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyu Chain on 19 May 1945. Undaunted by the deadly accuracy of Japanese counter fire as hit unit pushed the attack through a strategically important draw, Petty Officer Halyburton unhesitatingly dashed across the draw and up the hill into an open fire swept field where the Company advance squad was suddenly pinned down under a terrific concentration of mortar, – machinegun, and sniper fire with resultant severe casualties. Moving steadily forward despite the enemy’s merciless barrage, he reached the wounded Marine who lay farthest away and was rendering first aid when his patient was struck f or the second time by a Japanese bullet. Instantly placing himself in direct line of fire, Petty Officer Halyburton shielded the fallen fighter with his own body and staunchly continued his ministrations although constantly menaced by the slashing fury of shrapnel and bullet falling on all sides. Alert, determined, and completely unselfish in his concern f or the helpless Marine, he persevered in his efforts until he himself sustained mortal wounds and collapsed, heroically sacrificing himself that his comrade might live. By his outstanding valor, uncommon initiative, and unwavering dedication to duty, Petty Officer Halyburton reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

If you don’t have any personal heroes in your life to honor this Memorial Day, spare a thought for  William Halyburton.

You can visit his final resting place section O grave 274 at the National Memorial Cemetery of The Pacific.

Duane A. Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights.” He also writes a weekly column “in The Big Island Reporter”. Reach him at