BY DUANE A VACHON, PH.D. – Ida and Luther Skaggs had no way of knowing that the son born to them in the early morning hours of March 3rd 1923 would become the first enlisted man to head the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, an honor he shared with three generals.
Born in Henderson, Kentucky, and named after his father Luther, he joined the Marines in October 1942. After completing his initial training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Skaggs left for the Pacific theatre and eventually the Island of Guam on March 1st 1943, two days before his 20th birthday. Skaggs was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division as a mortar man.
In December 1941, 5,000 Japanese Marines had captured the Island of Guam from 400 Marines and Sailors.
The Americans needed to retake Guam, and in July 1944, landed on the beach at Asan-Adelup. Shortly after the landing, the section leader became a casualty. Skaggs immediately took control and moved his section 200 yards up the beach to a strategic position.
During the defense of this position, Skaggs was wounded by a Japanese grenade. Rather than call a corpsman and give away his outfit’s position, he calmly applied a tourniquet to his bleeding leg and for several hours continued to return the enemy’s fire with his rifle and hand grenades.
After fighting for many hours from his foxhole and when the Japanese in his area had been totally defeated, he left his position and moved with no help to the rear to seek medical attention. He lost his leg as the result of the wound.
Skaggs became known as a “tough little guy” by his buddies, who said they had no idea that he had been hit until the battle was over. He was promoted to corporal upon being honorably discharged from active service in the Marine Corps on April 4, 1946.
Skaggs’ stoicism and courage were to gain him this nation’s highest medal for bravery, the Medal of Honor, and a promotion to corporal. But the cost was high – the lower part of his leg.
On June 15th 1945 in a ceremony at the White House, The Medal of Honor was presented to him by President Harry S. Truman.
In the Medal of Honor citation, Skaggs is commended for being uncomplaining and calm through this critical period and serving as “a heroic example of courage and fortitude to other wounded men.”
Medal of Honor citation:
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
SKAGGS, LUTHER, JR.
Rank and Organization: Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division. Place and Date Asan-Adelup beachhead, Guam, Marianas Islands, 21 -22 July 1944. Entered Service at: Kentucky. Born: 3 March 1923, Henderson, Ky.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as squad leader with a mortar section of a rifle company in the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on the Asan-Adelup beachhead, Guam, Marianas Islands, 21 -22 July 1944. When the section leader became a casualty under a heavy mortar barrage shortly after landing, Pfc. Skaggs promptly assumed command and led the section through intense fire for a distance of 200 yards to a position from which to deliver effective coverage of the assault on a strategic cliff. Valiantly defending this vital position against strong enemy counterattacks during the night, Pfc. Skaggs was critically wounded when a Japanese grenade lodged in his foxhole and exploded, shattering the lower part of one leg. Quick to act, he applied an improvised tourniquet and, while propped up in his foxhole, gallantly returned the enemy’s fire with his rifle and hand grenades for a period of 8 hours, later crawling unassisted to the rear to continue the fight until the Japanese had been annihilated. Uncomplaining and calm throughout this critical period, Pfc. Skaggs served as a heroic example of courage and fortitude to other wounded men and, by his courageous leadership and inspiring devotion to duty, upheld the high traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Corporal Luther Skaggs, Jr. is interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 46.