John Harlan Willis was born on 10 June 1921 in Columbia, Tennessee. Following graduation from high school, in November 1940 he enlisted from that state as an Apprentice Seaman in the U.S. Navy. He received recruit training at Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia and corpsman training at the Norfolk Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia. In March 1941, Willis was promoted to Seaman, Second Class and was briefly assigned to the Naval Hospital, Parris Island, South Carolina, transferring to Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida in the late spring. In August 1941 he was promoted to Hospital Apprentice First Class and, in December, to Pharmacist's Mate Third Class. After receiving a promotion to Pharmacist's Mate Second Class in September 1942, Willis served with Naval Operating Base Units, organizing and training units for overseas service. In July 1943 he was promoted to Pharmacist's Mate First Class. That November he joined the Training Detachment, Field Medical School Battalion, Fleet Marine Force Training Center at Camp Elliot, San Diego, California, transferring in early 1944 to Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, Twenty-seventh Marines, Fifth Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California.
With his unit, he participated as a Platoon Corpsman in the battle of Iwo Jima. On 28 February 1945, while aiding fallen Marines during a fierce action near Japanese-held Hill 362, he was wounded and ordered back to the battle-aid station. Disregarding his injuries, Willis returned to the battle area to resume casualty assistance. He was helping a wounded Marine when the enemy attacked with hand grenades. After throwing eight grenades back at the enemy, he was killed when one exploded in his hand. For his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, " he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. John H. Willis is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery, Columbia, Tennessee.
USS John Willis (DE-1027), 1957-1973, was named in honor of Pharmacist's Mate First Class John H. Willis.
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Photo #: NH 76441-A
Pharmacist's Mate First Class John H. Willis, USN
Halftone reproduction of a photograph, copied from the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 281.
John H. Willis was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life" on 28 February 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Online Image: 54KB; 590 x 765 pixels
Medal of Honor citation of Pharmacist's Mate First Class John Harlan Willis, USN (as printed in the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 281):
Page made 22 July 2006