This week’s America250 salute is Navy Veteran George Wahlen who served received a Medal of Honor for his actions at Iwo Jima in World War II.

This week’s America250 salute is Navy Veteran George Wahlen.

Hailing from Ogden, Utah, George Wahlen trained as an aircraft mechanic during his teenage years at Hill Field. In June 1943, Wahlen enlisted in the Naval Reserve and hoped to continue working in aviation. But after completing basic training at Naval Training Station San Diego in California, Wahlen went to hospital corpsman school.

“And of course, that’s not what I wanted to go to. And I tried to get out of it,” he explained in an interview for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. “I talked to…the chief at the corps school. I got over there and talked to him and said I want to become an aircraft mechanic…He says ‘Well…tell you what. You do good in this school…I’ll try to get you what you want.’ So, I stayed up every night til midnight studying and finally graduated, fairly near the top of my class. I went in and reminded him what he told me. And he looked at me…and said–we need you in the hospital corps. Then I knew I was pretty well stuck.”

After attending hospital corpsman school, Wahlen transferred to the San Diego Naval Hospital in November 1943. A month later, he promoted to pharmacist’s mate third class and went to a training detachment as part of the Field Medical School Battalion Fleet Marine Force at Camp Elliott. Wahlen remained at Camp Elliot until February 1944, then became a medical corpsman with the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines and 5th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. The 5th Marines were among the many divisions that went to capture Iwo Jima, one of the crucial islands in the “island hopping” strategy used against the Japanese.

On Feb. 19, 1945, the 5th Marine Division landed on the island. A week after his arrival, Wahlen received a leg wound during a battle but refused to be medically evacuated. Instead, he stayed on the battlefield to aid a wounded Marine and carry him back to the battle aid station. Wahlen continued to retrieve and treat 14 wounded Marines despite his own injuries.

Wounded again in another battle March 2, Wahlen again refused to leave the battlefield. According to his Medal of Honor citation, Wahlen advanced with his platoon and continued to treat wounded Marines despite his own serious injuries. The next day, Whalen received wounds a third time and could not walk. Nevertheless, he insisted on treating a wounded soldier before he agreed to medical evacuation. He returned to the U.S. to recover from his injuries, and he remained there for the rest of the war. While still recovering, he and thirteen other service members received Medals of Honor from President Harry S. Truman in October 1945. Wahlen honorably discharged as a pharmacist’s mate third class in December 1945.

In 1948, Wahlen enlisted in the Army as a medical technician. He served during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, working as an officer and eventually retiring from the military as a major in 1968. He received many honors, including a Medal of Honor, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

Following his retirement from the military, Wahlen worked at VA until his retirement in 1983. Although Wahlen retired from VA, he continued to be active in the Veteran community.

“I thought–I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do this, you know. I couldn’t imagine me being a corpsman,” he said of his service. “When they had casualties, my job was to go out and take care of them. It concerned me and I think it was the first time I ever prayed in my life. I figured if I ever…need help, this is when it is. So–my big concern was that one of those buddies of mine….to think one of those guys died because I didn’t go out and take care of them.”

Wahlen passed away in June 2009 at the age of 84.

We honor his service.


America250

VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.


Contributors

Writer: Sarah Concepcion

Editors: Wilson S. Sainvil, Merrit Pope

Researcher: Giacomo Ferrari

Graphic Designer: Kate Rahill

By VAntage Point Contributor

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Published on Apr. 7, 2022

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