By National Museum of the Marine Corps

Iwo Jima Purple Hearts: Common Men, Uncommon Valor

This exhibit of twelve Purple Heart medals represents "common men" from an uncommon generation—these are their stories of heroism.

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Pvt John Renzi USMC WWII familly photo (circa. 1944) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Private John Renzi

Killed in Action, 25 February 1945

Aged 33

John Renzi received his Selective Service draft notification in June 1944. Aged 33 and married with children, he was among the last classification of draft-eligible Americans to be called to service during World War II. 

Pvt John Renzi USMC WWII familly photo (circa. 1944) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Pvt Renzi had previously worked in the war industry while his younger brother served in the Pacific. After receiving his draft notification, he then volunteered for the Marine Corps and was thrilled to finally be doing “his part."

Iwo Jima Beachhead (1945-02-20) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps


Pvt Renzi was assigned to Lima Company, 3d Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division. The unit formed part of the division reserve in the assault on Iwo Jima landing on Beach “Blue 2” on D-Day, 19 February 1945.

Pvt John Renzi Collection Purple Heart Collection NMMC (1945-02-19) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps


Pvt Renzi survived five days on Iwo Jima before being mortally wounded on 23 February 1945.


Evacuated to the attack transport USS Hendry, Pvt Renzi died of his wounds on 25 February 1945 aboard the ship.

Sgt John Betzala family photo (Circa 1944) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Sergeant John Betzala

Killed in Action, 2 March 1945
 
Aged 31
 
John Betzala was a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in December 1936. Trained at Parris Island, South Carolina, his first duty assignments were at Marine Barracks Quantico.

In 1938, Betzala boarded the U.S.S. Henderson bound for Shanghai, China, where he was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. He would remain with the unit until September 1940, when he returned to the United States. Having served his initial four-year enlistment, Betzala left the Marine Corps briefly but reenlisted on 15 December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Promoted (due to his prior service) to the rank of sergeant, Betzala would spend 1943 in the United States training Marines and later served as a guard at the Navy Building, Washington, D.C. As manpower shortages become more evident in the Corps in 1944, Betzala was transferred to the 5th Marine Division's 3d Battalion, 26th Marines (3/26), at Camp Pendleton, California. His unit deployed to the Pacific in October 1944, in preparation for the assault on Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima - Advance on the Double (1945-02-20) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Betzala landed with 3/26 on BLUE beach, on D-Day, 19 February 1945. Taking part in some of the most savage actions of the war, he was miraculously unscathed until the night of 2 March 1945.

Betzala USMC Purple Heart (1945-02-19) by National Museum of the Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

A personal letter to his widow from his commanding officer noted that the Marine NCO was shot in the neck and killed by a sniper while receiving orders for his platoon's defense of their positions.

By the officer's account, Betzala was well-liked by his men and a personal friend of the captain. He was survived by his wife, Frankie Betzala, and their seven-year-old son, Joseph.

1stLt Alvin Hertzog (circa. 1945) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

First Lieutenant Alvin Hertzog

Wounded in Action, 21 February & 7 March 1945

Aged 30

Alvin Hertzog enlisted in the USMC in February 1943 and was selected for Officer Candidate School in May 1943. Upon his commission, he was sent to Parachute Training School at Camp Gillespie, San Diego, until January 1944.

When the Marine Corps deactivated the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, then-2ndLt Hertzog (along with other Paramarine officers) helped to form the initial cadre for the 5th Marine Division. Hertzog participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima as a member of the 26th Marines.

1stLt Alvin Hertzog Purple Heart front, United States Marine Corps, 1945-02-07, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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1stLt Alvin Hertzog Purple Heart reverse, United States Marine Corps, 1945-03-07, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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1stLt Hertzog received the Bronze Star with Valor device when he assumed command of his company after the commanding officer was severely wounded. The lieutenant took control of the disorganized unit and led them in an assault, seizing several hundred yards of enemy terrain. As night fell, he took part in the consolidation of the position despite his second serious wound. Ultimately, Hertzog survived and received two Purple Hearts for wounds sustained in the battle.

Sgt John Haffey USMC (1945) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Sergeant John Haffey

Wounded in Action, 8 March 1945

Aged 28



John Haffey joined the Marine Corps in July 1940. His overseas career began shortly afterward when he landed on Midway Island in September 1941.

Sgt Haffey was stationed on the island with the 6th Defense Battalion when the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor.

Haffey stated in a newspaper interview in March 1943, while home on leave, "I didn't think much about war. We did our work, trolled for tuna fish…and listened to the radio news. Then came Pearl Harbor and we knew we were in for it.”

Haffey recalled that activity increased in June 1942 when the Japanese moved in, “with every expectation of taking over.” The Marines held the Japanese off and Haffey returned to the United States in March 1943.

Haffey was not home for long before he was promoted to sergeant and assigned to Weapons Company, 24th Marines. He once again left for the Pacific in January 1944. Haffey participated in actions on Saipan and Tinian from June through August 1944.

Sgt Haffey Purple Heart, United States Marine Corps, 1945-03-08, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Sgt John Haffey USMC Purple Heart reverse, United States Marine Corps, 1945-03-08, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Promoted to Platoon Sergeant, Haffey fought on Iwo Jima where he was wounded on 8 March 1945. Haffey remained in the Pacific for several months after his injury and returned stateside in late 1945. He finished out his Marine Corps time at Quantico, Virginia, until July 1946.

PFC James Michels USMC (circa. 1944)National Museum of the Marine Corps

Private First Class James Michels

Wounded in Action, 23 February 1945

Aged 27
 
James Michels entered the Marine Corps in early 1944. Trained as a Rifleman, he was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

On 23 February 1945, just four days into the battle, PFC Michels was a member of the combat patrol that placed the first American flag atop Mount Suribachi. They met no resistance in their climb, but upon reaching the summit, several enemy grenades were thrown at them by Japanese soldiers from nearby caves. The enemy forces were eliminated with the help of Marine flamethrowers.

Iwo Jima second flag raising USMC Photo (1945-02-23) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Michels' patrol then had the honor of lifting the first flag.

This iconic image was captured by Leatherneck magazine’s combat correspondent, Staff Sergeant Louis Lowery. 

Arguably the second most famous photo of the battle, it shows Michels on guard in the foreground with the flag, his M1 Carbine at the ready.

NMMC PFC James Michels Purple Heart reverse (1945-02-23) by National Museum of the Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

The following day, 23 February 1945, PFC Michels was slightly wounded by shrapnel from a Japanese mortar.   Michels continued to fight and remarkably survived the campaign. He was discharged shortly after the war at the rank of corporal.

PFC Leonard Evans USMC (1945-03-07) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Private First Class Leonard Evans

Killed in Action, 7 March 1945

Aged 24

Leonard Brown Evans entered the Marine Corps in September 1941 at age 20. After completing Boot Camp at Parris Island, Evans was sent to Naval Operating Base Iceland from July 1942 to November 1943.

This was an unusual time for a Marine to have served in Iceland since it was after the better-known tenure of the 1st Provisional Brigade. In this role, PFC Evans would have helped guard the Naval Base and later served with the Iceland Base Command of the U.S. Army as it helped build up men and material for the invasion of Europe.

PFC Leonard Evans USMC (1945-03-07) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Evans was later assigned to 3d Battalion, 9th Marines in October 1944 and sent to the Pacific. In February 1945, alongside his fellow Marines, Evans engaged with Japanese forces on Iwo Jima. He was killed in action from a gunshot wound to the head on 7 March 1945.

PFC Leonard Evans Purple Heart reverse (1945-03-07) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Evans' widow received this Purple Heart Medal which was awarded to his family posthumously.

PFC Dominick Taormina USMC (1945-01-01) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Private First Class Dominick N. Taormina

Killed in Action, 20 February 1945


Aged 22

Brooklyn, New York, native Dominick Taormina enlisted in the Marine Corps in October 1942. Upon completion of his training at Parris Island, he was assigned to Parachute School, Parachute Battalion, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

PFC Dominick Taormina USMC (1945-01-01) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Cpl Taormina was then assigned to Company A, 1st Parachute Battalion, 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, I Marine Amphibious Corps. As a member of the 1st Parachute Battalion, Taormina participated in his elite unit's combat actions during the fighting on Bougainville in 1943. This included the Koiari Beach Raid, fighting alongside elements of the 3d Raider Battalion.

PFC Dominick Taormina Purple Heart front (1945-02-20) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

 
When the Paramarine Regiment was disbanded in 1944, the 1st Parachute Battalion unit was absorbed into the 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division. As a member of 3d Battalion, Cpl Taormina would participate in the assault of Iwo Jima in February 1945.

PFC Dominick Taormina Purple Heart reverse (1945-02-20) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps


A member of Company I, Cpl Taormina landed on Blue 2 on D-Day.
 
He was killed in action on the second day of the battle. His casualty card notes that he suffered multiple extreme wounds to the abdomen and jaw.

Capt Clayton Rockmore newspaper clipping (1945-02-23) by National Museum of the Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Captain Clayton S. Rockmore

Killed in Action, 23 February 1945


Aged 22

Clayton S. Rockmore was the commanding officer of Company I, 3d Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division. In 1944, he took part in the Battle of Guam and received the Purple Heart when wounded in action on 26 July 1944.

In February 1945, Clayton Rockmore landed on Iwo Jima as the CO of “I” Company, 3/21. On 23 February, he led a direct attack against the main line of Japanese defenses. Fighting fiercely through the enemy pillboxes, trenches, barbed wire, artillery, and mortars, his company successfully pressed the assault to the island’s airfield, even after Rockmore was struck and killed by gunfire.

Capt Clayton Rockmore USMC Purple Heart reverse, United States Marine Corps, 1945-02-23, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Capt Clayton Rockmore Purple Heart document, National Museum of the Marine Corps, United States Marine Corps, 1945-04-12, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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For his heroism and leadership, Capt Rockmore was recommended for the Navy Cross, but ultimately received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Sgt Jay Wormser USMC WWII family photo (circa. 1942) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Sergeant Jay Wormser

Wounded in Action, 19 February 1945   

Aged 22

Jay Wormser enlisted in the Marine Corps on 19 June 1942. He completed training at Parris Island and attended school at Quantico before leaving for the Pacific in April 1944 with the 28th Marines, 5th Marine Div.

As part of the Fifth Amphibious Corps, Wormser landed on Iwo Jima on D-Day, 19 February 1945. He wrote of his experiences in a personal memoir:

"When we landed it was all hell broke loose, we tried to advance through the deep lava sand with our 60 lbs. of equipment...I saw several dead Marines and wondered when I would be next to die. As we moved, Japanese shells exploded around us, and we dug into the sand trying to make cover."

Sgt Wormser, alongside PFC William Ohlmacher and another unidentified Marine, tried to dig a foxhole but the volcanic sand made the task impossible because the holes refilled as quickly as they were dug. The Marines took cover in a nearby shell hole with just enough room for the three of them to lie down. Wormser was in the middle with Ohlmacher behind him. Just as soon as they lay down, the Marine in front of Wormser was hit; Wormser patched him up and continued to take cover.

Suddenly, Wormser felt a sharp sting in his backside and then in his hip; he was alive, but bleeding badly. Several minutes passed and as more shells exploded around the three Marines, Wormser felt a more intense sledgehammer-like blow to his left foot. As he sat up to examine his injury, he saw what remained of Ohlmacher, tattered pieces of a uniform lay where the young Marine once had. His friend had taken a mortar round to the back and was killed instantly.

Jay Wormser Purple Heart front, United States Marine Corps, 1945-02-19, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Sgt Jay Wormser Purple Heart Document, United States Marine Corps, 1955-06-15, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Sgt Wormser made it off from Iwo Jima in a leaky landing craft, where two Marines drowned in their stretchers. He earned the Purple Heart for his actions that day and spent the next year at various medical hospitals enduring several surgeries before being medically discharged in August 1945. 

Cpl Samuel Jeeter USMC (1945-01-01) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Cpl Samuel "Buzz" Jeeter

Killed in Action, 14 March 1945

Aged 19

Samuel Jeeter enlisted in the Marines on 17 September 1942, three days after his 17th birthday, and officially entered the service in October.

Following basic training at Parris Island, Cpl Jeeter was assigned to Company K, 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, and left for the Pacific in January 1943. Jeeter saw combat at Roi-Namur (Marshall Islands), Saipan and Tinian, and finally, on Iwo Jima.

On 12 March 1945, Jeeter was leading a Rifle Group when it came under fire from the Japanese. He spotted four wounded Marines within enemy lines. Risking his own life, Jeeter rescued the Marines, pulling each one of them to safety. While doing so, Jeeter received several wounds that resulted in his death on 14 March 1945; just six months shy of his 20th birthday.

Cpl Samuel Jeeter Purple Heart reverse, United States Marine Corps, 1945-03-14, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Cpl Samuel Jeeter Newspaper Clipping, National Museum of the Marine Corps, 1945-03-14, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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For his actions, Cpl Jeeter was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Originally interred in the Fourth Division cemetery on Iwo Jima, Cpl Jeeter’s body was returned to the United States in 1948 and he was buried in Maryland.

PFC Richard Huntoon family photo (Circa 1943) by National Museum of the Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Private First Class Richard F. Huntoon

Killed in Action, 8 March 1945

Aged 19

Richard Huntoon entered the Marine Corps at Parris Island, South Carolina, in October 1943. Trained as a rifleman, he was initially assigned to Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in January 1944.

By the summer of 1944, PFC Huntoon was attached to the 61st Replacement Battalion in preparation for combat operations in the Pacific. Ultimately joining Company K, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, Huntoon was promoted to the rank of private first class and landed with his unit on 24 February 1945 between RED and YELLOW beaches as a part of the Reserve forces committed to Iwo Jima.

On 7 March 1945, General Erskine ordered the 9th Marines to make a major attack. The assault was spearheaded by Huntoon’s 3d Battalion. Their objective was to capture Hill 362C, the last obstacle between the 3rd Marine Division and the sea. The Marines moved out with a smokescreen to cover their advance. For thirty minutes the attack made progress as the Marines bypassed enemy positions, but an observant machine gunner opened fire on their left flank.

The Japanese began to mount increasing resistance. At 0600, 3/9’s officers radioed that they were at the top of Hill 362C; many enemy positions had been eliminated and casualties were light. Erskine was delighted. The euphoria was short-lived, however, as 3/9 realized that they were in fact on Hill 331, not Hill 362C, which was another 250 yards away. The unit decided to press forward under intense fire. Despite heavy casualties, by 1400, Richard Huntoon’s K Company had reached its objective.

PFC Richard F. Huntoon Purple Heart front, United States Marine Corps, 1945-03-08, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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PFC Richard F. Huntoon, USMCR Purple Heart reverse, United States Marine Corps, 1945-03-08, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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Sadly, on 8 March, PFC Huntoon’s luck would run out. Having survived seventeen days of combat on the island, he was struck by an enemy sniper and killed. Richard Huntoon was only 19 years old. In 1957, the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, honored the young Marine, dedicating a town square as “Huntoon Square”.

PFC Donald Traub USMC (Circa 1945) by United States Marine CorpsNational Museum of the Marine Corps

Private First Class Donald Traub

Wounded in Action, 23 March 1945

Aged 19

Donald William Traub enlisted in the Marine Corps as a 17-year-old in October 1943. Sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, he was trained as a Fire Control Instrument Operator (Field Artillery-Fire Computer).

By 1945, PFC Traub was assigned to Headquarters and Service Battery, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, 5th Marine Division. Traub's assignment to 2/13 coincided with their participation in the Battle of Iwo Jima. This would be his first and last action in the Pacific War.

PFC Donald Traub Purple Heart front, National Museum of the Marine Corps, 1945-03-23, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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PFC Donald Traub Purple Heart reverse, National Museum of the Marine Corps, 1945-03-23, From the collection of: National Museum of the Marine Corps
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PFC Traub had served unscathed with the unit since the beginning of the battle, but on 23 March, seven days after the island was declared secured, his luck ran out. As his division assaulted General Koribayashi's last stronghold, Traub was hit by gunfire in the right chest. Seriously wounded, he was evacuated by air to Guam and later San Francisco, where he fully recovered from his wound. 

Promoted to the rank of corporal in April 1946, Traub was transferred from the Marine Barracks Brooklyn to the Provisional Marine Guard, United Nations. This unique unit guarded the United Nations Headquarters from 1947 to 1950, before it was disbanded.

Credits: Story

"Iwo Jima Purple Hearts: Common Men, Uncommon Valor” was developed by the National Museum of the Marine Corps in February 2022.

Curators:
Owen Conner, Uniforms & Heraldry Curator
Gretchen Winterer, Assistant Uniforms & Heraldry Curator  

NMMC Public Affairs:
Angie McCrary, Public Affairs Specialist

Artifacts are from the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
Historical images provided by the U.S. Marine Corps Archives.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.