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thedrifter
03-03-06, 08:29 AM
The Lore of the Corps: Marshall Islands fight earned highest honor
By Keith A. Milks
Special to the Times

A man from Worcester, Mass., who left his hometown to fight in World War II ultimately earned the nation’s highest military award.

John V. Power enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in July 1942 at the age of 23. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and trained as an infantry officer.

Assigned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., as part of the newly formed 4th Marine Division, Power was promoted to first lieutenant and set sail from the U.S. in January 1944 with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines.

Power’s combat baptism came on Feb. 1, 1944, when his unit assaulted the Japanese-held Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Roi, the first of the two northernmost islands in the atoll, fell in a matter of hours; the 24th Marines quickly pressed on to Namur.


Namur, deceptively serene with its white sands, clear blue water and palm trees, was covered with well-built Japanese pillboxes and spider holes manned by fanatical Japanese troops.

During the furious fighting for the small island, Power was constantly at the front of his platoon’s assault. Late on Feb. 1, he was setting a demolition charge on a fortified enemy emplacement when he was shot in the stomach.

Taken aback by the blow, Power quickly regained his composure; with his left hand covering the bloody, gaping wound, he charged a second emplacement as his first target exploded.

Power sprinted toward the second pillbox with one hand on his stomach and the other firing his rifle toward an opening in the concrete-and-log structure. Upon reaching the doorway, he emptied his weapon at point-blank range toward the Japanese defenders.

As he attempted to reload his carbine one-handed, he became the target of concentrated enemy fire. Struck again in the stomach and once in the head, Power slumped against the pillbox and died in the doorway.

His furious one-man assault galvanized his men into action, and they quickly overwhelmed the position and continued their attack.

In a White House ceremony in November 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a posthumous Medal of Honor to Power’s parents. His mother later commissioned the destroyer Power, named for her fallen son.

During its 24 years of maritime service, the Power sailed forth for numerous training and force-projection cruises, served during the 1958 Lebanese crisis and supported the fledgling space program. Just prior to its retirement in 1970, it participated in combat operations in Vietnam.

The writer is a gunnery sergeant deployed to Iraq with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Ellie