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The Quiet Hero: The Untold Medal of Honor Story of George E. Wahlen at the Battle for Iwo Jima

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"Uncommon valor was a common virtue"

  • May 7, 2009
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The Quiet Hero: The Untold Medal of Honor Story of George E. Wahlen at the Battle for Iwo Jima, by Gary W. Toyn, is one of those books where important history would be lost if not for the vision of the author. Toyn details the life of a common Utah man who left home at age 18, to enlist in the Navy shortly after the outbreak of World War II. Two years later, George E. Wahlen found himself on a spot of land in the middle of the Pacific, battling the Japanese for control of Iwo Jima.

Chapter 1: D-Day, February 19.1945
Chapter 2: Birth to Boot Camp
Chapter 3: Sailor to Marine
Chapter 4: Training to Training
Chapter 5: Hawaii is Hell
Chapter 6: Finding God
Chapter 7: "Operation Detachment"
Chapter 8: D-Day, February 19.1945
Chapter 9: D-Day Afternoon
Chapter 10: D+1 and D+2: The First Casualty
Chapter 11: D+3: This Lousy, Stinking Island
Chapter 12: D+4: A Shift in Momentum
Chapter 13: D+5 and D+6: The Calm Before The Storm
Chapter 14: D+7 A.M.: The Crucible
Chapter 15: D+7 P.M: My Job...No More...No Less
Chapter 16: D+8: Regimental Reserve
Chapter 17: D+9: Dig and Hold
Chapter 18: D+10: Taking Hill 362A
Chapter 19: D+11: Caught From Behind
Chapter 20: D+12: The Final Act of Heroism
Chapter 21: Evacuation
Chapter 22: From Patient to "Pill Pusher"
Chapter 23: Home and Discharge
Chapter 24: Post WWII
Epilogue: From Mettle to Medal
Appendix A: Two Navy Crosses for a Medal of Honor
Appendix B: Timeline
In Memoriam
Helpful Terms
Notes and Sources
Photograph/Image Credits

For his actions during the Battle for Iwo Jima, Pharmacist's Mate Second Class, George E. Wahlen was awarded the Medal of Honor. His rank, Pharmacist's Mate, is misleading to civilians as he was a corpsman from the Navy assigned to a Marine Battalion. He provided first aid to wounded Marines. But since he was attached to the Marines, he had to not only learn first aid and how to dress wounds, he was also required to go through the same training as any other Marine. It was during this training that Wahlen had self doubts as he was a Navy man, just a corpsman, and was worried that if he found himself under fire, that he would let down the Marines that he was supposed to help. Due to his actions on Iwo Jima, Wahlen was awarded the Medal of Honor. He did not wilt under the pressure of battle, gaining the admiration of the Marines that served with him.

Toyn's book takes you through Wahlen's life, including his time on Iwo Jima, through present day. As I read the book, I was struck by the tone. Much like George Wahlen himself, Toyn writes is a very understated way. It isn't until we are presented with the actual text of Medal of Honor commendation that you realize that what you just read was an incredible story of valor, honor, and duty. It is a testament to the foundation that Toyn has built. At one point in the book, after an extremely difficult day on Iwo Jima, Toyn writes of George:

"...[He] was no longer concerned about acting cowardly in the face of battle . . . he figured that what he had accomplished was no more heroic that what anyone else in his unit had done . . . "

It is that attitude that permeates this book; Wahlen just doing his job.

"Hero" is a word that has lost a lot of meaning these days. In the pages of this book, you will learn what that word really means. And it isn't limited to just the story of George Wahlen. The men that he served with also deserve that title, and their stories are in this book, too. This book is a tribute to George Wahlen and the memories of the men that gave the ultimate sacrifice to this nation.

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