Aquilla James “Jimmie” or “Big Red” Dyess MOH

b. 11/01/1909 Andersonville, Georgia. d. 02/02/1944 Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 01-02/02/1944 Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands.

Aquilla J “Big Red” Dyess MOH

Dyess, who was known as Jimmie, was born Jan. 11, 1909 in Andersonville, Georgia. His parents and three siblings eventually moved to Augusta, where Dyess was active in the Boy Scouts. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout in his teens, going on to represent the Augusta area in 1926 during a Boy Scouts National Council event in Washington, D.C.

After high school, Dyess went to Clemson University, where he played football until an injury his junior year kept him from  playing. He then switched his focus to the school’s ROTC rifle team, where he earned a reputation for being an excellent marksman. Dyess graduated from Clemson in 1931 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and was commissioned into the Army Reserve. In 1936, he transferred to the Marine Corps Reserve, where he continued to hone his competitive marksmanship skills.

According to a 1944 Augusta Constitution article, Dyess operated the Augusta Lumber Company before going active-duty with the Marines in 1940, around the time when the U.S. began to build its troop levels up as war loomed in Europe.

Nicknamed “Big Red,” Dyess had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel by 1944 and was in command of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marines Division, during the fight for the Marshall Islands. On Feb. 1, 1944, he and his troops were involved in the Battle of Kwajalein, which took place from Kwajalein atoll in the south to Roi-Namur island in the north. They had finished their first day of combat when Dyess realized there were Marines caught behind enemy lines and were in danger of being overrun. Despite the looming darkness, Dyess gathered a small group of men to break through the enemy lines and rescue the stranded Marines.

The following day, Dyess and company were on Roi-Namur closing in on the last Japanese position. Facing heavy fire from the enemy, Dyess launched an aggressive attack, maneuvering troops and tanks inland. Dyess posted himself between his troops and the enemy so he could personally lead the attack by pointing out objectives and routes to get to them.

According to his citation, he was “constantly at the head of advance units, inspiring his men to push forward until the Japanese had been driven back to a small center of resistance and victory assured.”

Sadly, Dyess was standing along the edge of an anti tank trench, directing troops while attacking the few enemies who were left, when he was shot in the head by a burst of enemy machine gunfire. He died instantly. Lieutenant Colonel Dyess was initially buried in the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Roi-Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. Later, in 1948, he was re-interred in Westover Memorial Park Cemetery, Augusta, Georgia.

His leadership and fighting spirit greatly helped rid the island chain of Japanese forces. Those attributes also earned him the Medal of Honor, which was officially announced on July 18, 1944. The medal was presented to his widow, Mrs. Connor Dyess, and their 8-year-old daughter at their Augusta home by Lt Colonel Weedon Blair.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines, Reinforced, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, February 1 and 2, 1944. Undaunted by severe fire from automatic Japanese weapons, Lieutenant Colonel Dyess launched a powerful final attack on the second day of the assault, unhesitatingly posting himself between the opposing lines to point out objectives and avenues of approach and personally leading the advancing troops. Alert, and determined to quicken the pace of the offensive against increased enemy fire, he was constantly at the head of advance units, inspiring his men to push forward until the Japanese had been driven back to a small center of resistance and victory assured. While standing on the parapet of an antitank trench directing a group of infantry in a flanking attack against the last enemy position, Lieutenant Colonel Dyess was killed by a burst of enemy machine-gun fire. His daring and forceful leadership and his valiant fighting spirit in the face of terrific opposition were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.