b. 27/09/1905 Turner County, Georgia. d. 23/12/1941 Wake Island.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 08/12 – 23/12/1941 Wake Island.
Elrod was born Sept. 27, 1905, in Rebecca, Georgia, to parents Robert and Margaret. The family moved to Thomasville, Georgia, in 1911, where Elrod grew up with his younger sister, Kate. According to the Thomasville Times Enterprise, Elrod played football and baseball for Thomasville High School before attending the University of Georgia, where he played football for one year. He then transferred to Yale before joining the Marine Corps in 1927. Elrod received his commission as an officer four years later.
In May 1933, Elrod married Elizabeth Jackson. She was the niece of Navy Rear Adm. R.H. Jackson and went on to become a captain within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Women’s Reserve. By February 1935, Elrod had earned his wings as an aviator. He served at Quantico, Virginia, before being transferred to San Diego in 1938. In January 1941, he was sent to Hawaii to be the executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 211.
On Dec. 4, 1941, Elrod and 11 other pilots in his squadron flew F4F-3 Wildcats to Wake Island. Three days later — technically Dec. 8, 1941, because Wake is on the other side of the International Date Line — the Japanese attacked. Just like that, the U.S. had been thrust into World War II, and Elrod was in the thick of it. But as the simultaneous attack at Pearl Harbor lasted hours, the attack on Wake lasted 15 days.
At the start of the bombardment, eight of the 12 Wildcats in MFS 211 were destroyed. Even though the island’s shore defenses were still intact, this meant that only four fighter planes were left to fend off a massive number of enemy forces.
Over the span of several days, Marine Corps Capt. Elrod used one of those aircraft to keep several Japanese planes from landing on the island. He also single-handedly shot down two enemy fighters in a flight of 22. After that, he bombed and strafed the Japanese destroyer ship Kisaragi so many times that it sank. That feat made Elrod the first U.S. pilot to sink a warship from a fighter plane.
Eventually, Elrod’s plane suffered enough damage that it was no longer able to fly, and the remaining Wildcats were no longer airborne, either. In a last-ditch effort to save the island, Elrod helped organize the remaining troops on the ground — many of whom were civilians — into beach defense units to repel waves of Japanese troops trying to come ashore. Several times during that night, Elrod provided cover fire for unarmed ammunition carriers who were resupplying a gun emplacement.
Shortly before dawn on Dec. 23, a Japanese sailor who had hidden himself among the casualties on the beach shot Elrod as he was providing cover fire. He died instantly. Wake fell to the enemy later that day. The Japanese didn’t surrender the island back to U.S. troops until the end of the war.
Despite the massive American losses recorded at Wake, Elrod’s determination in the air and as a leader on the ground was integral to the fight. On Nov. 8, 1946, Marine Corps Gen. A.A. Vandegrift presented the Medal of Honor to Elrod’s widow during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while attached to Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED ELEVEN, during action against enemy Japanese land, surface and aerial units at Wake Island, from 8 to 23 December 1941. Engaging vastly superior forces of enemy bombers and warships on 9 and 12 December, Captain Elrod shot down two of a flight of twenty-two hostile planes and, executing repeated bombing and strafing runs at extremely low altitude and close range, succeeded in inflicting deadly damage upon a large Japanese vessel, thereby sinking the first major warship to be destroyed by small caliber bombs delivered from a fighter-type aircraft. When his plane was disabled by hostile fire and no other ships were operative, Captain Elrod assumed command of one flank of the line set up in defiance of the enemy landing and conducting a brilliant defense, enabled his men to hold their positions and repulse determined Japanese attacks, repeatedly proceeding through intense hostile fusillades to provide covering fire for unarmed ammunition carriers. Capturing an automatic weapon during one enemy rush in force, he gave his own firearm to one of his men and fought on vigorously against the Japanese. Responsible in a large measure of the strength of his sector’s gallant resistance, on 23 December, Captain Elrod led his men with bold aggressiveness until he fell, mortally wounded.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
SECTION 12, GRAVE 3246
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE US MARINE CORPS, QUANTICO, VIRGINIA.