James Irsley Poynter MOH

b. 01/12/1916 Bloomington, Illinois. d. 04/11/1950 Sundong, Korea.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 04/11/1950 Sundong, Korea.

James I Poynter MOH

James Irsley Poynter was born to Eugene and Molly Poynter on December 1, 1916, in Bloomington, Illinois. He was married twice and had four children.

He enlisted in the regular Marine Corps in February 1942. He fought in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, participating in the Guadalcanal, Southern Solomons, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa campaigns. Poynter was discharged in February 1946.

At the beginning of the Korean War, Poynter re-enlisted in the Marine Corps, joining the 13th Infantry Battalion, Marine Corps Reserve in Los Angeles on July 19, 1950. He was assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, after the 7th Marines were activated on August 17 at Camp Pendleton. The 7th Marines and Poynter sailed for Japan on September 1. On September 21, the 7th Marines made an amphibious landing at Inchon, South Korea. His regiment including the 1st Battalion, then rejoined the 1st Marine Division which had made an assault landing at Inchon on September 15, and participated with the division in the battle of Seoul against North Korean forces; On September 24, Poynter took command of one of the rifle squads in A Company. On September 26, Poynter’s rifle platoon led by their platoon commander, assaulted and overcame a well defended hill. The 7th Marines landed ashore next at Wonsan on October 27.

Afterwards, the 1st Marine Division headed by the 7th Marines were directed to march into North Korea to Hamhung, their objective, the Chosin Reservoir, a man-made lake. The 7th Marines were to proceed north of Hamhung to relieve a South Korean unit which had fought with Chinese Communist forces (Chinese troops entered North Korea on October 19 and launched an offensive on October 25). On November 2, the 7th Marines reached the South Koreans with little opposition (November 1 was the first confrontation between the Chinese and the U.S. military). However, Chinese presence increased after this. On November 3, as A Company was in a defensive position near Hamhung, 1st Lieutenant Frank Mitchell’s platoon in A Company which Poynter was a member of, was hit hard suddenly by the Chinese and almost overrun. Mitchell rallied his men including Poynter to repel the attack and Mitchell, although painfully wounded in the ensuing action, refused to be evacuated until the danger of a serious break-through was averted.

On November 4, as the 7th Marines were advancing to the Chosin Reservoir, Lt. Mitchell’s platoon defended Hill 532, south of Sudong. Poynter was wounded there in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. In spite of his wounds, when he saw three machine guns setting up only 25 yards (23 m) away, he charged the machine gun positions with hand grenades taken from fallen members of his squad, and was able to take out two machine guns. He was killed as he destroyed the third machine gun emplacement; on November 15, the 7th Marines and the 1st Marine Division completed their move north to Hagaru-ri, at the southern tip of the reservoir. The division was to proceed more north to Yudamni, on the western side of the Chosin Reservoir and to seize it, which was done with little resistance on November 25. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir began the evening of November 27.

Poynter was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” (posthumous) for “outstanding leadership, ability and courageous aggressiveness against the enemy” as a squad leader from September 24 to October 4, 1950. He was awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumous) for his actions on November 4, 1950, “By his self-sacrificing and valiant conduct, Sergeant Poynter inspired the remaining members of his squad to heroic endeavor in bearing down upon and repelling the disorganized enemy, thereby enabling the platoon to move out of the trap to a more favorable tactical position”.

On September 4, 1952, Sgt. Poynter’s Medal of Honor was posthumously presented to his widow Kathern Poynter from Secretary of the Navy Dan A. Kimball at the Pentagon.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a squad leader in a rifle platoon of Company A, in action against enemy aggressor forces during the defense of Hill 532, south of Sudong, Korea. When a vastly outnumbering, well-concealed hostile force launched a sudden, vicious counterattack against his platoon’s hasty defensive position, Sgt. Poynter displayed superb skill and courage in leading his squad and directing its fire against the onrushing enemy. With his ranks critically depleted by casualties and he himself critically wounded as the onslaught gained momentum and the hostile force surrounded his position, he seized his bayonet and engaged in bitter hand-to-hand combat as the breakthrough continued. Observing three machine guns closing in at a distance of 25 yards, he dashed from his position and, grasping hand grenades from fallen marines as he ran, charged the emplacements in rapid succession, killing the crews of two and putting the other out of action before he fell, mortally wounded. By his self-sacrificing and valiant conduct, Sgt. Poynter inspired the remaining members of his squad to heroic endeavor in bearing down upon and repelling the disorganized enemy, thereby enabling the platoon to move out of the trap to a more favorable tactical position. His indomitable fighting spirit, fortitude, and great personal valor maintained in the face of overwhelming odds sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.