b. 02/08/1924 Canton, North Carolina. d. 10/05/1945 Okinawa, Japan.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 10/05/1945 Okinawa, Japan.
Halyburton was born on August 2, 1924, in Canton, North Carolina, to parents Mae and William Halyburton. He had two brothers, Bob and Joe. In 1940, the family moved to Miami, but Halyburton only stayed for a short while before moving back to North Carolina to live with his aunt and uncle in Wilmington, according to newspaper reports from the 1940s.
Halyburton played sports and was a devout Christian during his time at New Hanover High School, from which he graduated in 1943. He entered seminary at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina; however, those plans had to be put on hold when he was drafted to serve in World War II. Halyburton was a conscientious objector, meaning he would serve but would not bear arms. So, in August 1943, he was allowed to choose the Naval Reserve, where he joined the hospital corps and spent more than a year in training.
By January 1945, Halyburton had reached the rank of pharmacist’s mate 2nd class and was sent overseas as a medic for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. The division had pushed its way across the Pacific and was preparing to battle for Okinawa, an island near Japan’s home shores.
On May 10, 1945 — Halyburton’s first day in combat, according to his mother — the 1st Marine Division was on the island and preparing to move across the Awacha Draw, a strategically important ravine that was heavily fortified by the Japanese. Americans dubbed it “Death Valley” since many soldiers and Marines fell as they tried to cross it. Halyburton was serving with a rifle company that day, and he watched a lot of Marines fall. They weren’t able to be carried away to safety, so the wounded were treated where they fell or would have to be retrieved later.
Enemy fire on his unit was intense, but, as they crossed the draw, the young medic didn’t hesitate. He ran across the ravine, up a hill and into a fire-swept field where his company’s advance squad was pinned down. Despite a nonstop barrage of mortar, machine gun and sniper fire, Halyburton ran until he reached the furthest wounded Marine.
As he started to give that Marine aid, the wounded man was struck a second time by a Japanese bullet. Halyburton quickly put his own body between the wounded man and the line of fire, continuing to give aid until he was also gravely wounded. The 20-year-old collapsed and died while trying to save his comrade.
Halyburton’s outstanding devotion to duty amid such a terrifying situation led to his immediate nomination for the Medal of Honor. On May 8, 1946 — nearly a full year after he died — Halyburton’s family was presented the nation’s highest honor for valor on his behalf. During a ceremony at Bayfront Park in Miami, Navy Rear Adm. John F. Shafroth Jr. bestowed the medal to Halyburton’s brothers, who had also served in the Navy during the war.
Halyburton was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. While he only spent one day in combat, his legacy has lived on. In 1984, the guided missile frigate USS Halyburton was commissioned in his honor. Several other military structures were also named for him, including Halyburton Naval Health Clinic in Cherry Point, North Carolina; a barracks at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida; and a road at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with a Marine Rifle Company in the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyu Chain, 10 May 1945. Undaunted by the deadly accuracy of Japanese counterfire as his unit pushed the attack through a strategically important draw, Halyburton unhesitatingly dashed across the draw and up the hill into an open fire-swept field where the company advance squad was suddenly pinned down under a terrific concentration of mortar, machine-gun, and sniper fire with resultant severe casualties. Moving steadily forward despite the enemy’s merciless barrage, he reached the wounded marine who lay farthest away and was rendering first aid when his patient was struck for a second time by a Japanese bullet. Instantly placing himself in the direct line of fire, he shielded the fallen fighter with his own body and staunchly continued his ministrations although constantly menaced by the slashing fury of shrapnel and bullets falling on all sides. Alert, determined, and completely unselfish in his concern for the helpless marine, he persevered in his efforts until he himself sustained mortal wounds and collapsed, heroically sacrificing himself that his comrade might live. By his outstanding valor and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of tremendous odds, Halyburton sustained and enhanced the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.
BURIAL LOCATION: NATIONAL MEMORIAL CEMETERY OF THE PACIFIC, HONOLULU, HAWAII.
SECTION O, GRAVE 274.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: HALYBURTON MEDICAL CLINIC, CHERRY POINT, NORTH CAROLINA.