The Marine Corps Medal of Honor Recipients

Featuring Marine Medal of Honor Recipients From WWII-Korea-Viet Nam And Iraqi Freedom


Private First Class

United States Marine Corps
Henry Gurke



Private First Class Henry Gurke
United States Marine Corps

For extraordinary heroism and courage above and beyond  the call of duty while serving with the Third Marine Raider Battalion during action against the enemy Japanese Forces in the Solomon Islands area on November 3, 1943. While his platoon was engaged in the defense of a vital road block near Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville Island, Private First Class Gurke, in company with another Marine, was delivering a fierce stream of fire against the main vanguard of the Japanese. Concluding from the increasing ferocity of grenade barrages that the enemy was determined to annihilate their shallow, two-man foxhole, he resorted to a bold and desperate measure for holding out despite the torrential hail of shells. When a Japanese grenade dropped squarely into the foxhole, Private First Class Gurke, mindful that his companion manned an automatic weapon of superior fire power and therefore could provide more effective resistance, thrust him roughly aside and flushing his own body over the missile to smother the explosion. With unswerving devotion to duty and superb valor, Private First Class Gurke sacrificed himself in order that his comrade might live to carry on the fight. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
President of the United States

Henry Gurke was born in Neche, North Dakota, on 6 November 1922. Baptized in the Lutheran Church, he attended the local schools. After graduation from high school in 1940, he entered the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in July and was stationed in Larimore, North Dakota. He stayed in the CCC until October 1941 and rose to the position of Assistant Leader, then returned to Neche where he drove a two-ton truck until his enlistment in the Marine Corps on 15 April 1942.

Private Gurke went through recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, then went into the 2d Separate Pack Howitzer Battalion of the 22d Marines and was in C Battery only one month before shipping overseas on the SS Lurline on 30 July 1942 - three and a half months after his enlistment in the Marines. He landed at Apia, Upolu, British Samoa, one month later. Within two weeks the 3d Battalion, 22d Marines, with Pvt Gurke's battery attached, went to Uvea Island of the Wallis Islands to relieve the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, which left to rejoin the 1st Marine Division then engaged in the grueling fight for Guadalcanal. In September, Pvt Gurke was transferred to Company D, 3d Raider Battalion. After four months at Wallis, the Raiders left for Pago Pago, American Samoa, stayed there about three weeks, then moved south to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, landing there in January 1943.

The following month the Raiders went over to Guadalcanal for a few days en route to the Russell Islands. This was not to be the hoped-for and long-prepared-for combat though. Pavuvu Island in the Russells was occupied without opposition by PVt Gurke's battalion from 21 February to 18 March. The battalion returned to Espiritu Santo in March and on 1 August 1943, the six-foot, one-inch, 179-pound Marine was promoted to private first class.

Transferred to Company M, 3d Raider Battalion, 2d Raider Regiment of the I Marine Amphibious Corps in June, PFC Gurke was at Noumea, New Caledonia, in October and finally met the enemy at Bougainville in November. He "celebrated" his 21st birthday on 6 November and three days later gave his life for a fellow Marine and for the country he had served well for the past nineteen months.

Private First Class Gurke was in a shallow two-man foxhole with a fellow Marine, a Browning Automatic Rifle-man (BAR-man), around dawn of 9 November, delivering a fierce stream of fire against the advancing Japanese in defense of a vital road block in the area near Empress Augusta Bay. Judging from the increased ferocity of the enemy grenade attack, that the enemy was determined to annihilate him and his buddy because of the fierce effective fire they were rendering, PFC Gurke roughly thrust his companion aside when a Japanese grenade landed in their foxhole and threw himself on the deadly missile. For his unswerving devotion to duty and uncommon valor in the face of the enemy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to PFC Gurke.

The medal was presented to his parents at ceremonies in the Navy Department on 31 May 1944. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy made the presentation in the name of the President.

The body of PFC Gurke was originally buried at Bougainville, later moved to Munda, New Georgia, and then to Finschhafen, New Guinea, and was finally returned for burial in Ft. Snelling National Cemetery, Ft. Snelling, Minnesota.

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