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 Reserve

James La Belle



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Weapons Company, Twentyseventh Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 8 March 1945. Filling a gap in the front lines during a critical phase of the battle, Private First Class LaBelle had dug into a foxhole with two other Marines and grimly aware of the enemy's persistent attempts to blast a way through our lines with hand grenades, applied himself with steady concentration to maintaining a sharply vigilant watch during the hazardous night hours. Suddenly a hostile grenade landed beyond reach in his foxhole. Quickly estimating the situation, he determined to save the others if possible, shouted a warning and instantly dived on the missile, absorbing the exploding charge in his own body and thereby protecting his comrades from serious injury. Stouthearted and indomitable, he had unhesitatingly relinquished his own chance of survival that his fellow Marines might carry on the relentless fight against a fanatic enemy and, his dauntless courage, cool decision and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of certain death reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class LaBelle and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

Harry S. Truman
President of the United States

Private First Class James Dennis La Belle enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on 18 November 1943. Fifteen months later, on a remote Pacific volcanic isle, he earned the coveted Medal of Honor, the highest military honor awarded by the United States.

Born in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, on 22 November 1925, James La Belle lived a life parallel to that of the average American youth. He attended grammar school in his neighborhood in Minneapolis and, in his spare time, vied with other boys his age for top honors on the basketball court and the baseball diamond. His spare time favorite was the raising of homing pigeons.

In Columbia Heights High School, the future Marine put his 67-inch, 129-pound frame to good use by starring on the basketball, baseball and boxing teams, while following a vocational course in woodwork and metalwork. During summer vacations he worked as an apprentice acetylene welder for a local air conditioning corporation.

Displaying the same spirit that won his laurels on the athletic field, the wiry 17-year-old Minnesotan obtained his mother's permission and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in Minneapolis.

Recruit training at the Marine Corps Base in San Diego, California, followed, and here he learned the use of the tools of war in the fashion that has distinguished the Marine Corps on the field of battle from its very founding.

At Camp Pendleton, California, he qualified in the intensive combat training course before embarking for overseas, and on 30 June 1944, he joined the regimental Weapons Company, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division. The following August he sailed on board the USS George F. Elliott, bound for Hilo, Hawaii, and eventually the lava ash shores of Iwo Jima.

At Camp Tarawa, a Marine camp in Hawaii near Hilo, the regimental Weapons Company engaged in more indoctrination and training preparatory to actual combat. He was taught battle hints here that were to stand him in good stead in the titanic struggle that was to come.

On 19 February 1945, after aerial and naval forces had pounded its desolate surface for many days, the island of Iwo Jima felt the sting of the invading Marine amphibious forces. One of thousands, PFC La Belle fought continuously from the initial landing until 8 March 1945 when he gallantly gave his life and earned the highest military honor his nation could bestow.

His mother was presented the Medal of Honor by BGen William E. Riley, then Director of Marine Corps Public Information, in ceremonies 21 July 1946 in Minneapolis.

Private First Class La Belle's remains were returned to the United States in late 1948, and were reinterred in the cemetery in Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

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