U.S. Marine Henry Gurke’s self sacrifice on Bougainville

MARINES WADING ASHORE on D-Day at Bougainville, as seen from a beached LCVP.

While the Allied airforce and U.S. carrier planes sought to keep the landings on Bougainville free from interference from the Japanese Navy, the U.S.Marine Corps was establishing itself on yet another inhospitable island. Bougainville was to distinguish itself by being particularly inhospitable, it was so boggy that it was difficult to dig a trench through much of the territory.

The campaign was to be long and costly, lasting to the end of the war. The Japanese were firmly established at either end of the island – and the Marines had landed in the middle in an attempt to establish themselves unhindered. It was not to be, the Japanese were very soon fighting back from the surrounding jungle:

Private First Class Henry Gurke (November 6, 1922 – November 9, 1943)
Private First Class Henry Gurke (November 6, 1922 – November 9, 1943)

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to



for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

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 9, 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.


Through the Bougainville mud and muck, a Marine artillery unit carries food to the forward gun positions. At times sinking into mud up to their hips, the Marines worked from sunrise to sunset. Because it was almost impossible for vehicles to plow through the mud, most of the work was done by hand.

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