Eight individuals from the State of Utah have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. This is the highest US military decoration, awarded by Congress to a member of the armed forces for gallantry and bravery in combat at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. A display honoring those men is along one side of the main hallway at Payson’s Mervin Sharp Bennion Central Utah Veterans Home. The facility is named after Marvin Bennion for his valor during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Marvin Bennion received the Medal of Honor posthumously after being mortally wounded and remaining in command of his ship while showing complete disregard for his own life. He was born in Vernon, Utah May 5, 1887, and graduated third in his 1910 Class at the United States Naval Academy. He died December 7, 1941, at the age of 54.
Edward S. Michael was a first lieutenant piloting a B-17 April 11, 1944, that was so badly shot up that he ordered the crew to bail out. He himself was badly wounded and bleeding from a cannon shell that blew up in the cockpit. Finding that one of the crewman’s parachute was so badly shot up that it was unusable he continued to fly the airplane to English soil with barely enough strength from loss of blood to control the landing. He was awarded the Medal of Honor 9 months later, on January 15, 1945. He transferred to the Air Force and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1971. He is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Springville, Utah.
Bernard Fisher graduated from the University of Utah in 1949 and joined the US Air Force in 1951. At the age of 38, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam. From July 1965 to June 1966 he flew 200 combat missions in the A-1E/H Skyraider. On March 10, 1966, he made a brave and daring rescue of a pilot who crash-landed on an airstrip that was being overrun by the enemy. Against the odds, the rescue was successful despite 19 bullet holes in his airplane. Fisher was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson. On January 19, 1967,
George Wahlen of Ogden, Utah started working as an aircraft mechanic trainee at 17 and then enlisted in the United States Navy a few months later on June 11, 1943. The Navy assigned him to be a hospital corpsman. He landed on Iwa Jima with a Marine Unit on February 19, 1945, and was seriously wounded by an enemy grenade on February 26. He refused to be evacuated and continued to aid wounded Marines on the battlefield. On March 2, he was wounded in the back and again continued to aid more Marines until he was shot in the leg on March 3. Unable to walk, he crawled 50 yards to help another Marine before he was finally evacuated. The Medal of Honor was presented by Harry S. Truman outside the White House on October 5, 1945. After recovering from his wounds, George Wahlen enlisted in the United States Army in 1948 to serve as a medical technician and serviced in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He retired from the Army in 1968, with the rank of Major after being wounded again and awarded a Purple Heart.
William Hall born in Stories (Spring Canyon), Utah, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938 and became a pilot flying the SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber during the Battle of the Coral Sea. On May 7 and 8, 1942, his skillful dive bombing substantially damaged the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho and the next day he shot down three enemy airplanes despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered. He managed to return to his aircraft carrier with serious wounds.
Peter Tomich and his cousin John Tonic were born in what is now Bosnia and caught a ship to the United States when they were 20 years old. When World War I broke out they enlisted in the U.S. Army. They did not see combat, but served with pride and became U.S. Citizens. After 18 months, their Army enlistment expired and Peter joined the U.S. Navy. Other than his cousin who stayed in New York, Peter had no family other than his Navy sailor friends. Peter was on the USS Utah when it fell victim to the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. At the expense of his own life, he saved many lives on the USS Utah. Three months after the Pearl Harbor bombing President Roosevelt authorized awarding the Medal of Honor to Peter Tomich. However, there was no next of kin to accept the award. In 1947 Utah Governor Herbert B. Maw proclaimed Peter Tomich an Honorary Citizen of Utah and the State of Utah the Guardianship of his Medal Honor.
Jose Valdez at the outbreak of World War II joined the U.S. Army in Pleasant Grove, Utah. He fought with the 3rd Infantry Division from North Africa through Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. On January 25, 1945, Jose was on patrol near Rosenkranz, France with five fellow soldiers when a German tank was headed toward them. He opened fire and killed three German soldiers. The tank withdrew and then the German Army responded with a full attack of two companies of infantrymen. Jose Valdez volunteered to provide cover for his fellow soldiers to escape. He was seriously wounded but continued to defend his position enabling the rest of his patrol to make it back to American lines. He died three days after the attack and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on February 8, 1946.
Brian Thacker Joined the U.S. Army in Salt Lake, Utah in June 1969 and on March 31, 1971, was serving as a First Lieutenant in Battery A of the 1st Battalion, 92nd Field Artillery Regiment. On that day Brian’s base in Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam was attacked and overrun by North Vietnamese forces. He stayed behind to provide cover for his retreating soldiers. In a supreme act of courage, he called on friendly artillery fire on his own position to allow his comrades more time to withdraw safely from the area and at the same time inflict even greater casualties on the enemy forces. Although wounded and unable to escape from the area himself, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for 8 days until friendly forces regained control of the area.