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The Quiet Hero

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The Quiet Hero
The Untold Medal of Honor Story of George E. Wahlen at the Battle for Iwo Jima. By Gary W. Toyn. Foreword by Bob Dole. Introduction by Orrin Hatch. (American Legacy Historical Press, 2007. Pg. 240.) ISBN: 0976154781

Reviewed by Herbert White - December 28, 2007

A navy corpsman assigned to the Marines, George E. Wahlen was one of the many unsung heroes of World War II. For more than sixty years his story has been hidden by his own reticence to talk about his actions, and by the passage of time. Now at long last, Wahlen's heroism has been exposed, and is chronicled in The Quiet Hero: The Untold Medal of Honor Story of George E. Wahlen at the Battle for Iwo Jima. Written by Gary W. Toyn, this gripping biography tells the story of this distinguish American hero and his heroic actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Born in 1924, Wahlen volunteered for the draft when his father forbade him to join the military. He had wanted to serve as an aircraft mechanic, but at the time the Army Air Corps was not accepting new recruits, so he joined the Navy. To his surprised, instead of being assigned to work on aircraft, a job for which he was already qualified, he was assigned to the hospital corps school to be trained as a corpsman. Despite having an initial dislike for the field, Wahlen excelled at his studies, and later volunteered for combat duty with the Marines. In February of 1945, Wahlen landed on Iwo Jima with the Marines as part of Operation Detachment. During the ensuing battle between the United States Marines and the Japanese, Wahlen treated numerous casualties and saving untold lives. During the course of the battle, Wahlen was injured no less than three times, and each time he refused to be evacuated and continued to minister to 'his' Marines. It was to take Wahlen nine months to recover from the wounds he received during the battle, and it was while he was recuperating that he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman. In addition to this ultimate honor, he also received the Navy Cross and the Gold Star.

In The Quiet Hero, Toyn chronicles Wahlen's life from his birth through to the present. However, the bulk of the book concentrates on the Battle of Iwo Jima and Wahlen's actions there. This is a fast paced, and gripping book that is filled with relevant photographs, some on the gruesome side - but they serve to provide the reader with just the slightest hint of the horrors that Wahlen witness during the Battle for Iwo Jima.

Toyn's narrative style is fluid and it readily captures the reader's attention and provides a vivid glimpse into the world of this quiet and reserved American hero who's contribution to the U.S. military did not end when he was discharged from the Navy at the end of World War II. After taking a short break to attend college, Wahlen joined the U.S. Army in 1948, and served with distinction during both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Wahlen's story is truly remarkable, and it provides readers with an intimate glimpse the life of an extraordinary young man who proved that heroes do still exist. As important, this book reminds us of just how fierce the fighting was during the Battle of Iwo Jima (it was one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific Campaign) and it reminds us that there was much more to this battle than just Joe Rosenthal's iconic picture of a group of exhausted Marines (and one Navy Corpsman) raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The text also includes a foreword by Bob Dole and an introduction by Orrin Hatch. The Quiet Hero is a truly exceptional book about an unsung American hero and it should be read by anyone with an interest in U.S. Military history, World War II, or who is simply looking to read a fascinating account of one man's remarkable wartime experience.

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