Corporal Duane Edgar Dewey, of South Haven and Muskegon, Michigan, the first person to receive the Medal of Honor from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, earned the Nation’s highest award for heroism on 16 April 1952, when, although already wounded, he smothered an exploding enemy grenade with his own body to save the lives of his comrades.
Corporal Dewey earned the Medal of Honor near Panmunjom, Korea, while serving as leader of a machine-gun squad with Company E, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He had been wounded, and was being treated by a Navy medical corpsman when an enemy grenade landed at the squad’s position. Yanking the corpsman to the ground, and warning members of the squad, Cpl Dewey flung himself on the grenade shouting, “Doc, I got it in my hip pocket!”
Suffering critical injuries, he was evacuated to Japan, and later the United States for treatment and was released from active duty on 19 August 1952. After presenting the award on 12 March 1953 at the White House, President Eisenhower told him, “You must have a body of steel.”
Duane Edgar Dewey was born 16 November 1931 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and attended school in Muskegon until 1947. He then worked for six months on a farm in South Haven, and for a year as a foundry worker at National Motors, Inc., in South Haven.
Enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve on 7 March 1951, he completed recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, and underwent intensive combat training at Camp Pendleton, California, until embarking for Korea in September 1951. Before he was wounded he had participated in the United Nations summer-fall offensive of 1951 and the second winter of Korean fighting.
After treatment of his wounds at the front he was evacuated to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Yokosuka, Japan, then to the U.S. Naval Hospitals at Mare Island, California, and Great Lakes, Illinois. Following his recuperation at Great Lakes, he was released from active duty on 19 August 1952.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Cpl Dewey’s awards include the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal with two battle stars, and the United Nations Service Medal.
Source: United States Marine Corps History Division