George Watson (Medal of Honor)

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George Watson
George WATSON.jpg
Born 1915
Birmingham, Alabama
Died March 8, 1943 (aged 27–28)
near Porloch Harbor, New Guinea
Place of burial at sea
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1942–1943
Rank Private
Unit 2nd Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment L&B
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Medal of Honor
Purple Heart

George Watson (1915 – March 8, 1943) was a private in the United States Army who was killed in action during World War II. He was one of seven African-American soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor for their actions during World War II, and the only one of the seven to earn his medal while serving in the Pacific Theater.

Biography[edit]

A resident of Birmingham, Alabama, he attended Colorado A&M (now known as Colorado State University) and graduated in 1942.[1] He entered the Army on September 1, 1942, and was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment. He was a passenger aboard the U.S. Army controlled chartered Dutch steamer 's Jacob on March 8, 1943, which was near Porlock Harbor, New Guinea, when the ship was hit by Japanese bombers.

's Jacob settles by the bow with survivors swimming in the water.

When the ship was abandoned, Watson remained in the water and, instead of trying to save himself, assisted soldiers who could not swim into life rafts. Weakened by his exertions, he was dragged down by the suction of the sinking ship and drowned. His body was never recovered.

For this action, Watson was originally awarded the Army's second-highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. He was the first African American to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II.[1] The award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 1997. During a ceremony conducted on January 13 of that year, President Bill Clinton bestowed the Medal of Honor on seven African-American veterans of World War II. Only one of the recipients, Vernon J. Baker, was still alive to receive his award in person.

Awards and honors[edit]

Watson's military awards include the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal. Watson had no known next of kin, so his medals are displayed in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia.

Several places and structures have been named in Watson's honor, including a field in Fort Benning, Georgia, and, in 1997, the United States Navy ship USNS Watson (T-AKR-310). The Watson is the lead ship of her class of large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) ships.

Medal of Honor Citation[edit]

Survivors from the 's Jacob clinging to wreckage about to be rescued by HMAS Bendigo, 8 March 1943.

"The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Private George Watson, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action on 8 March 1943, while serving with 29th Quarter Master Regiment, in action at Porloch Harbor, New Guinea. Private Watson was on board a ship which was attacked and hit by enemy bombers. When the ship was abandoned, Private Watson, instead of seeking to save himself, remained in the water assisting several soldiers who could not swim to reach the safety of the raft. This heroic action, which subsequently cost him his life, resulted in the saving of several of his comrades. Weakened by his exertions, he was dragged down by the suction of the sinking ship and was drowned. Private Watson's extraordinarily valorous actions, daring leadership, and self-sacrificing devotion to his fellow-man exemplify the finest traditions of military service."

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