b. 11/01/1909 Andersonville, Georgia. d. 02/02/1944 Kwajalein Atoll.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 01-02/02/1944 Kwajalein Atoll.
Aquilla James Dyess was born on January 11, 1909 in Andersonville, Georgia. He was a distant cousin of fellow World War II veteran William Dyess. As a youth, he attained the rank of Eagle Scout, highest in the Boy Scouts. Dyess is one of only nine known Eagle Scouts who also received the Medal of Honor. He is also the only American to receive both the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism and the Medal of Honor. In 1929, he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for saving two swimmers off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina in 1928.
Dyess graduated from Clemson College, Clemson, South Carolina, in 1932 with a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture. At Clemson, he served as a cadet major in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserve in 1931.
In civilian life, he was a general contractor. He also served as assistant director of a summer camp for boys.
Dyess was appointed a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1936 and was assigned to 19th Battalion, a reserve unit in Augusta Georgia. In 1937, 1stLt Dyess was awarded the bronze star as a shooting member of the Marine Corps Rifle Team which won the Hilton trophy in the National matches, and was given the same award in 1938 as an alternate member of the team that captured the Rattlesnake trophy in the matches.
On February 1, 1944, the day preceding Dyess’s death, six U.S. Marine snipers were on a patrol run on Namur Island where Japanese forces had taken up protected positions following the Battle of Kwajalein. The Marine patrol had inadvertently moved behind enemy lines, surrounded on three sides by Japanese forces, where they came under small arms fire from a concealed position. One of the Marines was killed instantly, and four of the remaining five Marines were sustained injuries from the attack. One of the injured Marines, Cpl. Frank Pokrop, later recalled, “with no protection and heavy fire coming at us from a few feet away and dusk approaching, we were certain to be killed. All of a sudden Col. Dyess broke through on the right, braving the very heavy fire, and got all of us out of there."
Lieutenant Colonel Dyess was killed on February 2, 1944 by a burst of enemy machine gun fire while standing on the parapet of an anti-tank trench directing a group of infantry in a flanking attack against the last Japanese position in the northern part of Namur Island. In this final assault, LtCol Dyess posted himself between the opposing lines and, exposed to fire from heavy automatic weapons, led his troops in the advance. Wherever the attack was slowed by heavier enemy fire, he quickly appeared and placed himself at the head of his men and inspired them to push forward.
Lieutenant Colonel Dyess was initially buried in the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Roi-Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. Later, in 1948, he was re-interred in Westover Memorial Park Cemetery, Augusta, Georgia.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines, Reinforced, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the assault on Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, February 1 and 2, 1944. Undaunted by severe fire from automatic Japanese weapons, Lieutenant Colonel Dyess launched a powerful final attack on the second day of the assault, unhesitatingly posting himself between the opposing lines to point out objectives and avenues of approach and personally leading the advancing troops. Alert, and determined to quicken the pace of the offensive against increased enemy fire, he was constantly at the head of advance units, inspiring his men to push forward until the Japanese had been driven back to a small center of resistance and victory assured. While standing on the parapet of an antitank trench directing a group of infantry in a flanking attack against the last enemy position, Lieutenant Colonel Dyess was killed by a burst of enemy machine-gun fire. His daring and forceful leadership and his valiant fighting spirit in the face of terrific opposition were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
BURIAL LOCATION: WESTOVER MEMORIAL PARK, AUGUSTA, GEORGIA.
Crypt D, Row 5