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Medal of Honor Monday: Marine Corps Pfc. Harold Agerholm

When a comrade falls in war, you do what you can to help them. That’s a mantra Marine Corps Pfc. Harold Christ Agerholm took seriously during the World War II Battle of Saipan when he helped evacuate nearly two-dozen wounded men during a large enemy counterattack. Agerholm didn’t survive the mission, but his selfless actions led leaders to posthumously bestow him with the Medal of Honor.  

Agerholm was born on Jan. 29, 1925, in Racine, Wisconsin, one of six children born to Christ and Rose Agerholm. His father died when he was about 8, so his mother went on to raise two boys and four girls by herself.   

According to one of Agerholm’s sisters, he loved nature and animals and was inseparable from his Dachshund as a child. Agerholm attended public schools, then worked for about five months at a manufacturing company as a multigraph operator before joining the Marine Corps Reserve in July 1942. His mother told newspapers at the time that since he was only 17, he begged her to join, so she let him.  

After attending basic training in San Diego, Agerholm was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. In November 1942, the unit deployed for overseas duty in New Zealand. While there, Agerholm was promoted to private first class and spent most of the next year training.  

In November 1943, Agerholm took part in fierce fighting on Betio Island during the Battle of Tarawa. Afterward, he went with his division to Hawaii to begin preparations for the invasion of Saipan, which Allies launched on June 15, 1944. Agerholm’s unit landed on the island on the fourth day of fighting.  

The battle lasted about three weeks, largely because of the terrain, which made holding and taking land a slow process, according to Navy historians. Agerholm’s valiant actions toward the end of the campaign led to his Medal of Honor. 

On July 7, 1944, the enemy launched a massive counterattack known as a banzai charge against U.S. positions. When the horde overran a neighboring artillery battalion, Agerholm immediately volunteered to help repulse the attackers and evacuate the wounded.  

Agerholm found an abandoned Jeep that had been used as an ambulance and, over the course of the next three hours, repeatedly drove through heavy mortar and rifle fire, singlehandedly loading and evacuating about 45 men into his vehicle and taking them to safety.  

Despite the persistent and intense enemy fire, Agerholm ran out to aide two men who he thought were wounded Marines; however, on his way to them, he was shot by a Japanese sniper and killed.  

Two days later, the Battle of Saipan ended as the Allies took over the island, which put them in a strategic position to be able to fly bombers within range of Tokyo.  

However, the fight was costly. According to naval historians, there were 26,000 American casualties, including 5,000 deaths. At least 23,000 Japanese fighters were killed with thousands more civilians either killed or wounded.  

Agerholm’s tireless valor led to him posthumously receiving the Medal of Honor. It was bestowed upon his mother on June 25, 1945, in the living room of her home. According to the Marine Corps University, his mother didn’t want a public ceremony.  

Two other fallen Marines posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their actions in Saipan: Sgt. Grant F. Timmerman and Pfc. Harold G. Epperson

Agerholm was initially buried in a cemetery in Saipan, but he was repatriated in 1947 and interred in Mound Cemetery in Racine. Several members of the community held a rededication ceremony at his grave in 2004. 

Neither the Navy nor Racine have forgotten Agerholm. In December 1945, soon after the war ended, a former enemy base on the Japanese mainland was taken over by the U.S. and named Camp Agerholm. The following year, a newly commissioned Navy destroyer, the USS Agerholm, was named in his honor, too.  

In Racine, an elementary school was named Jerstad-Agerholm Elementary School in honor of Agerholm and Army Maj. John Jerstad, another hometown recipient of the Medal of Honor.  

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, a duplicate of Agerholm’s Medal of Honor is on display at the Racine Veterans Legacy Museum.  

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have received the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

Source: Department of Defense

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