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Medal of Honor Monday: Marine Corps Maj. Robert H. Dunlap

Marine Corps Maj. Robert Hugo Dunlap was one of about 70,000 Marines who landed on the shores of Iwo Jima in late February 1945. At the time, neither he nor his compatriots knew how fierce the fight to overtake the strategic island would be, but he knew he had a job to do. Like many others in the battle, Dunlap did his job with uncommon valor, and that earned him the Medal of Honor.

Dunlap was born on Oct. 19, 1920, to William and Leona Dunlap. He had a younger brother named Harold, and they grew up in Abingdon, Ill.

Marine Corps Maj. Robert H. Dunlap received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Feb. 20-21, 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima. (Navy photograph)

Dunlap was an active teen who played football and basketball and did track during high school. After graduation in 1938, he went to Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, where he majored in economics and business administration. Dunlap continued to do track and play football while there. In fact, according to Jeff Ranklin, a historian at Monmouth College, he had been offered a contract by the Philadelphia Eagles, but World War II got in the way.

On March 5, 1942, Dunlap joined the Marine Corps Reserve, but he wasn’t called to active duty until he graduated from Monmouth in May 1942. After attending candidate’s class, he received his commission on July 18, 1942, then went to parachute training school in San Diego. He was assigned to the 3rd Parachute Battalion in December 1942.

The unit was eventually sent to the Pacific. By December 1943, Dunlap was the leader of a platoon that was pinned down by heavy Japanese fire on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. Despite Dunlap’s shy and quiet nature, his commanding officers said he exposed himself to the heavy fire and rallied his men to regain lost ground. For his leadership and courage, he was awarded a letter of commendation from famed Navy Adm. William Halsey.

Dunlap returned to the U.S. in March 1944 to join the newly formed 5th Marine Division, only to be deployed to the Pacific again that summer. On Oct. 2, 1944, Dunlap was promoted to captain and took charge of Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines.

By February 1945, U.S. forces had slowly maneuvered their way closer to a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. Before they could do that, though, they needed to capture the tiny island of Iwo Jima, which could put U.S. bombers in striking distance of Japan. Marines and some naval forces began landing on the island on Feb. 19, 1945. Dunlap’s unit was in one of the first waves.

On Feb. 20, Dunlap led his troops from low ground toward the island’s steep cliffs. The Japanese, who were entrenched in underground tunnels and caves, pounded them with artillery, mortars, rifles and machine guns.

Robert H. Dunlap during his days at Monmouth College circa 1942. Dunlap went on to become a Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient. (Monmouth College photograph)

Company C steadily inched forward until the onslaught was too great to continue, but Dunlap refused to have his progress halted. He pushed ahead of his men, crawling about 200 yards until he made it to the base of a cliff about 50 yards from the Japanese lines. From there he was able to locate the enemy’s gun positions. He then crawled back to his unit and passed that vital information on to supporting artillery and naval gunfire units.

Dunlap spent the next two days and nights working without sleep to direct supporting fire upon the enemy, often putting himself in harm’s way to do so. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he “skillfully directed a smashing bombardment against the almost impregnable Japanese positions despite numerous obstacles and heavy Marine casualties.”

Dunlap’s leadership inspired his men during a critical phase of the battle. His efforts slowed the Japanese defense enough for Marines to eventually move forward and take Mount Suribachi, where the iconic photo of Marines raising the U.S. flag was taken on Feb. 23, 1945.

On Feb. 26, as fighting continued, Dunlap was wounded in the left hip. He was evacuated to Guam and then the U.S., where he spent several months in and out of hospitals. For much of that recovery, Dunlap was in a full body cast.

Meanwhile, after five intense weeks of fighting, U.S. troops finally declared Iwo Jima secured on March 26. But the win came at a huge price. The Marines suffered more than 25,000 casualties, including nearly 7,000 dead. Of the nearly 300 men Dunlap led onto Iwo Jima, fewer than half survived the first four days of fighting, Rankin said.

A wounded Marine is treated by corpsmen in the sands of Iwo Jima shortly after a wave of troops stormed ashore on amtracs and Coast Guard-manned landing boats during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the winter of 1945. (Coast Guard/National Archives photograph)

On Dec. 18, 1945, Dunlap and five other service members attended a White House ceremony to receive the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. In total, Dunlap and 26 other men earned the medal for their actions at Iwo Jima — more than any other battle in U.S. history.

Just a few days before receiving his medal, Dunlap married his college sweetheart, Mary Louise Frantz. They went on to have two children.

Dunlap’s daughter, Donna Butler, told the Galesburg Register-Mail newspaper in 2014 that after the war, her dad spent about 18 years as a farmer back in Abingdon before becoming a schoolteacher. He continued his work as an educator until he retired in 1982.

Dunlap died on March 24, 2000, in Monmouth, Ill., at age 79. He was buried in the town’s Warren County Memorial Park.

Dunlap was a member of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution along with his cousin, Navy Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. Stockdale, who grew up in Abingdon alongside Dunlap, also earned a Medal of Honor for his actions in 1969 during the Vietnam War. In 2014, a veterans’ memorial in Abingdon was dedicated to the two men.

A Marine is transferred by Coast Guardsmen to a landing boat off the flaming shore of Iwo Jima on Feb. 27, 1945. (Coast Guard/National Archives photograph)
President Harry S. Truman admires the Medal of Honor he placed on the neck of Marine Corps Maj. Robert H. Dunlap, Dec. 18, 1945. Dunlap earned the honor for his actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima. (Monmouth College photograph)

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