Master Sergeant Richard Keith Sorenson, of New Brighton, Minnesota, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Kwajalein Atoll the night of 1-2 February 1944, when he threw himself on an exploding Japanese grenade to save the lives of five fellow Marines. Miraculously, although fragments of the grenade ripped through his thighs, hips, right arm and right leg, he lived through the action.
Then a private, he was serving with Company M, 3d Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, when he earned the Nation's highest decoration.
After recovering from the wounds he suffered in this action and serving at several stations in the United States, he was discharged from the Marine Corps as a sergeant in 1946, but enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve the following year. He was recalled to active duty in 1950 (later transferring to the regular Marine Corps), and had risen to the rank of master sergeant before he was appointed a temporary second lieutenant on 16 October 1953. The following year, he was promoted to first lieutenant, but on 18 November 1955, he voluntarily reverted to the rank of master sergeant in order to be discharged once more. He returned to civilian life the same day.
The son of a World War I Navy man, Richard Keith Sorenson was born 28 August 1924, in Anoka, Minnesota, where he graduated from high school in 1942. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on 13 December of that same year, in Minneapolis, and in January 1943, began his boot training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. That March he completed boot camp, and the following month, he joined Company M, 3d Battalion, 24th Marines, at Camp Pendleton, California. There, he underwent intensive training with that unit before sailing with it for Kwajalein on 11 January 1944.
Private Sorenson landed with his battalion at Namur on 1 February and after being wounded that night, he was treated aboard a transport, enroute to Hawaii. He was hospitalized at Pearl Harbor until May, when he was transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Seattle, Washington, and there, on 19 July 1944, a month after being promoted, PFC Sorenson was presented the Medal of Honor by MajGen Joseph C. Fegan, then commanding the Department of the Pacific.
Released from the hospital later in July, PFC Sorenson was ordered to the Marine Air Detachment at the Naval Air Station, Minneapolis, where he was promoted to corporal that August. The following month he was assigned to the headquarters of the Central Recruiting Division in Chicago, Illinois, and promoted to sergeant. He was transferred from Chicago to the Midwestern Recruiting Division in St. Louis, Missouri, in September 1945, and while attached to that division, served at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station, Fargo, North Dakota. From there he was ordered to Great Lakes, Illinois, where he was discharged 23 February 1946.
Back in civilian life, he worked as a contact representative for the Veterans Administration in Minneapolis and Alexandria, Minnesota. He also attended St. Johns University at Collegeville, Minnesota, and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on 10 July 1947. He was ordered back to extended active duty on 17 November 1950, and for the next three years, was stationed at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Minneapolis. There, he was promoted to staff sergeant in May 1951, and to master sergeant in June 1953. In November 1953, following his appointment as a second lieutenant, he was ordered to the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, where he completed the Basic Course for Marine officers in April 1954.
After that, he served as Assistant Supply Officer of the 7th Engineer Battalion at Camp Pendleton, where he was appointed a first lieutenant in September 1954. He was transferred to the 2nd Replacement Battalion at Camp Pendleton in January 1955, and that March, was ordered overseas for duty with the 3d Engineer Battalion, 3d Marine Division. With that unit he served in Japan and on Okinawa before returning to the United States that November to be discharged after voluntarily reverting back to the rank of master sergeant.
Master Sergeant Sorenson passed away on 9 October 2004 and is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In addition to the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart Medal he received for the wounds he suffered at Kwajalein, MSgt Sorenson holds the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with one bronze star; the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal with one bronze star; the American Area Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
World War II 1941-1945 Medal of Honor