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Jed Boal ReportingWe've been telling you a lot in recent weeks about Utahns serving overseas in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the hardship of being away from home for so long. There's a man in Utah who has unique insight into what it's like to serve in a war zone -- sixty years ago he fought to save the lives of his comrades in Iwo Jima.
Now Utah's only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient is still fighting for his fellow veterans.
February 19th, 1945, 60,000 US Marines stormed the shores of the tiny Pacific Island of Iwo Jima. They expected fierce fighting from the Japanese and that's what they got.
George Wahlen of Roy was a 21-year old Navy medic attached to a Marine platoon, anxious not to let anyone down.
George Wahlen, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient: “I guess I was always scared. I guess I was more scared that I wouldn't do it."
Instead he showed extraordinary valor aiding wounded Marines under heavy fire. Advancing on a hill, a grenade blew up next to him, knocked him out, and hit his face with shrapnel. He caught grenade fragments in the legs as he helped save 14 marines that day.
George Wahlen: “Had his legs all torn up. Got him bandaged up and tried to get him to crawl. Eventually another marine helped and we crawled him off of there."
Days later, wounded again, he refused evacuation and continued to care for fallen marines. For that he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.
After the war he served in the Army 20 years and worked at the Veterans Administration 14 years.
George Wahlen: “Realizing what so many veterans go through, the sacrifice they make, and that's why I've been involved in the nursing home and the cemetery and looking out for veterans."
The VA Hospital in Salt Lake was recently re-named in his honor. And he relates to America's future veterans fighting in Iraq.
George Wahlen: “It bothers me that it's happening, but I'm proud of what they're doing. I'm sure it's going to make the world safer."
Wahlen says his sense of duty has intensified even as the nightmares of war faded.
Wahlen will speak at the Salt Lake City Library Thursday night at 7 p.m. as part of a WWII Veterans series. Admission is free.