Most service members would do whatever they could to keep their comrades out of harm’s way. Marine Corps Pfc. Whitt L. Moreland was no different. When his initial plan to save his fellow Marines during battle went awry, he had only seconds to react; he chose to give his life for theirs. That decision earned him the Medal of Honor.
Moreland was born March 7, 1930, to Lloyd and Patsy in Waco, Texas. The family eventually moved to Austin, Texas, where Moreland became a devout Methodist. He also joined the Boy Scouts when he was 12, the same time his sister, Elizabeth, was born.
As a teen, Moreland was friendly and easygoing, but he also liked to compete. He played high school football for two years. According to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, he also lettered twice in track, with his specialty being the 440-yard relay. The newspaper’s July 29, 1952, edition said Moreland also took part in local rodeo contests.
Moreland graduated from Junction High School in 1948. He joined the Marine Corps the following September and was discharged after only a year of service. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, and when the Korean War began in the summer of 1950, he was reinstated to active duty later that year. As a private first class, he was assigned as an intelligence scout for Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Soon after he was reinstated, his unit deployed to Korea.
On May 29, 1951, a 21-year-old Moreland volunteered to go with a rifle platoon on a mission to assault a strongly defended enemy position on a hillside near Kwagch’i-Dong, Korea. They succeeded in taking over the enemy emplacement.
Afterward, Moreland led a party to neutralize another enemy bunker he’d seen about 400 meters ahead. He and his fellow Marines pushed through a fire-swept area and were almost at the bunker when the enemy launched a volley of hand grenades at them.
Moreland immediately started kicking several of the grenades off the ridgeline so they exploded out of harm’s way. But then he slipped while trying to kick another.
There are only a few seconds between pulling the pin on a grenade and it going off, so Moreland had very little time to react. As if knowing he wouldn’t have time to get back on his feet before the ordnance blew, he did the one thing he could think of to save his comrades: He shouted a warning and then threw himself on top of the exploding grenade. To save his fellow Marines, Moreland gave his own life.
When Moreland’s body was returned home, he was buried at Whittington Cemetery in Mount Ida, Arkansas. It was his mother’s family cemetery, and his parents would later be buried beside him.
For Moreland’s immense devotion and sacrifice, it was announced shortly after he died that he would receive the Medal of Honor. He became the 17th Marine to earn the medal for actions taken in Korea.
On Aug. 4, 1952, the nation’s highest honor was presented to Moreland’s parents during a ceremony at the state capitol building in Austin. Hundreds attended the ceremony, including dozens of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in their uniforms.
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 earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.