John Henry Pruitt (1896–1918)

John Henry Pruitt of Newton County is one of only nineteen soldiers in U.S. military history to be twice awarded the Medal of Honor. Both presentations were for a single action as a combat Marine during World War I.

John Pruitt was born on October 4, 1896, at Pruitt Hollow Boston Township near the small settlement of Fallsville (Newton County) to George B. and Melissa Belle Pruitt. Most sources incorrectly list his birthplace as Fayetteville (Washington County). At a very early age, Pruitt, along with his family, moved to Jerome, Arizona, where his older brother was a blacksmith in the local mines. Little is known of Pruitt’s early years. It is believed that he attended school in Jerome before the family moved to Alhambra, a Phoenix suburb.

Pruitt enlisted in the Marine Corps on May 3, 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I. After receiving basic training, he was shipped overseas where, by February 1918, he was in France as a member of the Seventy-eighth Company, Sixth Regiment, Second Division.

Corporal Pruitt performed his heroic feats on the first day of the twenty-four-day campaign against German forces occupying the area northeast of Reims, France. On October 3, 1918, during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, Pruitt single-handedly silenced and captured two enemy machinegun nests. Continuing to move forward, he captured an additional forty German soldiers manning the nearby trenches. The next day—October 4, 1918, his twenty-second birthday—he died of wounds received the previous day. His body was returned to the United States and today rests at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery.

For his actions, Pruitt, on May 10, 1919, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy. Pruitt is one of only nineteen soldiers to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor twice. Pruitt was also awarded the Purple Heart twice and both the Silver Star and Bronze Star four times. On August 2, 1920, the destroyer USS Pruitt was launched in his honor.

For additional information:
Ware, David. Beyond the Call of Duty, Arkansas Honors Its Veterans. Little Rock: Arkansas Secretary of State, 2002.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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