Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Commander John H. Balch was born on January 2nd, 1896 in Edgerton, Kansas. In 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy while studying at Kansas State University. Shortly after training, Balch was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and was sent to fight in France as the United States entered World War I.
The American Expeditionary Force included two regiments of Marines, who would take part in some of the most vicious fighting on the Western Front. After the Russian surrender in the East, Germany redeployed nearly 50 divisions to France, hoping to stop the Allies before most of the U.S. forces arrived.
In France, Balch would serve as a Pharmacist’s Mate First Class and a Corpsman, saving wounded Marines. His first major engagement was the Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918. Balch was wounded as the Marines stopped the German advance just a few dozen miles from Paris.
After Belleau Wood, the U.S. and Allies began a counter offensive to cut the German supply lines. On July 19th, 1918, Balch distinguished himself at the Battle of Soissons, in Vierzy, France. Under heavy machine gun and artillery fire, he brought wounded Marines back to the aid station, and treated them without stopping for 16 hours. Soissons served as a turning point, putting the Germans on the defensive for the rest of the war.
After that battle, the U.S. fought in one of the final engagements of the war: the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge. With the Germans on the defensive, the U.S. aimed to seize the Champagne region. On October 5th, 1918, Balch distinguished himself yet again. While taking heavy artillery fire near the town of Sommepy, he established an advanced dressing station to treat the wounded on the battlefield. A little more than a month later, the war was over.
Balch was discharged from the Navy on August 19th, 1919, and received the Medal of Honor the following month for his actions in Vierzy and Sommepy.
In 1942, Balch joined the Navy again, this time as a commissioned officer. During World War II, he served in Australia and the Philippines.
He retired in 1950, at the rank of Commander with a distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, and the Purple Heart. He also received the French Croix de Guerre, the Italian War Merit Cross, and the Portuguese War Cross.
Balch passed away on October 15th, 1980.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our associate producer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.