On 22 August 2010, the Navy’s Dental Corps will celebrate its 98th anniversary. While many Marines are aware of the extraordinary heroism of Hospital Corpsmen in tending to wounded Marines, it is perhaps little recognized that two members of the Navy Dental Corps were awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during World War I in saving the lives of wounded Marines.
Lieutenant (JG) Weedon E. Osborne, DC, USN, graduated from Northwestern University Dental School in 1915. After practicing and teaching dentistry, he took the examination for dental surgeon in the Navy. On 8 May 1917, he was appointed a dental surgeon in the Navy, and was soon assigned to duty on the USS ALABAMA. On 30 March 1918, he reported to the Commanding Officer of the 6th Marines, and was serving with the regiment on the opening day of the bloody struggle for Belleau Wood. On 6 June, as the 6th Marines advanced on Bouresches at the southern edge of the Wood, Lieutenant Osborne was acting as assistant surgeon in the first line trenches, and in the words of his posthumously awarded Medal of Honor citation, “threw himself zealously into the work of rescuing the wounded. Extremely courageous in the performance of this perilous task, he was killed while carrying a wounded officer to safety.”
Today, the Headquarters of the 2d Dental Company at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which serves the 6th Marines, is named in honor of Lieutenant Osborne. Dedicated on 6 June 1988, the 70th anniversary of his death at Belleau Wood, the Dental Clinic stands as a visible symbol of the enduring relationship between the Navy and Marine Corps.
Ironically, Lieutenant Osborne was not the sole member of the U.S. Navy Dental Corps to be awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism while serving with a Marine unit in World War I. Lieutenant Commander Alexander G. Lyle was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in an earlier action while serving with the 5th Marines. On 23 April 1918, while his unit was under heavy shellfire on the French front, Lieutenant Commander Lyle rushed to the assistance of Corporal Thomas Regan, who was seriously wounded, and in the citation which accompanied his Medal of Honor, “administered such effective surgical assistance while the bombardment was still continuing,” as to save the life of the young Marine. Commander Lyle went on to command the Naval Dental Corps, and was the first dental officer in any service to be appointed to flag rank.
He retired on 1 August 1948, and was promoted to vice admiral on the basis of his combat awards. Today, the 33 Area Dental Clinic at Camp Margarita, serving the 5th Marines, is named in honor of the heroic dental surgeon.