State’s lone Medal of Honor recipient dies
October 14, 2004
American war hero Richard K. Sorenson, 79, was preparing to visit the Marshal Islands for the dedication of a catamaran in his name when he died at his home in Reno Saturday, his wife said Thursday.
“He was looking forward to that trip. He said he was determined he was going to go, but we didn’t know if he was going to make it,” Milli Sorenson said.
“I’m the only Medal of Honor recipient in the entire state,” Sorenson said proudly during an interview in 2003 when he was selected as grand marshal of the 2003 Nevada Day Parade.
Called a “60-year miracle” by his family, Sorenson was not expected to survive a World War II injury he received when he threw himself on a grenade in the Marshal Islands, 24 hours after he first stepped on the shore.
For his actions, which saved the lives of five fellow Marines in February 1944, the then-19-year-old private from Anoka, Minn., received the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of 3,459 awarded.
“The Japanese attacked Sorenson’s position in what he later called a ‘full-fledged banzai charge.’ His squad had been fighting for its life for half an hour when a Japanese soldier got close enough to throw a grenade in their midst.
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Sorenson’s first impulse was to jump to the other side of the concrete foundation, but he instantly realized that his buddies would take the impact and that the entire squad would be overrun, so he threw himself on the grenade and took the full force of the explosion,” Peter Collier, wrote in his book, “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call to Duty.”
In addition to the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart Sorenson received for the wounds he suffered at Kwajalein, he held the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal with one Bronze Star; the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Medal with one Bronze Star; the American Area Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
Sorenson married Milli in 1949 and eventually resigned from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant in 1957. He went on to work with the Veterans Administration where he was promoted to division chief of the Veteran Service Department.
In 1978, he transferred to Reno. He retired in 1985.
In 1991, a statue titled “Above and Beyond,” was dedicated to Sorenson as well as a park in his boyhood town of Anoka, Minn.
A memorial service will be Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Mountain View Mortuary, 425 Stoker Ave. in Reno. He will be buried with full military honors at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis at a later date.
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