Lt. William G. King wearing the Commendation ribbon received from Admiral Nimitz. [Photo: Mrs. Helen King]
Letter of Commendation from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to Lt. William G. King for his taking over the duties of Battalion Surgeon on the island of Tinian during the U.S. invasion. [Photo: Mrs. Helen King]
Somehow, the young man from Luverne, Alabama, had not envisioned himself on the black, volcanic rock of an island called Iwo Jima when he graduated from dental school. He was less than three years out of a small dental college in Atlanta, when he found himself pulling teeth as well as treating wounded Marines on Iwo Jima. Lieutenant William G. King had already distinguished himself during the Invasion of Tinian and earned a letter of commendation from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Seventh Fleet.
William Green King was born on July 19, 1918, in Luverne, Crenshaw County, Alabama. His parents were Charles Tema King and Stella Beal King. After graduating from Luverne High School in 1936, King enrolled at Presbyterian Junior College in Maxton, North Carolina. After he graduated, from there, he enrolled in Atlanta Southern Dental College in Atlanta, Georgia, graduating in June 1942. During his senior year at dental school, King was commissioned as a Lieutenant [Junior Grade] in the U.S. Navy Reserves.
The young dentist practiced for a short time in his hometown of Luverne, Alabama, before being called to active duty and sent to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas. Lt. William King had bought a new 1941 Ford convertible. You can imagine the popularity of the newly commissioned Navy officer among the ladies of Corpus Christi. When he completed his training in Texas, he was ordered to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base near San Diego, California. King drove his car to California, sold it and placed the money in a safety deposit box for the future purchase of an engagement ring.
Camp Pendleton was the home of the 4th Marine Division and King was assigned to the HQ Company, HQ Battalion, 4th Marine Division. After training was completed at Camp Pendleton, the 4th Marine Division was shipped to Camp Maui on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Camp Maui was the Amphibious Training Center for the Marines who were about to become part of the Allied island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Amphibious warfare required intensive combat training and the coordination of air, sea and ground forces. During the tough, two years that the 18,000 Marines practiced amphibious landings at Camp Maui, they suffered more than 1,100 casualties and 212 deaths. The 4th Marines left Camp Maui for the invasion in the Marshall Islands [Majuro, Kwajalein and Eniwetok] in January 1944.
Lt. William G. King giving inoculations at Camp Maui, Hawaii, prior to invasions in the Pacific during WWII. [Photo: Mrs. Helen King]
After the Marshall Islands campaign, the 4th Marine Division invaded the Marianas Islands [Guam, Saipan and Tinian] in June 1944. Lt. William G. King took part in the invasion of Tinian. The 4th Marines suffered some 1,906 casualties on Tinian, of which 290 were killed in action. When the battalion surgeon became incapacitated by wounds, Lt. King took over his duties, treating the sick and wounded. For his personal initiative in taking over the duties of the battalion surgeon on Tinian, King received a letter of commendation from Admiral Chester. W, Nimitz [a copy of which accompanies this article]. The author could find no other evidence of any such commendation for a Navy dentist during WW II.
In August 1944, the 4th Marines returned to Camp Maui to recuperate and replenish men and supplies. By January 1945, the Marines were ready to begin the 4,000-mile voyage to Iwo Jima. The invasion of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945 and the island was not considered secure until March 26. Lt. William G. King found himself thrust into the middle of what is considered the greatest battle ever fought by the United States Marine Corps. And once again, King would take on the duties of a dentist and a doctor.
The work to save lives on Iwo Jima was an ongoing, all-hands-effort by doctors and dentists. The author would like to quote from an article dated Sunday, March 4, 1945, that appeared in The Alabama Journal, titled, “70 Mangled Marines Saved by Heroic Navy Medical Men.” The article was written by 2nd Lt. Jim G. Lucas [formerly of The Tulsa Tribune], who was a Marine Corps public relations officer:
“Iwo Jima [delayed] – This Navy transport lay less than 1,000 yards off the blazing beaches
last night while four gallant Navy doctors and two dentists fought to save the lives of 74
It was a gripping battle, one which began less than two hours after the first assault waves
had gone ashore yesterday.
At the height of this fight to save life, enemy shells landed between this transport and one
100 yards to the left. For three hours, gun crews stood at their stations to fight off enemy
planes while the silent battle went on inside.
This morning, tired Lt. Cdr. J. H. McCauley, of Los Angeles, Ca. said he hadn’t done enough.
Four Marines were dead, but 70 were alive and 68 have a good chance to survive.
The first wounded were brought aboard even before this transport had discharged its
Lt. Cdr. McCauley, E. S. Groseclose, of Lynchburg, Va., E. B. Frazier of Mobile, Al. and
Lt. R. A. Hamilton of Springfield, Ky., Navy doctors went into action as soon as the
casualty boat came alongside….by mid-afternoon, three boatloads of casualties
Assisting the doctors were two Navy dentists, Lt. W. J. McGill of Homestead, Pa., and Lt.
William King of Luverne, Al., and the ship’s chaplain, Lt. W. E. Wright of Fort Worth, Tx.,
former pastor of the First Christian Church at Smithville, Tx.
One man died in the early afternoon. Dr. McCauley fought desperately to save his life,
but the man was all but dead when he reached the ship.
Unbelievable medical feats were accomplished in those brief hours. Brain surgery was
performed on the rolling sea. Dr. McCauley saved the shattered arm of a Marine, rather
An attempt to serve the evening meal was interrupted by the arrival of more wounded.
The battle to save life continued throughout the night and into the next morning.
Chaplain Wright moved among the wounded. He was with all of the four who died when
the end came.
The first phase of the battle on this improvised hospital ship was to keep the wounded
alive. Today, doctors began the fight to repair the wrecked bodies.
Marine Col. Orin H. Wheeler of Washington D. C., said “The night’s work was the
finest thing I have ever seen.”
Lt. William G. King [left] at an aid station at the foot of the air strip on Iwo Jima, 1945. [Photo: Mrs. Helen King]
Lt. William King’s efforts to treat wounded Marines onboard an improvised hospital ship was not the last time he was called upon to fulfill the duties of a medical doctor. He would soon find himself treating wounded Marines on the dangerous and inhospitable island of Iwo Jima.
“My best friend was a foxhole,” recalled Lt. William G. King, about his time on Iwo Jima during WW II. He made that comment to his wife because he had to jump into a foxhole many times on Iwo Jima. Helen King related her conversation with her late husband after he returned from the war, “He didn’t talk about it often but you could tell that he was proud of his time spent with the 4th Marines.” Lt. King was among the heroic medical personnel who saved lives on Iwo Jima. Among the Allied casualties during the 36-day battle, were more than 738 wounded medical officers and corpsmen. Of that number 197 paid the ultimate price.
*Notes about Iwo Jima: The island was little more than a black, volcanic rock, some two miles wide by four miles long, located about 660 miles south of Japan. For its defense, the Japanese had placed some 18,000 soldiers there and dug 11 miles of underground tunnels to connect their defensive positions. The U. S. pre-invasion bombardment did very little damage to the well-defended Japanese troops. The Japanese commander on the island was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He asked each defender to take out 10 American Marines when they died. The fanatical defenders fought to the bitter end and only 216 prisoners were taken alive.
Of the 82 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during WW II, 22 were awarded for actions on Iwo Jima [and another five to Navy Corpsmen]. Admiral Nimitz said this about the battle on Iwo Jima, “Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon Valor was a common virtue.”
More than 450 naval ships and 70,000 Marines took part in the invasion. Marine Corps casualties were more than 20,000 wounded and nearly 7,000 killed in action. The casualties from the first few days were evacuated to ships and treated. Medical personnel went ashore after that and set up aid stations and finally a hospital. By D-Day plus 15 days,
Lt. King and other medical personnel were treating more than 1,000 casualties per day.
Lt. William G. King had first assumed the duties of a medical doctor during the invasion of Tinian after the battalion surgeon had been wounded. For his initiative in treating wounded Marines on Tinian, Lt. King received a Letter of Commendation from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet. It would become commonplace for dentists to work side-by-side with medical doctors on Iwo Jima.
Several photos show Lt. King at various aid stations [called “sick bay,” a Navy term] across Iwo Jima. During the first days of the invasion, King helped treat casualties in a make-shift operating room aboard a troop-ship. His actions along with others of the medical staff, were written up in the March 4, 1945, edition of The Alabama Journal. Titled, “70 Mangled Marines Saved by Heroic Navy Medical Men,” which was quoted in Part 1 of the author’s article about Lt. King.
Lt. William G. King performing dental care on Iwo Jima during WWII. Note the sidearm on his hip. [Photo: Mrs. Helen King]
Once the Japanese were pushed back, the medical personnel followed the Marines ashore and set up aid stations. In one photo, Lt. King can be seen using a dental drill on a patient. Although the operation of the foot pedal that drove the drill could be done by the dentist, it was usually done by a helper. In a letter home, King said, “I’ve been trying to get me a motor to put on my drill so we do not have to pump it with your foot.” We’re not sure if that ever happened.
Lt. William G. King performing dental care on Iwo Jima. He also used a foot-powered dental drill. Note the sidearm. Medical personnel were not supposed to be armed but the Japanese targeted any medical worker they found. [Photo: Helen King]
Iwo Jima was declared secured on March 26, 1945. The Marines had suffered horrendous casualties. The 4th Marine Division [to which Lt. King was attached] had suffered some 9,098 wounded and killed, nearly half of the division’s strength. Because of their losses, the 4th Division was shipped back to Camp Maui and would not take part in the last major invasion at Okinawa. Before leaving Iwo Jima, Lt. King witnessed the use of the island’s landing strip by damaged B-29 bombers, returning from missions over Japan. Iwo Jima saved the lives of many airmen who could not make it back to their landing field on Saipan – but at a terrible cost to the Marines.
On August 17, 1945, Lt. William G. King sent a telegram from California, “Will be home within 10 days.” After he returned home to Luverne, he lived with his parents. He was still a member of the Navy Reserve and assigned to Saufley Field, Florida, an auxiliary field for the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.
Lt. William G. King, U.S. Navy Dental Corps, in his 1941 Ford convertible [Photo – Mrs. Helen King]
Sometime around Thanksgiving 1945, William G. King was best man at the wedding of his best friend, Ralph Windham, from Luverne. Windham was marrying Margaret Foreman of Springville, Alabama. Her best friend was Helen Pearson of Springville, who was participating in the wedding. The wedding was the beginning of a long-distance courtship between William King and Helen Pearson. They were married on April 20, 1946.
Lt. King was discharged from the Navy that same month. He had been awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal with four bronze stars for the Battles of the Marshall Islands, Tinian, Saipan and Iwo Jima; the American Campaign Medal; the Presidential Unit Citation Medal with bronze star to indicate the second award; the Navy Commendation Medal with bronze V, indicating it was received in combat and the World War II Victory Medal.
Later that year, King received a letter from Dr. Ray Evers of Andalusia, Alabama. Dr. Evers had read an article about Dr. King’s heroism in the war and offered him an opportunity to establish a dental practice in a new clinic he was building in Andalusia. The Hillcrest clinic had not been completed but would house the practice of Dr. Evers and a dental office.
In August 1946, Dr. King and Helen moved to Andalusia and he established a dental practice in a rented office in the American Legion building across from the Presbyterian Church on South Three Street. As soon as the Hillcrest office was completed, Dr. King moved his practice there.
After a couple of years, Dr. King purchased a lot on Crescent Street, just off the Court Square, between the R. C. Cola bottling plant and the First Baptist Church. He built a new office there and moved his practice in 1950. He practiced there until his death in 1995. A highlight of his practice was to have his son, Dr. William G. King, Jr. join him in 1976.
Dr. William G. King, Sr. was a member of the second chartering of the Kiwanis Club in 1947. As a Kiwanian, Dr. King helped form the Key Club at Andalusia High School of which the author is a former member. One of the projects of the Key Club was to encourage church attendance and the club members, as a group, would attend many of the different churches in the area every year.
In 1962, Dr. King was among the Kiwanians who took over the franchise of the Covington County Fair. They held their first Covington County Fair that year. On the 25th anniversary of the fair in 1987, Dr. King was interviewed by the Andalusia Star-News. He talked about the fair, “I’m looking forward to it….One thing’s for sure, without the help of the wives of the Kiwanis members, we’d be unable to have a very successful fair – or even have a fair at all.” In discussing his work with the fair, he said, “For the last 12 years or so, I’ve been in charge of concession stands…Up until the last four years, I had charge of security too.”
Dr. Bill King [William G. Jr.] presented the Alabama Dental Association's 50-year Gold Certificate to his father, Dr. William G. King, Sr. at the ADA's annual meeting in 1992. Shown, L-R, Dr. Bill King, his sister, Kathy King Little, Mrs. Helen King and Dr. William G. King, Sr. [Photo: Alabama Dental Association]
At the annual meeting of the Alabama Dental Association in 1992, Dr. Bill King [William G. Jr.] had the honor of presenting ADA’s 50-year Gold Certificate to his father, Dr. William G. King, Sr. He talked about his dad, “I’ve been with him to the office late at night to relieve pain for a patient he had never seen before and didn’t expect to see again and probably when he didn’t even expect to receive payment for his services….I’ve been on Sunday afternoon trips 20-30 miles out of town to patients who were home-bound to tend to their dental needs…His entire professional career has been caring for people, not just their teeth, and thousands of patients have benefitted.”
Dr. William G. King, Sr. died on January 15, 1995. His funeral was held on January 17 at the First Presbyterian Church of Andalusia where he had been a long-time member. Burial was at the Andalusia Memorial Cemetery. Dr. King was survived by his wife, Helen P. King; daughter, Kathy King [Danny] Little; his sons, Dr. William G. [Dale] King and Frank [Jan] King; a sister, Helen Perrene and six grandchildren.
[Sources: Wikipedia; Naval history and Heritage Command; The Alabama Journal, article by 2nd Lt. Jim G. Lucas [Marine Corps Public Relations Officer], “70 Mangled Marines Saved by Heroic Navy Medical Men,” dated March 4, 1945]
The author thanks Dr. William G. “Bill” King, Jr. and his mother, Mrs. Helen King for providing information about the late Dr. William G. King, Sr. Mrs. Helen King is 100 years old and is as sharp as most 40-year-olds and a delight to talk to.