When you first learn that two officers in the U.S. Navy Dental Corps are Medal of Honor recipients, you might think their acts of heroism took place on a ship during an attack or some other catastrophe. In fact, both of them earned the prestigious honor on the battlefield less than six years after the Corps came into being.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Alexander G. Lyle earned his dentistry degree at Baltimore College the same year (1912) the Navy Dental Corps was authorized by an Act of Congress. Commissioned in 1915, Lyle was attached to the 5th Marine Regiment as Lieutenant Commander. When the Regiment was stationed on the front lines near the now-historic fortress of Verdun in April of 1918, it came under heavy enemy artillery fire, and a Corporal in the unit named Thomas Regan suffered a severed femoral artery—essentially a death sentence if not treated in very short order.

Ignoring the intense bombardment, Lyle rushed to Regan and used his medical training to staunch the bleeding. Regan survived the fearful wound, and Lyle was awarded his country’s highest honor for his actions. Lyle went on to garner a Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster from the U.S. Army for his courage in saving Regan’s life and for “gallantry in action against the enemy in the Soissons Sector,” as well as the Legion of Merit and the Italian War Cross.

Weedon E. Osborne, a 1915 graduate of Northwestern University Dental School, was appointed to the Navy Dental Corps as a Dental Surgeon and commissioned as a Lieutenant (junior grade). Like Lyle, Osborne was attached to a Marine Regiment, the 6th, and reported to the unit on March 30, 1918. By May, he was serving on the front lines with the Regiment’s 96th Company, commanded by Captain Donald F. Duncan, and was with it when the Battle of Bellau Wood began on June 1.

During the Allied counterattack on June 6, Captain Duncan ordered to attack the town of Bouresches. After an Allied artillery barrage intended to soften up the German lines, the 96th moved out—into a line of machine-gun emplacements and mortar teams that Allied reconnaissance had failed to spot. Oblivious to the hail of bullets, Osborne dashed from one downed Marine to another, treating the wounds of some and helping others escape the deadline fire.

As Duncan was leading to break the enemy line, he was hit by machine gun fire in the abdomen. With the aid of two other Marines, Duncan carried Duncan to a grove of tree to attend to his wounds, but as they laid Duncan down an artillery round hit close enough to kill Osborne, Duncan, and one other Marine. For his bravery and selfless actions under fire, Osborne was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, as well as the Purple Heart and the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, and was also cited twice for the Silver Star by the U.S. Army.

Osborne was the first U.S. Navy Officer to die on the battlefield during World War I. In 1919, the first ship in the Navy to be named after a Dental Corps officer, the destroyer USS Osborne, was launched at Squantum, Mississippi.

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