Thu, May 23

Memorial Day Tribute<br><i>Jerome student one of America's greatest WWI heroes</i>

Courtesy photo

WWI HERO John Henry Pruitt II is pictured with six of the medals he earned while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in France. Pruitt was killed in action; he died on his 22nd birthday. Medals shown, left to right: Medal of Honor, Maltese Cross, unidentified medal, Croix de Guerre, Croce di Guerra and the Victory Medal.

Pruitt killed two German soldiers and captured 40 more. Later that same day, while serving on sniper duty, he was hit by a mortar shell and gravely wounded.

He died the next day — on his 22nd birthday.

Military experts have said that Pruitt not only saved many American soldiers' lives but also that his heroic efforts greatly helped his unit accomplish its mission.

For his valor, Pruitt was posthumously decorated. Pruitt received two Medals of Honor, one from the Navy and one from the Army. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre by France, and the Croce di Guerra by Italy, both medals are those countries equivalents to the American Medal of Honor. In addition, Pruitt received two purple hearts, four silver stars, four bronze stars, and several other combat and victory medals. He was the first person from Arizona to earn a Medal of Honor.

"I can't find anybody who was more decorated than he was," said John H. Pruitt III, the Cottonwood nephew of Cpl. Pruitt.

The younger Pruitt and his three sisters have conducted considerable research into their famous uncle's military honors.

Buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Cpl. Pruitt was cited by President Woodrow Wilson, and the Navy named a destroyer after him. The USS Pruitt was launched in 1920.

Born in Pruitt Hallow, Ark., in 1896, Cpl. Pruitt moved to Jerome with his family. His father, who had been a farmer in Arkansas, became a blacksmith in the mines of Jerome, according to Georgia Ahrlich, Cpl. Pruitt's niece. The Pruitt family believes Cpl. Pruitt attended elementary school in Jerome for several years before his family moved to Phoenix.

According to a family scrapbook and old newspaper clippings, Hurley B. Pruitt, the father of John Pruitt III, and the brother of Cpl. Pruitt, was the first marshal of Scottsdale.

John Pruitt III and his sisters allowed all of the medals to be displayed in the Arizona Capitol for several years. Eventually, the collection was broken up when some of the medals were included in the Freedom Train tour in 1976. Some of the medals disappeared and have not been accounted for.

On April 22, John Pruitt III and his sisters went to the state capitol and retrieved the medals so they could be donated to the U.S. Marine Corps for display in the Corps' new museum scheduled to open in 2005.

"Ten years ago I was offered $250,000 for the medals," John Pruitt III said. "Today, they'd probably be worth half a million."

But John and his sisters all agree they wouldn't feel right selling the medals. They feel it would diminish their uncle's acts of valor. "Besides," John said, "those medals belong to the Marines."