Jesse Ray Drowley
1919 - 1996
Medal of Honor - World War II
Purple Heart with Two Oak Leaf Clusters
Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster
Combat Infantryman Badge
Jesse Ray Drowley was born on September 13, 1919, in St. Charles, Michigan. He was the eldest of six children born to Sidney and Mabel (Sylvester) Drowley. The family moved to many different areas of Michigan during those years. During his childhood, Jesse was always called Ray, and it wasn’t until he joined the military that anyone used his first name.
After high school, Jesse worked with his father in a sawmill. Although he wanted to join the military right after Pearl Harbor, his father told Jesse he needed him. He waited until April 8, 1942, to enlist in the U.S. Army in Detroit, Michigan. The Americal Divison of the U.S. Army, was formed in May 1942 on the island of New Caledonia. Jesse served as a staff sergeant in Company B, 1st Battalion, 132nd Infantry Regiment, Americal Division, when he became the only Americal soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II.
Medal of Honor Citation
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy at Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 30 January 1944. S/Sgt. Drowley, a squad leader in a platoon whose mission during an attack was to remain under cover while holding the perimeter defense and acting as a reserve for assaulting echelon, saw three members of the assault company fall badly wounded. When intense hostile fire prevented aid from reaching the casualties, he fearlessly rushed forward to carry the wounded to cover. After rescuing two men, S/Sgt. Drowley discovered an enemy pillbox undetected by assaulting tanks that was inflicting heavy casualties upon the attacking force and was a chief obstacle to the success of the advance. Delegating the rescue of the third man to an assistant, he ran across open terrain to one of the tanks. Signaling to the crew, he climbed to the turret, exchanged his weapon for a submachine gun and voluntarily rode the deck of the tank, directing it toward the pillbox by tracer fire. The tank, under constant heavy enemy fire, continued to within 20 feet of the pillbox where S/Sgt. Drowley received a severe bullet wound in the chest. Refusing to return for medical treatment, he remained on the tank and continued to direct its progress until the enemy pillbox was definitely located by the crew. At this point he again was wounded by small arms fire, losing his left eye and falling to the ground. He remained alongside the tank until the pillbox had been completely demolished and another directly behind the first destroyed. S/Sgt. Drowley, his voluntary mission successfully accomplished, returned alone for medical treatment.
After the battle at Bougainville, Jesse was transported first to San Francisco, then to Baxter Army Hospital in Spokane for the wounds he sustained. On September 6, 1944, Drowley was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House. It was while he was at Baxter Hospital that he met his future wife, Kathleen E. McAvoy, a volunteer at the hospital. They were married on May 13, 1944. They raised two sons, Michael and Timothy. After leaving the military, Jesse ran a gas station for several years. He became a salesman of farm equipment for J. I. Case, and worked for Bonneville Power Company until December 1963. Jesse then worked at Fairchild Air Force Base until he retired in 1980.
Jesse and Kathleen were involved in the Medal of Honor Society, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1474, Americal Division Veterans Association, and Disabled American Veterans. He was able to attend several United States Presidential Inaugurations and took part in many Department of Veteran Affairs activities. He attended many Medal ceremonies at the White House and met every president from Roosevelt to Clinton.
Jessie shoveled the first spade of dirt for the planting of a World War II commemorative red oak at the Veterans Hospital in Spokane. He died on May 20, 1996, a few days after celebrating his 52nd wedding anniversary and was given a full military funeral with a U.S. Army Honor Guard from Fort Lewis.