Dr. Shank was a Medical Corps First Lieutenant in the Army Reserves serving in the capacity as a civilian physician on Wake Island. He was captured after the fall of Wake Island and was executed along with around 100 other civilian workers on October 7, 1943. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor by the United States Marine Corps but the award was downgraded to the Navy Cross. Most historians believe it was because of his status as a civilian. He is the ONLY Civilian ever awarded the Navy Cross. Read his entire story in the AMEDD Historian.
SHANK, LAWTON E. (POW)
Civilian, First Lieutenant, Medical Corps, U.S. Army Reserve
Naval Air Station, Wake Island
Date of Action: 9 December 1941
Citation: NAVY CROSS
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Dr. Lawton E. Shank, a United States Civilian, (United States Army Reserve Medical Corps First Lieutenant, but employed as an Army Civilian) for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy as Physician to American Contractors, Naval Air Station, Wake Island, while associated with the naval defenses on Wake Island on 9 December 1941. At about 1100, while in the camp hospital, during an intensive bombing and strafing attack in the course of which the hospital was completely destroyed and several persons therein killed or wounded. Doctor Shank remained at his post and supervised the evacuation of the patients and equipment. With absolute disregard for his own safety, and displaying great presence of mind, he was thus enabled to save those still living and to establish a new hospital in an empty magazine. Doctor Shank’s display of outstanding courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.