William George Harrell was born in Rio Grande City, Texas on June 26, 1922. He went to Texas A&M for two years prior to his enlistment in the Marine Corps on July 3, 1942.
Harrell departed for overseas duty in February 1943 with Company A, 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, as an armorer. He landed on Iwo Jima where he would earn the Medal of Honor.
On the night of March 3, Sgt. Harrell and another man were in a long narrow two-man foxhole on a ridge 20 yards forward of the company command post. Beyond the foxhole the ridge fell off into a ravine which was in Japanese territory.
Because of their nearness to the enemy, the two men took turns standing one-hour watches throughout the night. During the night, an initial Japanese attack was repulsed, but the other Marine's weapon jammed and he returned to the command post to obtain another.
While he was gone, the enemy managed to get a grenade in the foxhole, which exploded, blowing off Harrell's left hand. The second Marine returned just as the Japanese were swarming up the foxhole and together he and Sgt. Harrell drove them off.
Thinking he was dying due to the severity of his wounds and saber cuts suffered in the last attack, Harrell ordered his companion to get to safety. Two more Japanese charged the foxhole, setting off another grenade. As Sgt. Harrell attempted to push it out of the hole it exploded, tearing off his right hand.
He was evacuated from Iwo Jima and treated at various field hospitals prior to his arrival in the United States.
He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at the White House on October 5, 1945. Harrell was discharged from the Marine Corps because of disability resulting from his wounds.
Sergeant Harrell died on August 9, 1964 and was laid to rest in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.