German machine-gun bunkers were entrenched 50 feet above Nicholas Oresko's platoon and had repelled his men. It was January 1945 and they had been pinned down for two days during the the Battle of the Bulge. On the third day, Master Sgt Oresko, a New Jersey oil refinery labourer, decided that his platoon would sneak up on the Germans in the deep snow as the sky darkened.
"Let's go!" he ordered. No one followed. "I looked up to heaven," he recalled later of his one-man assault, "and I said: 'Lord, I know I am going to die. Make it fast, please.'"
He began moving upwards, and bullets began strafing him. As he closed in on the first bunker he threw a grenade in and then rushed the opening, firing at the survivors of the blast. He killed them all, but he was then struck in the hip by a machine-gun bullet and fell into an enemy trench. "They saw me go down," he said. "They thought they'd killed me."
The Germans began firing at his comrades, which bought him time to find a grenade he had lost in the snow. He crawled toward the second German bunker, threw a grenade into it and again shot down survivors with his rifle. Despite severe wounds and loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until the mission was completed. He was credited with killing 12 Germans and minimising casualties to his platoon.
For his actions that day he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the US military's highest award for valour, in October 1945. Before his death at 96 he was believed to be the oldest surviving recipient. Born in Bayonne, New Jersey in 1917, after the war he worked for the Veterans Administration for 32 years in New Jersey and retired as a supervisor.
Samantha Hogan, Washington PostReuse content