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Medal of Honor recipient in WWII

October 07, 2013|Times Staff and Wire Reports
  • President Truman presented Nicholas Oresko with his Medal of Honor on Oct. 30, 1945. The medal is awarded by Congress for risk of life in combat above and beyond the call of duty.
President Truman presented Nicholas Oresko with his Medal of Honor on Oct.… (Jerry McCrea / Associated…)

Nicholas Oresko, an Army master sergeant who was badly wounded as he single-handedly took out two enemy bunkers during the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, died Friday. The World War II veteran was 96 and had been the nation's oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.

Oresko had been hospitalized after injuring himself in a fall at an assisted-living center in Cresskill, N.J. According to officials at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, he died of complications from surgery for a broken right femur.

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military honor, awarded by Congress for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty. Oresko received his medal from President Truman on Oct. 30, 1945. At 28, Oresko was the platoon leader when automatic fire pinned down his unit near Tettington, Germany, on Jan. 23, 1945. Realizing a machine gun in a nearby bunker needed to be eliminated, Oresko moved out alone in the morning darkness, braving bullets that zipped about him, until he was close enough to throw a grenade into the German bunker. He rushed the bunker and used his M-1 rifle to kill the soldiers who survived the grenade blast.

Then another machine gun fired, knocking Oresko down and wounding him in the right hip and leg. He managed to crawl to another bunker and take it out with another grenade. Despite being weak from loss of blood, Oresko refused to be evacuated until he was assured that the mission was accomplished.

Oresko's Medal of Honor citation noted his "quick thinking, indomitable courage and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded." His actions were credited with preventing numerous American casualties and were praised as key to the Allies' victory.

Recalling the incident in a 2011 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Oresko said, "You go by instinct. If you're going to die anyway, you just keep going."

Born Jan. 18, 1917, in Bayonne, N.J., Oresko arrived in France two months after the Allied invasion of June 1944. By December of that year he had been sent to join the American forces fighting the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge.

After the war, Oresko returned to New Jersey and went to work in the claims department of the Veterans Administration. He became a supervisor and retired in 1978. A widower, Oresko had no immediate survivors.


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