The Army and the nation are mourning the passing of World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Nicholas Oresko, who died Oct. 4. He was 96 years old.
Oresko, who was a master sergeant, had been the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient at the time of his passing. He received the nation’s highest military decoration Oct. 12, 1945.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said the nation has lost a hero.
“I join the family and friends of former Master Sgt. Nicholas Oresko who grieve at the loss of our nation’s oldest recipient of the Medal of Honor,” he said.
Chandler praised the bravery of Oresko.
“As his (Medal of Honor) citation states, ‘his quick thinking, indomitable courage, and unswerving devotion’ on Jan. 23, 1945, saved the lives of many of his fellow Soldiers and allowed his unit to accomplish its mission,” said Chandler.
“Thank you, Nicholas, for your lesson in personal courage and selfless service,” said Chandler.
Oresko, who had received an outpouring of love and support from the community, was surrounded by veterans and current military members in his final days. Some service members reportedly stood watch at his bedside after Oresko was admitted to a New Jersey hospital where he died due to complications from surgery.
His wife passed away in 1980 and his son died in 2010. He will be buried in New Jersey with full military honors.
Oresko is a hero in his hometown, Bayonne, N.J., where a school is named after him, according to the mayor’s office.
“One of the best things I ever had the great opportunity to do was to name a school after Nicholas Oresko while he was still with us. May his courage continue to inspire all of us,” said Bayonne Mayor Mark A. Smith.
Oresko made his hometown proud and represented the patriotism of the community so well, said Smith.
“Nicholas Oresko showed uncommon bravery, carrying out two one-man attacks on German bunkers,” he said. “Although he was wounded, he refused to leave the battlefield until his mission was accomplished.”
His outstanding heroism and courage helped defeat Nazi Germany, and his actions will stand as a great example for future generations, said Smith.
In the Battle of the Bulge, Oresko “swiftly worked ahead alone” after “deadly automatic fire from the flanks pinned down his unit” near Tettingen, Germany, Jan. 23, 1945, according to his Medal of Honor citation.
Oresko, a platoon sergeant with Company C, 302nd Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division, 3rd Army, moved through the gunfire and then threw a grenade into a German position, rushed the bunker and killed all the hostile occupants who survived the grenade blast, it said.
He then, according to the citation, continued the assault after he was wounded in machinegun fire.
“As withering machinegun and rifle fire swept the area, he struck out alone in advance of his men to a second bunker,” the citation states.
“With a grenade, he crippled the dug-in machinegun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed, one-man attack.”
Oresko, with “quick thinking, indomitable courage, and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded,” killed 12 Germans, prevented a delay in the assault, and made it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties, according to the citation.
Oresko received the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony with 14 other members of the armed forces, according to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.
“It is the greatest honor that can come to a man. It is an honor that all of us strive for, but very few of us ever achieve,” said President Harry S. Truman in bestowing the award, states the transcript from the presidential library and museum.