Ola Mize, son of an Alabama sharecropper, dropped out of school in 1946 after the ninth grade to help take care of his mother, brothers, and sisters. A few years later, earning just fifteen dollars a week, he decided he could do better in the Army but was rejected because he weighed only 120 pounds. He kept pestering recruiters until they finally let him enlist.
Mize was finishing his tour of duty with the 82nd Airborne when the Korean War broke out. He had planned to go back to school, but he didn't want to miss the experience of combat, so he extended his enlistment and volunteered for a front-line unit.
On the evening of June 10, 1953, Sergeant Mize's unit and another platoon were defending a position called Outpost Harry near Surang-ni, Korea, when Chinese troops attacked. First came a shattering artillery barrage, followed by an assault by a battalion-size force that overran the Americans.
Some weeks earlier, knowing that his M-1 rifle with its eight-round clip would be ineffective in close fighting, Mize had found a carbine and "traded" his rifle for it. Now he picked up the weapon, which could hold two taped-together clips of thirty rounds each, and attacked the Chinese clogging the American trench line. Firing constantly, he killed about forty of them.
With all the company's officers dead or wounded, Mize worked frantically to establish a defensive position, dragging wounded into shelters made of timbers pulled from American bunkers destroyed by enemy fire. Over the next several hours of hand-to-hand fighting, he assembled an impromptu patrol that went from bunker to bunker, firing out of the apertures in an effort to make the Chinese believe that they were still opposed by a vigorous force. At one point, seeing a Chinese soldier level his weapon at one of his men, Mize killed the soldier with a single shot. At another point, as Communist troops swarmed over an American machine gun, he charged the position, killing ten enemy soldiers and dispersing the rest. He was knocked down several times by grenades, and his uniform was shredded by shrapnel, but he escaped serious injury.
When the situation seemed lost, Mize got his men to crawl into bunkers and called in American artillery. He decided that it was better to get killed by your own fire than the enemy's. Around midnight, Mize dug himself out and made his way through enemy fire to his company command post, which had been overrun by Chinese forces. Then he worked his way back to his men.
They continued to repel the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting. American counterattack forces reached Mize's position at about noon on June 11. After helping to resecure the outpost, Mize got permission to take his wounded men back to the American lines. Upon reaching friendly territory, Mize, the regimental commander, and the division commander were all standing together. The two commanders did not recognize Mize, whose uniform was in tatters, his flak jacket smoking, and his face badly swollen from burns. "Who are you?" demanded the regimental commander. "Sergeant Mize," he answered. "You're not Mize," the commander responded. "He's dead."
Several months later, informed that he would receive the Medal of Honor, Mize told his commanding officer that he didn't want it because it really should go to his entire platoon. He was reluctantly flown back to the United States so he could attend the ceremony in Denver. He was decorated by President Dwight Eisenhower on September 7, 1954.