Nicholas Oresko

Nicholas Oresko, a platoon leader with the 302nd Infantry, landed in France in August 1944, two months after the Normandy invasion. There were still pockets of German troops in northern France that had been bypassed by the swift Allied advance after D-Day, and Master Sergeant Oresko's unit spent several weeks working to contain them. In December, his unit was suddenly rushed to support American troops that had been forced to retreat during the Battle of the Bulge.

In late January 1945, Oresko's company began to attack strong enemy positions near Tettington, Germany. For two days, the Americans tried to break through; each time, the assault stalled and they were pushed back. Then on the afternoon of January 23, the word came down to make another push. Pointing at the bunkers containing the German machine guns that had kept his unit pinned down in the freezing cold for a day, Oresko climbed out of his trench and yelled, "Okay, let's go!" None of his men moved. "Let's go!" he yelled again as he started forward. Still there was no movement behind him; by this time he was running alone through the heavy snow. He mumbled a prayer to himself: Lord, I know I'm going to die. Please just make it fast.

Automatic weapons fire was crackling all around him. To his amazement, he covered the fifty feet to the first German gun position without getting hit. He tossed a grenade into the log bunker; after it exploded, he rushed in, shooting point-blank with his rifle and killing all the soldiers manning the position. Then the second German gun started firing on him, wounding him in the hip and knocking him down. While the gun continued to fire, he realized that because he was at the base of the bunker, below the gun slit, the gunners couldn't see him. As he crawled forward, his hand touched a wire hidden in the snow; he rolled into a shallow hole just as a booby trap went off close by.

By this time, Oresko was directly below the German machine gun, which continued firing over his head at his men. He reached inside his jacket for grenades, but there weren't any there—he had lost them in the snow. He crawled back to retrieve them, then headed back to the gun. He pulled the pin on one of the grenades, counted to four, and tossed it into the bunker. As it exploded, he followed it in, wiping out all the soldiers inside with his rifle. In all, he killed twelve Germans and cleared the way for his company to go back on the offensive.

The position secured, Oresko allowed medics to evacuate him to a field hospital. After weeks behind the lines in a French hospital, he returned to limited duty. In early August, he was told by his commanding officer that he was going home. "I don't have enough points," Oresko said, referring to the formula that determined who was eligible to return to the States. The officer explained that Oresko would be receiving the Medal of Honor, and that was all the points he needed. President Harry Truman presented the medal to him at the White House on October 12, 1945.