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Medal of Honor - Stories of the most decorated Heroes

Medal of Honor - Stories of the most decorated Heroes.
Latest hand-picked WWII news. See also: D-Day tours, Radio Controlled tanks, Helmets, WW2 Militaria, Vintage Military Vehicles, American Tanks in WWII, Bastogne.

Francis Currey, one of the three last living WWII Medal of Honor recipients, dies at 94
Francis Currey, one of the last 3 surviving recipients of the Medal of Honor for valor during WWII, has passed away at the age of 94. He shipped out in the spring of 1944 for Europe, making his way from Normandy in the wake of the D-Day invasion to the Netherlands and then, by winter, to the Ardennes region of Belgium. There, as a 19-year-old private first class during the Battle of the Bulge, the infantryman was credited with almost single-handedly holding back a German attack on the town of Malmedy. For his actions - he had “helped immobilize three German tanks, wiped out a house full of Nazis, rescued six of his trapped buddies and saved five wounded men” - Currey received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration.

This was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II
During WW2, 22 Asian Americans earned Medals of Honor, but, due to prejudices, only one received the award during the war: a young infantryman who fought in Italy and France before giving his life to save his comrades by eliminating machine gun nests and then throwing his body on an enemy grenade. Pfc. Sadao Munemori ended up joining the Army instead in February, 1942. Like most Asian Americans at the time he was sent to noncombat units to conduct menial duties. But patriotic Japanese Americans like Munemori got a new chance in early 1943 when the Army formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated combat unit for Asian Americans. Munemori was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion and shipped to Europe in April, 1944.

World War II Medal of Honor recipient Walter Ehlers dies
During the historic D-Day invasion of World War II, Walter D. Ehlers accomplished some of the most awe-inspiring acts of bravery imaginable, earning a Medal of Honor for knocking out two German machine-gun nests and saving countless Allied soldiers` lives. The 23-year-old staff sergeant charged through enemy gunfire to kill seven enemy soldiers, chase away several others, put a halt to mortar fire and carry a wounded comrade to safety, even after he been shot in the back.

Medal of Honor winner John Haw, famous for his actions at the Falaise Pocket, dies at 89
John Hawk, an Army sergeant in World War II who was awarded the Medal of Honor for a single-handed exploit that led to the capture of more than 500 German troops in France in 1944, has passed away 89. Two months after the Allies landed in Normandy in the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, they trapped thousands of retreating Germans near the town of Falaise, in what became known as the Falaise Pocket. Sergeant Hawk, a 20-year-old squad leader in a 90th Infantry Division rifle company, was dug in with his men at the edge of an apple orchard outside Chambois when German infantrymen, supported by tanks, staged a dawn attack on Aug. 20.

Army Colonel Van Barfoot - Medal of Honor, Silver Star and Bronze Star winner - dies at 92
Van Thomas Barfoot, an Army colonel and Medal of Honor, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star recipient who gained national attention in his fight to keep the U.S. flag flying in his front yard, has passed away at 92. During an action that left his squad isolated in Anzio, he advanced alone through the minefield, crawling to a German machine gun nest, which he destroyed with a hand grenade. He took out another machine gun nest with his machine gun and received the surrender of a third German machine gun crew. Later that day, he borrowed a bazooka and took up an exposed position in front of 3 advancing German Mark VI Tiger tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other two changed direction toward the flank.

Charles Murray won the Medal of Honor for single-handedly overcoming 200 German soldiers
Charles P. Murray Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly overcoming a force of 200 German soldiers during a World War II battle, has passed away at 89. Col. Murray was a 23-year-old lieutenant in the 3rd Infantry Division with just a few months of battle experience on Dec. 16, 1944, the day he displayed the "supreme courage and heroic initiative" that earned him the America's highest award for military valor.

Medal of Honor winner Paul Wiedorfer charged two German machine-gun nests during the Battle of the Bulge
Paul J. Wiedorfer, who as an Army private charged two German machine-gun nests saving his platoon caught in an ambush, has passed away at 89. He was 23 when his unit, part of General Patton's Third Army, was sent to rescue American troops trapped in Bastogne. His platoon was advancing across a clearing near Chaumont when two camouflaged machine guns erupted with fire, pinning down the American soldiers. Then Wiedorfer began his solo assault, charging into the open field, sliding across the icy clearing and when he was within 10 yards of one machine-gun emplacement, tossing a grenade into it: "I was probably a little nuts when I did it. But someone was going to die if something didn't get done. Luckily, their firing wasn't too good that day."

WWII Medal of Honor winner William Crawford worked as a janitor after the war
It's customary for a hero to sit atop a pedestal - not make a living cleaning the floor below it. Medal of Honor winner William "Bill" Crawford preferred to not live his life on high like so many war heroes. Instead, after his WWII battlefield heroics, Crawford carved out a quiet career as a shy janitor at the Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs.

Hershel Williams received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima
66 years ago Hershel "Woody" Williams was face down in the black volcanic sand of Iwo Jima when he heard the cheers. "The Marines around me started yelling and screaming and firing their weapons in the air and jumping up and down. I really couldn't figure out what was going on." Not until he saw an American flag flying on Mount Suribachi.

Corporal Williams' own bravery - "above and beyond the call of duty" - was recognized with the Medal of Honor. He charged Japanese machine guns, snipers and mines - with a flamethrower. At one point, he climbed atop a Japanese pillbox and stuck the nozzle of the flamethrower through the pillbox's air vent, killing the troops inside. When Japanese riflemen attempted to stop him with their bayonets, he took them out with a burst from the flamethrower.

Williams, who served in the 3rd Marine Division, is the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima.


Barney Hajiro, who won Medal of Honor for taking out two German machine gun emplacements, passes away (includes video)
This has been a sad month for the United States, which has lost several famous World War II warriors, beginning with the legendary Richard "Dick" Winters, who passed away in the early January.

Now Barney F. Hajiro, who won both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor (which was presented to him by President Bill Clinton) for single-handedly taking down two German machine gun positions while rescuing the lost Battalion, has passed away at 94.


Oldest surviving Medal of Honor winner John Finn passes away at 100
John W. Finn was the last survivor of the 15 Navy men who won the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was 100 and had been the oldest living recipient of the medal. On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked the American battleships numerous acts of valor played out. 8 o'clock Japanese planes attacked the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station to destroy Navy aircraft before they could get aloft. Finn, the chief petty officer in charge of munitions at the naval station, drove to the naval station - at first observing the base's 20 miles-per-hour speed limit.

Medal of Honor winner Russell Dunham eliminated 3 German machine-gun emplacements
WW2 Army veteran Russell Dunham, of the 3rd Infantry Division, won the Medal of Honor after he took out 3 German machine-gun emplacements, killed 9 soldiers and took 2 POWs in 1945. Heavily armed, he moved 75 yards up a snow-covered hill toward 3 German machine-guns. He took out the first bunker with a grenade. Advancing toward the second, he glanced around to call up his squad and a bullet hit him in the back. As he struggled to his feet, a grenade landed nearby but he kicked it away. He then crawled to the second machine gun and threw his grenade into the bunker. In pain he ran 50 yards to the third machine-gun and took it out with a grenade.

WWII Marine pilot was granted Medal of Honor for knocking 7 dive bombers in 15 minutes
James E. Swett was a Marine Corps ace who got the Medal of Honor for knocking seven Japanese dive bombers out of the air in 15 minutes. He was a first lieutenant and division leader in the Solomon Islands area of the South Pacific during World War Two when he was granted the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest award for heroism. As part of the Guadalcanal campaign, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had ordered a daylight offensive with 150 Japanese aircraft. The Allies had about half that number of planes. Leading his division of 4 Wildcat planes April 7, 1943, Swett saw 20 lightly armored Japanese Val (Aichi D3A) dive bombers trying to target Allied ships.

Medal of Honor winner Robert B. Nett: Hand-to-hand fighting with Japanese soldiers
Col. Robert B. Nett, the last of 5 Medal of Honor winners in Columbus, passed away. He enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard in 1940 and graduated from Officer Candidate School in 1942. Nett earned the America's highest military award for valor on Dec. 14, 1944, for his actions during hand-to-hand fighting with Japanese soldiers at their heavily fortified stronghold on the west coast of Leyte. The commander of E Company, 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, he led the attack, killing 7 Japanese soldiers with his rifle and bayonet. Though he was badly wounded 3 times during the attack, he was later able to rejoin his company.

Leon Johnson's Medal of Honor donated to the Army Heritage Museum of Carlisle
On Aug. 1, 1943 Leon Johnson - who entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at age 17 and would wear the military uniform most of his life - led one of the most strategically vital bombing raids of World War II. Flying at treetop level over Nazi-occupied Romania, his 44th Bomb Group delivered 1,000-pound bombs on the oil refinery that fueled much of Nazi Germany's mechanized power. The bombers left the refineries in the Ploesti oil fields in an inferno of 1,500-foot flames and badly undercut the Germans' ability to make war from that point forward. It was such an amazing mission that 5 leaders of different groups won the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor winner Michael Daly: The heroes are those who gave their lives
Michael J. Daly who was granted the Medal of Honor by President Truman for heroism as a 20-year-old lieutenant in World War II has passed away at 83. On April 18, 1945, he engaged in 4 single-handed firefights to defend his men, killing 15 Germans, silencing 3 enemy machine guns and eliminating an entire enemy patrol. During the Second World War, which he entered as an 18-year-old private after leaving West Point, Daly was also awarded 3 Silver Stars, 2 Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with "V" for acts of bravery. "I'm no hero. The heroes are those who gave their lives," he often said.

John Finn, the first Medal of Honor Winner in World War II, turns 99
John Finn, who now is not only the first recipient in the Second World War to be granted the Medal of Honor, but at age 99, he is the oldest winner of the military's highest award. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they first came over Kaneoe Bay. Finn found whatever weapon he could find to fight back despite being wounded 21 times. "There's only a 104 of us left to be in the presence of this guy... he's a legend. He still has residual wounds for that action. He is remarkable," said Medal of Honor recipient Jay Vargas.

Medal of Honor winner Alton Knappenberger - "One man army"
Alton W. Knappenberger, who got the America's highest military medal during World War II, passed away at the age 84. Pfc. Knappenberger -- an Army draftee in Company C, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division -- was granted the Medal of Honor for acting with "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" in his first and only combat experience after the Allied landing at Anzio, Italy, in 1944. He picked up a Browning automatic rifle, ran alone to a knoll and held off a German attack for over 2 hours near Cisterna di Latina, 30 miles from Nazi-held Rome, on Feb. 1, 1944. The field was filled with 60 German dead.

World War II veteran Jack Lucas who earned Medal of Honor at 17 dies
Jack Lucas, who at 14 lied his way into military service during WWII and became the youngest Marine to get the Medal of Honor, died at 80. Jacklyn "Jack" Lucas was just 6 days past his 17th birthday in Feb. 1945 when his valour at Iwo Jima earned him the America's highest military honor. He used his body to shield 3 fellow squad members from 2 grenades, and was almost killed when one detonated. "A couple of grenades rolled into the trench. I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades. I wasn't a Superman after I got hit. I let out one helluva scream when that thing went off."

Medal of Honor hero Jose Lopez - Facing German Tiger tank
On Dec. 16, 1944, the Wehrmacht started its last major attack, the Ardennes offensive, hoping to divide the American and British armies. Fate had placed Jose Lopez in the centre of history. In the morning, he heard the rumbling of a diesel engine. "Jose was horrified; it was a tank - a German tank - and not just a normal tank - it was a German Tiger tank. Initially, Jose was frozen in fear... He thought about his 38 buddies a quarter mile further down the road. He also thought about his wife and two children... Manning a machine gun, Lopez gunned down 10 advancing Germans behind the Tiger tank..."

43 Medal of Honor recipients gather
Nicholas Oresko was one of 43 Medal of Honor winners who attended a gala dinner and ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley. At 91, Oresko was one of the oldest living medal recipients attending. In Jan. 1945 he was serving as an Army master sergeant with Company C at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II near Tettington, Nazi Germany. His unit was attacked by enemy fire, but despite being struck by bullets himself, he killed 12 Germans with an attack on 2 bunkers. "After the second machine gun knocked me down, I knew I was going to die, so I was going to go all out."

Restoration giving Chattanooga's Medal of Honor Museum an overhaul
Chattanooga's Medal of Honor Museum's collection was badly damaged by water and mold in it's former storage facility. But, now those damaged items are being salvaged. World War II veteran Roberta McDevitt: "Handling these things brings back certain memories, some of them good, some of them bad." Thanks to numerous volunteer hours 250,000-300,000 items are being preserved one piece at a time. Director Patti Parks says through a pain-staking process 5% of the items have been cleaned and archived, so far. The militaria collection includes over 700 military uniforms, hundreds of medals, photos and personal items.

WWII Medal of Honor winner shares his story - 100th Infantry Division
Only 32 Medal of Honor recipients are still alive. One of them is infantry soldier Mike Colalillo, who earned the medal during the last days of WW2. On April 7, 1945 his unit came under heavy fire, bullets and shells were flying all over. "We were all pinned down, we couldn't move. If you get up we'd get shot at. We lost a lot of men there... I jumped on the tank, and just hollered in the tank and told, 'I lost my gun and I'm going to use your machine gun on the top.' And that's when I started shooting all these positions where the Germans were." Out in the open on top of the battle tank, Colalillo rode into battle, firing the machine gun mounted on the turret.

Jefferson DeBlanc, World War II fighter pilot with Medal of Honor
Jefferson J. DeBlanc, a WWII ace who was awarded the Medal of Honor for shooting down 5 Japanese planes on a single day while running out of fuel, passed away at 86. On Jan. 31, 1943, he took off from Guadalcanal in Wildcat fighter, leading a 6-plane section of Marine Fighting Squadron 112. They were tasked to protect dive bombers attacking Japanese ships near Kolombangara. He became dragged in a fierce air battle, and his fighter was using fuel at a rapid rate and he could have returned to his base, but he continued his attacks: "We needed all the guns we could get up there to escort those dive bombers... I figured I could survive a bailout."

Silvestre Herrera: Mexico-born Medal of Honor winner, dies at 90
Silvestre Herrera, the first Arizonan to win the Medal of Honor award during World War II, also had Mexico's highest honor for valor (the Premier Merito Militar), making him the only person to earn both. In 1945 he was granted the Medal of Honor for saving his platoon from machine-gun fire. The Army private first class with the 36th Infantry Division took out one emplacement, then charged through a minefield toward a second, losing both feet to explosions. The eight Germans manning the machine-gun nest threw down their weapons. "I was one of the lucky ones, to live to be awarded the Medal of Honor."

Medal of Honor hero held off hundreds of Germans single-handedly
World War II veteran Charles P. Murray held off hundreds of Germans single-handedly for over 6 hours. Then Army Lieutenant, he had only been company commander for 8 days. "It was the last area of France west of the Rhine river that was still in the hands of the Germans." Murray was leading his troops through the mountains when his lookout spotted something. "Then my radio went dead - cold, wet probably. I had no spare batteries." With no way to call for heavy artillery from the rear and fearing the Germans would annihilate his company, he ordered his fellow soldiers to scatter and he hunkered down. "I borrowed a rifle and some blank cartridges for the rifle..."

Matt L. Urban: tied with Audie Murphy for the most decorations in WWII
WWII hero Audie Murphy got his own U.S. stamp. Buffalo's most decorated war veteran Matt L. Urban should get a stamp too, say organizers of a petition drive. The Polish American Congress argues that Urban and Murphy - both U.S. Army veterans - are the two most decorated WWII veterans. Murphy's face was put on a stamp, and the group wants Urban to get the same honor. As a lieutenant colonel in charge of an infantry battalion, Urban was shot 7 times, once in the throat. He killed 116 German soldiers from machine gun nest in one day. Urban was granted the Medal of Honor for several times risking his life beyond the call of duty.

Medal of Honor hero Pfc. John Reese sacrificed himself for comrades
Pfc. John N. Reese Jr was killed during a 2-man attack on more than 300 heavily armed and entrenched enemy soldiers in a 2-1/2-hour World War II battle for a Manila railroad station. He was hit by a sniper's bullet while reloading his rifle as he and Pfc. Cleto Rodriguez were crawling toward the American lines for more ammunition. Reese provided covering fire as his companion crawled away. "The intrepid team, in 2-1/2 hours of fierce fighting, killed more than 82 Japanese, disorganized their defense and paved the way for subsequent defeat of the enemy at this strong point," according to the citation awarding Reese the Medal of Honor.

Combat hero Dietz : Sherman tanks and panzerfaust squads
Elements of the 38th Infantry Battalion, spearheading the 7th Armored Division, approached the town of Kirchain. GI Jankowski in Dietz's 12-man squad was aboard the third Sherman tank in a line when a German soldier "stood up and fired a bazooka at the lead tank. We all scrambled off the tanks. Then I saw Dietz running and firing into the foxholes. He was grabbing the mines and throwing them off the bridge. As he stood up to signal that the route was clear he was killed by an shot from the left flank." Medal of Honor citation credits Dietz with wiping out 3 two-man panzerfaust (bazooka) squads and leaping into the water to disconnect explosives wired to the bridge.

FBI agent: Medal of Honor impostors outnumber recipients
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society reports there are 113 living recipients of the nation's highest military award, but an F-B-I agent says impostors outnumber the true heroes. Agent Tom Cottone says there are more and more of the impostors, and they are literally stealing the valor and acts of valor of the real guys. Some fakers merely brag about receiving the award - and that's not illegal - but some impostors wear military uniforms and bogus medals.

The only Medal of Honor recipient who refused to carry a weapon
The only conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor as a noncombatant in WWII has died. Desmond Doss Senior refused to carry a weapon during his wartime service as a medic. He was the subject of a 2004 documentary, "The Conscientious Objector," and a previously published book, "The Unlikeliest Hero. In 1945, Doss was invited to the White House to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman for his bravery on May 5th, 1945. The 24-year-old medic stayed atop a cliff on the island of Okinawa, lowering down soldiers under Japanese attack.

The only Filipino soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor
During WWII, the only Filipino soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor was Sgt. Jose Calugas. His award reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and interpidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy at Culis, Bataan Province, Philippine Islands. When the battery gun position was shelled and bombed until one piece was out of action and casualties caused the removal of the remaining canoneers to shelter, Sergeant Calugas, voluntarily and on his own accord proceeded 1,000 yards across the shell-swept area to the gun position and joined the volunteer gun squad which fired effectively on the enemy."