Since the beginning of World War 11, 859 men and women have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, with over half of them being honored posthumously. Today, there are 85 living Medal of Honor recipients, and only 13 of them are World War II veterans.
Army Second Lieutenant Van T. Barfoot of Mississippi, May 23, 1944, Carano, Italy
Army Private First Class Mike Colalillo of Minnesota, April 7, 1945, Untergriesheim,Germany
Army Technical Sergeant Charles Coolidge of Tennessee, the 24th to the 27th of October, 1944, Belmont sur Buttant, France
Army Sergeant Francis Currey of New York, December 21, 1944, Malmedy, Belgium
Army Staff Sergeant Walter Ehlers of Kansas, June 9 and 10, 1944, Goville, France
Army Sergeant John Hawk of California, August 20, 1944, Chambois, France
Army Second Lieutenant Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, April 21, 1945, San Terenzo, Italy
Marine Private First Class Arthur Jackson of Ohio, September 18, 1944,the island of Peleliu in the Palau group
Army Technician Fifth Grade Robert Maxwell of Idaho, September 7, 1944, Besancon, France
Army Technical Sergeant Vernon McGarity of Tennessee, December 16, 1994, Krinkelt, Belgium
Army First Lieutenant Charles Murray of Maryland, December 16, 1944, Kaysersberg, France
Army Master Sergeant Nicholas Oresko of New Jersey, January 23, 1945, Tettington, Germany
Army Private Wilburn Ross of Kentucky, October 30, 1944, St. Jacques, France
Army Private George Sakato of California, October 29, 1944, Biffontaine, France
Army Staff Sergeant Paul Wiedorfer of Maryland, December 25, 1944, Chaumont, Belgium
Marine Corporal Hershel Woodrow Williams of West Virginia, February 23, 1945, Iwo Jima
Their citations are written in the terse, factual language used by the military. Yet in each of the 13 citations, we find a young man who performed acts of bravery that outshine any Hollywood movie. Some of them stood, alone and exposed, in front of advancing enemy tanks, armed with a bazooka or hand grenades. Some of them acted in spite of injuries. Some of them singlehandedly wiped out machinegun nests. Some of them returned to open terrain under enemy mortar bombardment to carry out a fallen comrade. One of them threw himself onto a grenade to save the lives of his comrades.
Here is just one example, taken from the citation of Private Wilburn Ross: "…after his company has lost 55 out of 88 men in an attack on an entrenched, full-strength German company of elite mountain troops, Pvt. Ross placed his light machinegun 10 yards in advance of the foremost supporting riflemen in order to absorb the initial impact of an enemy counterattack…Despite the hail of automatic fire and the explosion of rifle grenades within a stone’s throw of his position, he continued to man his machinegun alone, holding off 6 more German attacks…most of his supporting riflemen were out of ammunition…Pvt. Ross fought on virtually without assistance and, despite the fact that enemy grenadiers crawled to within 4 years of his position in an effort to kill him with hand grenades, he again directed accurate and deadly fire on the hostile force and hurled it back…"
This Memorial Day, take a moment to read the stories of real American heroes. Go to http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/living/living_war_wwii.html and read their citations. Then say a prayer of thanksgiving for their service and sacrifice, and a prayer of protection for the heroes serving us in uniform today.
Happy Memorial Day!