America lost a true hero recently when Nicholas Oresko, the nation's oldest Medal of Honor recipient, passed away at the age 96 in a hospital in Englewood, New Jersey.
Oresko died of complications from surgery for a broken right femur, the same leg in which he was wounded in during the Battle of the Bulge. Awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at a White House ceremony on Oct. 30, 1945, he was a founding member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which was created by the U.S. Congress in remembrance of recipients of the highest award given to military personnel.
Although Oresko had no family, hundreds of mourners - from three-star generals and fellow Medal of Honor recipients to children who attended the elementary school named in his honor - were at his funeral service.
He was eulogized by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, who said:
"Sir, we hope in your eyes we have earned what you have done for us."
Standing just 5 feet 4, Oresko was serving in the 302nd Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division, when, despite being severely wounded, he singlehandedly eliminated two enemy bunkers using grenades and his M-1 rifle on Jan. 23, 1945. He recalled looking up to heaven and saying, 'Lord, I know I am going to die. Make it fast, please.'"
Instead, he would live 70 more years. Those who knew him at his assisted living facility said he didn't consider himself a hero and was devoted to children and education.
Katie Boyle, 13, a student at Nicholas Oresko School, performed in the band for his 95th and 96th birthday parties at the living facility. She remembers him as being wise, funny and always having the right thing to say.
"He would say, 'You can do more than you think you can' she recalled. "And that inspired me to run for student council."
Coming from a student at the school that bears his name, those words would have pleased Nicholas Oresko.
By Jim Zbick