The oldest living Medal of Honor recipient -- who singlehandedly took out two machine gun bunkers during the Battle of the Bulge despite being wounded -- died Friday night at a New Jersey hospital.
Nicholas Oresko, a former U.S. Army master sergeant who served during World War II, died at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey, hospital officials said Saturday. He was 96.
The hospital expressed condolences in a statement that lauded Oresko as “a true American hero.”
A November 2011 story on the U.S. Department of Defense website said Oresko was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.
Oresko, a native of Bayonne, N.J., received the medal from President Harry Truman on Oct. 30, 1945, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History’s website. The Medal of Honor is the highest award bestowed upon members of the Armed Services of the United States.
Oresko was a platoon leader when his unit was hit by deadly machine gun fire near Tettington, Germany, on Jan. 23, 1945. According to the Medal of Honor official citation, “braving bullets which struck about him” Oresko moved close enough to throw a grenade into a German bunker. He then rushed the bunker to kill the remaining enemy soldiers.
Machine gun fire from another position then seriously wounded him in the hip, but he attacked the bunker alone with a grenade, then finished off the German troops manning it with his rifle, according to the citation.
Despite his wound and blood loss, Oresko refused to be evacuated “until assured the mission was successfully accomplished.”
The Army veteran had been hospitalized after injuring himself in a fall at an assisted living center in Cresskill, according to The Associated Press. He died of complications from surgery for a broken right femur.
The Bergen Record reported that several veterans and young members of the military stayed with Oresko in his final days after a friend wrote about his health problems on a Facebook page and noted that Oresko had no immediate family still living.
“It was humbling to see the outpouring of appreciation and gratitude for his service and genuine affection for him by so many visitors in his last days,” said Warren Geller, president and CEO of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, in the hospital’s statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.