Nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient dies

CRESSKILL, N.J. — A World War II veteran and the nation’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient has died in New Jersey.

Nicholas Oresko, an Army master sergeant who was badly wounded as he single-handedly took out two enemy bunkers during the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, died Friday night at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, hospital officials announced Saturday. He was 96.

Oresko had been hospitalized after injuring himself in a fall at an assisted living center in Cresskill. He died of complications from surgery for a broken right femur.

A November 2011 article on the Department of Defense website described Oresko as the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient. The medal is the nation’s highest military honor, awarded by Congress for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty.

A Bayonne native, Oresko received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman on Oct. 30, 1945.

At 28, Oresko was the platoon leader when automatic fire pinned down his unit. Realizing a machine gun in a nearby bunker needed to be eliminated, Oresko moved out alone in the morning darkness, braving bullets that zipped about him, until he was close enough to throw a grenade into the German bunker. He rushed the bunker and used his M-1 rifle to kill the soldiers who survived the grenade blast.

Then another machine gun fired, knocking Oresko down and wounding him in the right hip and leg. He managed to crawl to another bunker and take it out with another grenade. Despite being weak from loss of blood, Oresko refused to be evacuated until he was assured that the mission was accomplished.

His actions on Jan. 23, 1945, were credited with preventing numerous American casualties and were praised as key to the Allies’ victory.

The Bergen Record reported that several veterans and young members of various branches 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.

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