Nicholas Oresko, a former Army Master Sergeant and the nation’s oldest Medal of Honour recipient, died Friday in a New Jersey hospital following complications from surgery. He was 96.
Though Oresko had no living immediate family, he was surrounded in his final days by veterans and military personnel of various branches who visited the hospital after learning of his hospitalization via social media.
“They understood the type of person we were talking about and said, ‘We can’t let him die alone,'” Richard E. Robitaille, one of Oresko’s friends, told NorthJersey.com. “He’s loved throughout the Army. He’s an American hero.”
Born in 1917, Oresko joined the Army in 1942 and was sent to France after the Normandy landings. He earned the Medal of Honour, the nation’s highest award for valor, for his heroic actions on Jan. 23, 1945 near Tettingen, Germany as a platoon leader.
On that day, Master Sgt. Oresko braved machine-gun fire to attack and destroy two German bunkers. During his assault, he was shot in the hip and knocked down, but he continued — and even refused medical evacuation until “assured the mission was successfully accomplished,” according to his award citation.
“The machine gunner who shot me thought I was dead,” Oresko told NorthJersey.com. “I was able to move around, sneak around, so they didn’t see me. They saw me go down. They thought they’d killed me, but they didn’t. I slipped around and somehow got around, and they were in a bunch.”
He was hospitalized at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey after he fell and hurt himself at his assisted living center, according to CT Post. He died at 6:30 p.m. from complications from surgery of a broken right femur — the same leg injured in his heroic 1945 assault.
Funeral arrangements are still pending, but he is to be buried at George Washington Cemetery in Paramus, N.J. next week, according to NorthJersey.com.
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