Nicholas “Nick” Oresko MOH

b. 18/01/1917 Bayonne, New Jersey. d. 04/10/2013 Paramus, New Jersey.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 23/01/1945 near Tettingen, Germany.

Nicholas Oresko MOH

Oresko was born January 18, 1917, in Bayonne, New Jersey, to an American mother and a father who was a Russian immigrant. Despite being only 5’4″, Oresko said he loved to play sports growing up. When he was young, Charles Lindbergh was one of his heroes, which made him want to be a pilot for a time.  Before the war, Oresko worked in the shipping department for Standard Oil. He was drafted into the Army in March 1942, about three months after he’d married his girlfriend, Jean Strang. He was initially assigned to the 77th Infantry Division but was later switched to the 1st Battalion, 302nd Infantry, 94th Infantry Division.

By late summer of 1944, Oresko’s division was deployed to France. He told the Veterans History Project that they were meant to be a reserve unit, but at the start of the Battle of the Bulge – Hitler’s last major attack that surprised the Allies – they were shipped to the front lines in Germany.

Oresko was a platoon leader for Company C during the frigid days of early 1945. His platoon had attacked enemy positions in the town of Tettingen, Germany, twice over two days and had been pushed back both times. For their next attempt, instead of using artillery to announce themselves, battalion leaders ordered a sneak attack.  In the early-morning hours of January 23, 1945, Oresko ordered his men to begin the attack, but no one moved. He said he issued the order a second time, and they again didn’t move, so he started toward the enemy without them.

His fellow soldiers finally started to follow him, but they were about 50 feet behind him when the Germans noticed the movement and opened fire, pinning the unit down. Oresko, however, had still gone unnoticed. He knew he would have to take out the closest machine gun nest to help his soldiers, so he kept moving in stealth until he was close enough to throw a grenade into the enemy bunker. He rushed into it after it went off, using his rifle to take out the surviving occupants.

A second machine gun nest opened fire on Oresko, knocking him down and seriously injuring his hip.  “As I started to walk, I could feel warm stuff coming down my leg,” he remembered. “I kept trudging ahead and figured, ‘Oh well. I’m going to die anyway, so what difference does it make?'”

While bleeding, Oresko said he crawled past a booby trap that barely missed him, then laid in an indentation in the snow for a bit. He said the enemy must have thought he was dead because they began firing at his troops from a nearby bunker. Oresko couldn’t move backward into the firefight, and in front of him lay the enemy bunker. In that moment, he knew what he had to do. Grabbing some grenades and pulling the pin on one, he sneaked up to the machine gun at that bunker and dropped the live grenade in. After it went off, he again jumped into the trench and used his rifle to wipe out the remaining enemy soldiers manning it.

Oresko was credited with killing 12 Germans in his solo attack that made it possible for his company to take control of the enemy position. It was only when he knew they’d succeeded that he allowed his fellow soldiers to evacuate him. Weak from blood loss, Oresko was sent to a hospital to recover. He was eventually put on limited duty until he was discharged in November 1945. He said he never saw the members of his platoon again.

On October 12, 1945, Oresko received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony. Fourteen other soldiers also received the nation’s highest honor that day. Oresko and his wife moved to Tenafly, New Jersey, and they had a son named Robert. Oresko initially returned to his previous job, but when he found out Medal of Honor recipients could get a job with the Department of Veterans Affairs without a civil service test, he jumped at the chance, working for the department for 32 years.

“It was a joy,” Oresko said of his post-war career, which included speaking gigs at schools. “That part of my life was rewarding.”  He told the Asbury Park Press in 1978 that he and his wife traveled to Germany and France at some point, and he was able to show her some of the areas in which he fought. He said they also often visited London, where their son lived and worked.

Oresko died on October 4, 2013, after complications from surgery for a broken leg – the same leg that was injured during his Medal of Honor actions. At the time of his death, the 96-year-old was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.



M/Sgt. Oresko was a platoon leader with Company C, in an attack against strong enemy positions. Deadly automatic fire from the flanks pinned down his unit. Realizing that a machine gun in a nearby bunker must be eliminated, he swiftly worked ahead alone, braving bullets which struck about him, until close enough to throw a grenade into the German position. He rushed the bunker and, with point-blank rifle fire, killed all the hostile occupants who survived the grenade blast. Another machine gun opened up on him, knocking him down and seriously wounding him in the hip. Refusing to withdraw from the battle, he placed himself at the head of his platoon to continue the assault. As withering machine-gun and rifle fire swept the area, he struck out alone in advance of his men to a second bunker. With a grenade, he crippled the dug-in machine gun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed, one-man attack. Although weak from loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until assured the mission was successfully accomplished. Through quick thinking, indomitable courage, and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded, M/Sgt. Oresko killed 12 Germans, prevented a delay in the assault, and made it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties.