b. 01/12/1916 Decatur, Illinois. d. 23/07/1966 Martinez, California.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 09/01/1945 Hatten, France.
Vito Rocco Bertoldo was born in Decatur, Illinois on December 1, 1916, the son of Rocco B. Bertoldo and Mary (Antonacci) Bertoldo. He was educated in the parochial and public schools of Decatur, and worked as a coal miner and truck driver for Oakes Products, which manufactured automobile parts before converting to munitions production during World War II.
Bertoldo was ineligible for the World War II draft because of poor eyesight. He decided to enlist despite his exemption. He was approved for limited duty as a military policeman in the US, though not for overseas duty. Bertoldo managed to talk himself into infantry training and was assigned as a cook with Company A, 1st Battalion, 242nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division. Bertoldo’s regiment took part in combat in France and he had attained the rank of private first class by January 1945. According to a 1995 letter by Bertoldo’s company commander, William Corson, Company A’s only discipline problem was Bertoldo, who did not get along with the company mess sergeant. As a result, when his battalion headquarters requested three soldiers per company to stand guard duty at the 1st Battalion command post (CP) during the German Operation Nordwind offensive in December 1944 and January 1945, Corson included Bertoldo in his company’s contingent.
On January 9, 1945, Bertoldo was on duty at the entrance to the battalion CP near Hatten, France, when German troops began shelling the town. The battalion staff withdrew, and Bertoldo volunteered to provide rearguard defense as they moved to an alternate location. On his own initiative, and while under fire, he mounted a machine gun at the CP’s entrance, enabling him to cover the main approach. He held his fire as German tanks shelled the building, then fired at the advancing infantry that followed.
By the early morning of January 10, Bertoldo had moved to the alternate command post, which he defended against a continued assault by German troops, firing a machine gun and exposing himself to enemy fire to throw hand grenades. When German troops began firing a self-propelled 88-millimeter gun directly into the room from which Bertoldo was shooting, the concussion from the third round knocked him across the room and left him dazed. After ensuring that his assistant gunner had not been killed, he returned to his machine gun and continued the fight. He continued to fight as the battalion staff withdrew from the alternate command post, and did not withdraw himself until everyone else had moved to safety.
For these actions, Bertoldo was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was presented with his Medal by President Harry S Truman at The White House, on 18 December 1945. Bertoldo continued to serve until the end of the war, and attained the rank of master sergeant. He was discharged from the Army in February 1946. He later worked as a contact representative for the Veterans Administration in San Francisco, ensuring that veterans knew they were eligible for benefits, helping them complete applications, and advocating for them as their applications were considered. After leaving the VA in 1958, Bertoldo owned a landscaping company.
Bertoldo was diagnosed with Lung Cancer in 1966. He died on July 23, 1966, at the VA hospital in Martinez, California and was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.
He fought with extreme gallantry while guarding 2 command posts against the assault of powerful infantry and armored forces which had overrun the battalion’s main line of resistance. On the close approach of enemy soldiers, he left the protection of the building he defended and set up his gun in the street, there to remain for almost 12 hours driving back attacks while in full view of his adversaries and completely exposed to 88-mm., machinegun and small-arms fire. He moved back inside the command post, strapped his machinegun to a table and covered the main approach to the building by firing through a window, remaining steadfast even in the face of 88-mm. fire from tanks only 75 yards away. One shell blasted him across the room, but he returned to his weapon. When 2 enemy armored personnel carriers led by a tank moved toward his position, he calmly waited for the troops to dismount and then, with the tank firing directly at him, leaned out of the window and mowed down the entire group of more than 20 Germans. Some time later, removal of the command post to another building was ordered. M/Sgt. Bertoldo voluntarily remained behind, covering the withdrawal of his comrades and maintaining his stand all night. In the morning he carried his machinegun to an adjacent building used as the command post of another battalion and began a day-long defense of that position. He broke up a heavy attack, launched by a self-propelled 88-mm. gun covered by a tank and about 15 infantrymen. Soon afterward another 88-mm. weapon moved up to within a few feet of his position, and, placing the muzzle of its gun almost inside the building, fired into the room, knocking him down and seriously wounding others. An American bazooka team set the German weapon afire, and M/Sgt. Bertoldo went back to his machinegun dazed as he was and killed several of the hostile troops as they attempted to withdraw. It was decided to evacuate the command post under the cover of darkness, but before the plan could be put into operation the enemy began an intensive assault supported by fire from their tanks and heavy guns. Disregarding the devastating barrage, he remained at his post and hurled white phosphorus grenades into the advancing enemy troops until they broke and retreated. A tank less than 50 yards away fired at his stronghold, destroyed the machinegun and blew him across the room again but he once more returned to the bitter fight and, with a rifle, single-handedly covered the withdrawal of his fellow soldiers when the post was finally abandoned.
BURIAL LOCATION; GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL CEMETERY, SAN BRUNO, CALIFORNIA.
SECTION C, GRAVE 52A
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.