Palate Cleanser: Nation's oldest MoH recipient turns 96

This is a season when we cover far, far too many depressing tales of politics and Washington power. As we roll through the end of the NFL playoffs, what say we take a moment to lend our thoughts to something nicer? There was a birthday party this weekend in New Jersey, and it was honoring somebody who truly has earned the right to blow out as many damn candles as he can manage here in the good old U.S of A. Meet Nicholas Oresko, 96 years young.

A true American hero is celebrating a milestone right here in New Jersey.

The country’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient is celebrating his 96th birthday at his retirement home in Cresskill.

World War II veteran Nick Oresko received his medal from President Harry Truman on October 30, 1945.

On a personal note, a little research on 94th Infantry showed that Oresko served in the same area as my father in France under Patton. I don’t know that they ever met, particularly given the merge dates, but a sentimental part of me likes to think they might have. And even if not – to steal a phrase from Heartbreak Ridge – they sure as hell chewed a lot of the same dirt. Master Sergeant Oresko is enjoying the company of his family at home, but he’s got one heck of a story to tell should you care to listen.

Born on January 18, 1917, in Bayonne, New Jersey, Oresko later joined the Army from that city in March 1942. He was sent to Europe and arrived in France in September 1944, three months after the Normandy landings, as a platoon sergeant in Company C, 302nd Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division. His unit spent the next several months mopping up pockets of German soldiers who had been bypassed in the Allies’ initial push through the northern part of France. In December 1944 they were redeployed to replace the 90th Infantry Division as part of Patton’s 3d Army. The 94th assumed positions opposite the Westwall and the German 11th Panzer Division.

On January 23, 1945, near Tettingen, Germany, Oresko, by then a master sergeant, single-handedly defeated a German bunker, was seriously wounded, and then destroyed a second bunker despite his injuries. For his heroic actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor nine months later, on October 30, 1945. The medal was formally presented to him by President Harry Truman during a ceremony at the White House.

Happy birthday, Master Sergeant Oresko, and many, many more. A grateful nation salutes you, sir.

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David Strom 6:01 PM on March 29, 2023