Story and photo by Mike Strasser
U.S. Military Academy Public Affairs Office
PARAMUS, N.J. — Retired Master Sgt. Nicholas Oresko was honored at a public funeral service Oct. 10, in Paramus, N.J. Oresko died Oct. 4, at the age of 96, and was the oldest living World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.
“Thinking about the words and phrases that capture the essence of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ I realized that they represent what made (Master Sgt.) Oresko great,” said U.S. Military Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. “Traits like selflessness, loyalty, courage and integrity were evident in everything he did. (Master Sgt.) Oresko embodied the Army values; he made honor a matter of daily living — carrying out, acting and living our values each and every day.”
Oresko served in the 302nd Infantry, 94th Infantry Division, and arrived in France two months after the D-Day invasion in 1944. Recalling Oresko’s account of his actions Jan. 23, 1945, at the Battle of the Bulge, Caslen said the noncommissioned officer demonstrated awe-inspiring courage when he conducted a lone assault on two machine gun positions on a hill to advance his platoon.
“(Master Sgt.) Oresko was wounded in the attack, yet despite his wounds, he continued to fight in order to protect his Soldiers and complete the mission,” Caslen said. “He is an outstanding example of dedication and is exactly what a leader should strive to be, when he refused to be evacuated before he was sure the mission was successful.”
He was presented with the Medal of Honor at the White House Oct. 30, 1945, by President Harry Truman. Oresko continued to serve Soldiers for 32 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs and retired as a supervisor.
West Point’s commanding general told the guests in attendance he spent a lot of time learning about Oresko’s life and found him to be the type of man people felt better off having met.
“By all accounts, he was a tremendous friend to so many, and would always take the time to talk about his experiences,” Caslen said. “Looking through pictures, I was struck by how happy Sergeant Oresko always looked. His infectious smile from when he was a young man seemed to carry through his entire life. People, I’m told, always felt better about themselves, when they were in his presence.”
Caslen, who spoke on behalf of the secretary of the Army and Army chief of staff, was followed by retired Marine Corps Col. Harvey Barnum, one of four Medal of Honor recipients in attendance. Presiding over the service at Bergen Community College was Chap. (Maj.) Kenneth Nielson from West Point and David Tarantino, an Eagle Scout with Troop 113 in Hackensack, N.J., sang the national anthem. John M. Carbone, a Family friend, was master of ceremonies. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered flags to be raised at half-staff for a week to honor the local war hero.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said that honoring Oresko’s actions also honors all servicemembers who raise their right hands to defend this country and the heroes who have sacrificed for this nation.
In a statement, he wrote: “Master Sgt. Oresko represents what every man and woman who dons the uniform strives to be: an individual who has earned the trust of all with whom he serves; one who possesses a humility and selflessness that we all respect, and one who embraces the esprit de corps and consistently demonstrates a dedication to their profession that epitomizes the ethos of the American Soldier.”