TRIBUTE: They said that World War II hero Nicholas Oresko had no family, but nothing could be further from the truth — not after the Medal of Honor recipient’s funeral service and interment today.
The proceedings were nothing if not an extended-family gathering of uniformed service men and women, of medal recipients and other proud veterans, of pipers and drummers, police, state troopers, firefighters, everyday civilians — even the ‘Nam Knights — as more than 300 attendees filled the Anna Maria Ciccone Theater on the campus of Bergen Community College.
Behind the flag-draped casket onstage were New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins and Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, who had birthday parties for Nick every year and once sewed the snaps on his MOH when it needed repair.
There was close friend and attorney John Carbone, master of what were at times warm and light-hearted but very dignified ceremonies.
And there were five Medal of Honor recipients in the front row, standing proudly behind an easel that held Oresko’s medal in a frame for all to see.
Those who knew Oresko nodded their heads and smiled as those who spoke recalled the master sergeant’s bravery, humility, mirth and mischievousness, which they said lasted right up until surgery for a broken leg last Friday — a procedure that he insisted upon.
It was the same leg that was wounded in a historic effort near Tettingen, Germany on Jan. 23, 1945, when Oresko single-handedly defeated a German bunker, was seriously wounded, and then destroyed a second nest with a grenade after crawling his way there (see Congressional Medal of Honor account, below).
Many flocked to Oresko’s room at at Englewood Medical Center throughout the week leading up to the operation after he broke his right leg in a fall at the Cresskill assisted living facility where he’d spent the last several years.
Among the well-wishing visitors were more than two dozen military members, police officers and firefighters who clasped hands and prayed, then fell in behind his gurney as it took the Battle of the Bulge hero to the operating room.
Nicholas Oresko, the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient at the time, died of complications a few hours after the surgery. He was 96.
Although barely 5-foot-4, “Nick” Oresko was larger than life to many.
“He earned his Medal of Honor in the snow, probably will be buried in the rain, but he lived his life in the sun,” Carbone said today.
“He was always a gentleman, with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes,” retired Col. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, a U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient told the attendees. “Mischief and humor were always with him.”
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In lieu of flowers, a tax deductible donation may be made in Oresko’s name to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (tax I.D. number: 52-6056376).
Send your donation to:
Congressional Medal of Honor Society
40 Patriots Point Road
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina 29464
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Following a private service at the Church of the Annunciation in Paramus this morning, Oresko’s casket was borne on a 1940s-era U.S. military truck escorted by police and servicemen. Officers from his hometown Bayonne participated, as did those from other municipalities, such as Fair Lawn, as well as from Bergen County and the New Jersey State Police.
A half-dozen members of the New Jersey National Guard’s Interment Unit carried Oresko’s casket into the theater, accompanied by the Pipes and Drums of Bergen County, their sizable contingent augmented by additional players.
Next to floral wreaths onstage were boots, sandbags and a WWII-era M-1 rifle.
Also in the front row was Genevieve Doocey, Oresko’s longtime companion after the death of his wife, accompanied by three of her granddaughters. She later was given the tri-cornered folded flag at the gravesite.
After Donovan led the “Pledge of Allegiance” and Eagle Scout David Tarantino sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Lt. Gen Robert L. Caslen Jr. — superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — read a letter from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
Odierno referred not only to Oresko’s bravery and service to his country but also to his humble beginnings growing up in Bayonne, where a K-12 school bears his name.
“Sir,” the letter read, “we hope in your eyes we have earned what you have done for us.”
The Army truck later took Oresko’s casket to George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, where the National Guard members carried it to the grave site.
A military band played the Navy hymn “Eternal Father Strong to Save.”
The 3-volley salute was fired, “Taps” was played, and the flag that the Guard members held over Oresko’s casket was folded. The Police Pipes and Drums of Bergen County played “Amazing Grace.”
World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient Nicholas Oresko was carried to his final rest today with grace, honor and dignity, with smiles, tears and crisp salutes – and no raindrops.
Among those pictured:
(TOP) Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, John Carbone
(SECOND) Medal of Honor recipients:
Col. (Ret) Jack Jacobs
US Army Col. (Ret) Harvey “Barney” Barnum
US Marine Corps Lt. Commander (Ret) Thomas Kelly
US Navy First Lt. (Ret) James Fleming
(THIRD) Fair Lawn police (r.) were among those paying respects and tribute
(FOURTH) Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins, NJ Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno
(FIFTH) The Pipe and Drums of Bergen County
(SIXTH) National Guard members carry casket into theater
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A TRIBUTE: Nicholas Oresko, the nation’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient at 96, died tonight at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. Scott McNiff, a Westwood police officer, was among the last to see him. This is his account of that visit, as told to CLIFFVIEW PILOT Publisher/Editor Jerry DeMarco. READ MORE…
Realizing that a machinegun 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 pointblank rifle fire, killed all the hostile occupants who survived the grenade blast.
Another machinegun 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 machinegun 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 machinegun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed, 1-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.”
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