By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
The casket of Master Sergeant Nicholas Oresko was taken from a military vehicle, past a line of veterans and dignitaries who paid their final respects to the World War II hero.
The funeral service for Oresko was held inside a theater at Bergen Community College. Military officials and friends talked about the remarkable life and bravery of the Jersey native who was born in Bayonne in 1917.
“Our country has lost a great American patriot, a decorated combat warrior. We have lost a very dear friend. And we are all better today for having known Nick Oresko,” said retired Col. Harvey “Barney” Barnum of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He proved he was a fighter through and through, a true American hero who did not let anything hold him back, especially on that fateful day in January 1945,” said Lieutenant Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., 59th superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
It was on that bitter cold day in Germany, in the final stages of the Battle of the Bulge, that Oresko planned a sneak attack on the Germans. He ordered the platoon to move, but no one moved.
“I yelled again, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ Again, nobody moved. And I felt so alone,” Oresko said in an interview prior to his death.
Alone but not deterred, he charged forward and took out one machine gun position. He was wounded but didn’t stop.
“He crawled to enemy pillbox bunker, through deep snow. He pulled the pin on a grenade, counted to four, threw the grenade in the bunker. It exploded and he immediately jumped into that pillbox bunker, killing all the enemy soldiers,” Barnum said.
His bravery that day earned him the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. Fellow recipients say the honor is fitting for Oresko, know for his signature bow tie and warm smile.
“It would be nice, as Brian Williams of NBC News says, if all the kids knew about Nick Oresko’s story and had baseball cards with Nick Oresko’s picture on it. There’s a real model for young kids about service, sacrifice, patriotism and diligence,” said retired Col. Jack Jacobs of the U.S. Army, a Medal of Honor recipient.
After leaving the army, Oresko worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs. A school in Bayonne is named after him. He died on Oct. 4, but his legacy lives on. Another example of what made the Greatest Generation so great.