Monday, July 20, 2020

Hmong find F-105 pilot hanging from the trees, Laos, 1969

“The body bag held the contents of one Major Sanders, former F-105D pilot, whose remains had been retrieved and returned to (Lima Site 20) Alternate that very afternoon by a CIA case officer whose Hmong team cut them down out of the trees where he had been hanging for several weeks still in his ejection seat.”


“Secret Soldiers-Shadow Warriors, portraits in Courage,” by Dan Moody



The pilot's remains found were those of Major Steven Roy Sanders, USAF, F-105D pilot, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) "Licking Lizards" based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB). This photo shows him on his first tour in the Indochina War, when he was a captain flying F-105s with the 469th TFS at Korat RTAFB, 1965-1966. A family member has said he was assigned to an air base in Oklahoma to train pilots after the first tour. He didn't like it, and asked to return to the F-105 and the war. His wish was granted and he arrived at the 357th during February 1969. The F-105 was officially known as the "Thunderchief."


Major Sanders was shot down over Northern Laos, August 25, 1969. He began serving with the 357th TFS in February 1969. This photo is of a 357th F-105; they were coded "RU" on the vertical stabilizer. The "100" is its tail number. Sanders' tail number on the day of his loss was 591818, but only "818" would show up on the tail in large letters. The digits "59" indicate the year the aircraft was produced, 1959. Major Sanders had been at Takhli since February 28, 1969 so his aircraft crashed less than two months after his arrival for his second tour with the F-105.

Overall, during his Air Force career, Sanders received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and by my count 15 Air Medals. He also flew 100 missions, mostly over North Vietnam (NVN) on his first tour. That was an important milestone marker of pride for pilots flying combat missions over hostile territory in Indochina.

Sanders was flight lead of four 357th TFS F-105s attacking enemy ground forces, both North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Pathet Lao indigenous communist forces. Those enemy forces were moving through northern Laos near the Plaines des Jars (PDJ) as part of their effort to fully control the PDJ and position themselves to overthrow the Royal Lao Government (RLG). The white area on the graphic marks the PDJ. The red dot roughly marks the crash site. 

This map also shows CIA landing sites, called "Lima Sites," "LS" to be short, each one numbered. These landing sites were built, and often lost and retaken several times over time. In the lower left, note LS20A, the site to which Sanders' remains were taken. I'll touch on this crash site again in a moment.



The official statement listed Sanders as “killed during operations on ‘Barrel Roll’ while making a strafing pass after five bombing passes on enemy troops." The report said he was hit by ground fire. I have learned from Sanders' brother that Sanders' wingman said he saw the aircraft explode but did not see a chute. This graphic shows the Barrel Roll region. Broadly speaking, the Barrel Roll included all northern Laos while Steel Tiger included the southern Laotian panhandle as shown on the map. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, heavily protected, extended from roughly Steel Tiger East all along the Laotian-Vietnam border and into Cambodia. Also note the location of the PDJ in Barrel Roll West. 

The USAF provided the coordinates of Sanders' crash site. I think "crash site" where the aircraft was found  Keep in mind that Long Tieng is where Sanders' remains were taken after being found.



The crash site coordinates are very close to the modern town of Then Poun. Crash reports said he went down near Ban Thien Phoun which was renamed Then Poun. You can get a feel for the terrain. It is quite mountainous just a bit to the north.



The jungles can get very dense and terrain very difficult such as shown here east of the PDJ. 

Hmong indigenous fighters living in Laos, controlled by the CIA and fighting against the NVA and Pathet Lao, were usually briefed to be alert for downed American and allied pilots and told to attempt to rescue them or retrieve their remains if that was their status.

In Sanders case, a CIA-led Hmong team did find him as described earlier. You saw this photo at the opening. It is a photo of Jack Jolis, a CIA case officer operating out of LS-20A, with what was known as a Hmong Rascal Team, which meant the Hmong dressed in civilian garb, trekked through the mountains looking for NVA-Pathet Lao concentrations, after which they would pass through the enemy and drop markers that emitted electronic signals for friendly forces to locate.



Major Sanders' remains were brought to Lima Site 20A (LS-20A) or Lima Site 20 Alternate, which was a major CIA base at Long Tieng, Laos (shown in the photo). 

It was also the headquarters for General Vang Pao, who led the Hmong fighters on the ground, working closely with the CIA. CIA's Air America used the site and USAF pilots and maintenance people were also posted there, many working covertly for CIA, flying out of the base. The presence and missions of the CIA and USAF were classified until many years later.

I do not know exactly when Sanders' remains arrived there, but I do know his remains were in a body bag at LS-20A on December 8, 1969.

On the surface it looks like there is a disconnect between the date of his loss, August 25, 1969 and the day I know his remains were at LS-20A, December 8, 1969. I will address that later.

Let me address how I know he was at L-20A on December 8, 1969. Dan Moody wrote about a December 8, 1969 visit to LS-20A by Major General Robert Petit, USAF, shown here, at the time the commander 7/13th AF, Udorn RTAFB, which is a story of its own.

Moody wrote this about one part of the Petit visit:

"General Petit's 2/Lt aide noticed an olive drab bag over in a corner. He casually asked what it was. Someone answered, slightly incredulously, that it was a body bag. 'What’s in it'? The Lt demanded somewhat imperiously. 'Why', said Mike Byers, 'I believe that it may be a body'.

"The Lt. leapt some five feet to the side of his master. Indeed, the body bag held the contents of one Major Sanders, former F-105D pilot, whose remains had been retrieved and returned to Alternate (LS-20A) that very afternoon (December 8, 1969) by a CIA case officer who’s Hmong team cut it down out of the trees where he had been hanging for several weeks still in his ejection seat. The body was not recovered without risk or casualty."

Dan Moody, who wrote “Secret Soldiers-Shadow Warriors, portraits in Courage,” and Karl Polifka, who contributed to that article, were both Raven Forward Air Controllers (FACs). Polifka was at LS-20A when Sanders' remains and General Petit were there. The remains were in the Raven FAC facility when Petit's aide and Petit spotted the body bag.

I knew Polifka while at the Air Staff. So I called him. He confirmed Moody's account.

On the surface it looks like 14 weeks passed from the time of Sanders' loss, August 25, 1969 until I can for sure place his remains at LS-20A. Why that long? The short answer is I don't know, but will address the question later in my analysis.

We should thank the Hmong for a job well done — Sanders' remains were returned to the US and he was interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific Honolulu Honolulu County Hawaii. 

That is about as much as I know for certain about Sanders' loss.

One could spend a good part of life studying the F-105, its crews, and support people in the Indochina War. There are a few things relevant to Sanders' last mission I would like to emphasize.

I would like to talk briefly about a few items relevant to Sanders' loss. 

First, a few words on strafing.

The USAF account of the loss said Sanders had dropped bombs on the mission, and came back to the targets and strafed.

This is an artist's painting of a USAF F-4 Phantom strafging a target in Vietnam, to give you the idea.

A strafing run is one where the pilot uses his cannon, the M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon, as shown in the photo. In the case of the F-105, a Thunderchief Indochina war veteran told me that "compared to other weapons delivery, strafing was used relatively little and was avoided in heavily defended areas. When strafing was required, we'd use high angle strafe above 15 degrees and as high as 30 degrees. This was in attempt to stay high and not get in the weeds with the small arms fire."

 He added:



"The strafing maneuver involves rolling in from around 3, 500 feet and diving at the target; the pepper (sight aiming point) starts below the target and tracks across the ground up to it. Just as it reaches the target you start firing and momentarily bunt the stick forward to keep the pepper on the target (for only) microseconds. You then release the trigger and pull 4 'G's to recover from the dive. At the low angle of 15 degrees, you bottom out between 200 and 100 feet. At the higher 30 degree, you start your recovery around 2,300 feet in order to not bottom out lower than 500 feet. (The pilot would remain) at very low altitude a very short time; seconds.



"Once he rolls out in the dive, he is most vulnerable as he is now on a steady trajectory until he starts his pull up. Of course he is only on this steady trajectory for a few seconds, maybe around 8 to 10 seconds max. That is the way we initially trained to strafe. In the late '60s, we started training using curvilinear descending attacks. This type of attack compounds the ground fires tracking because you never fly a steady trajectory. You start your attack roll in earlier and fly a descending turning pattern so your trajectory is constantly changing in a curving approach and you only roll out wings level microseconds before the pepper reaches the target. This type of attack naturally is more difficult to conduct but very doable with proper training and also more survivable in the low altitude environment.

"Since you are writing about (an event that) occurred in August 1969, it would be very probable he (Sanders) was using this technique.



"More trigger time is not the answer. First, it's impossible to maintain the sight (the pepper) on a non-moving ground target much longer than a second. Secondly, the barrels will burn out with long trigger times. High fire rate is the correct approach. Get as many bullets out on the target in the shortest amount of time. About the only justification for multiple strafing passes is in the Close Air Support mission; otherwise, you're just asking to get bagged."



This same pilot commented on "ground fire" as well:



"Lots of 105s were lost to ground fire but it was no more vulnerable than other fighters. In fact, it had an advantage over most fighters because it had a dry wing (no fuel in the wing) which is a relative large area as a target. I suspect he (Sanders) got hit and started burning and stayed with the plane too long trying to get out of the target area. Of course this is only my opinion. F-105's did not immediately explode upon getting hit unless it was a direct hit in a crucial location by a large AAA mm gun. The likelihood this was the case at this low altitude is extremely low."

Let's turn to the matter of ejection from a fighter and the ejection seat.

Recall Sanders was still strapped to his seat when he was found in the tree.

Regardless of what one sees in the movies, ejections from a fighter aircraft are very dangerous events and is the option of last choice, last resort. The F-105D had a rocket-propelled ejection seat. A drogue chute on the seat stabilized everything in the air to prevent the seat and pilot from tumbling through the air. The parachute was worn by the pilot and was not part of the seat. The pilot would release his seat's harness while in the air, freeing him from the seat and enabling him to fall free with his chute. He would then pull the rip chord on his own chute. Some pilots were known to have "frozen" in their seats from the shock of the ejection at high speeds, so a system was installed that was supposed to pull the pilot away from the seat by a strap system.



I do not know why Sanders was still attached to his seat. It is possible his aircraft inverted and he ejected downward straight into the trees. It is also possible he was thrown from his aircraft after it crashed. It is possible his ejection seat failed to separate and that he was either too shocked from the ejection, too injured, or already dead.

I do have one other notion here, however, and I've asked F-105 professionals to comment on it. This photo is of an ACES II Survival Kit Container used on the F-16 and F-15. It attaches to the "seat pan" of the ejection seat.



The "seat pan" was a metal area of the ejection seat strapped a bit like a pan. It and the survival kit and seat cushion are strapped to the pilot. I wonder whether Sanders was strapped to that, called by some pilots the "survival seat," instead of the entire ejection seat. Perhaps the people who found him mistakenly called that the ejection seat. Normally, if a pilot lands in the trees, for example, he would release this seat pan which would hang some 10-15 feet below the pilot on the lanyard. However if he did not release the "survival kit" it would still be attached to him and the chute harness and look like he was sitting on something. The scenario I just described is possible, but the experts who consulted with me have different views about that possibility.

When it's all said and done, we don't know what the Hmong saw. 

Failure of the ejection seat to separate after ejection is rare, but it has happened

Next on the docket are the trees in Laos.

While missions over Laos were not as risky as those over the NVN, pilots knew the Pathet Lao did not take prisoners. This photo shows a group of them, much like the Hmong, mostly poor farmers fighting against the US-backed central government. One FAC pilot commented on the Pathet Lao:



"Pilots (who had bailed out in Laos) were machine-gunned while hanging from trees in their parachute harnesses.”



 
Trees in Laos were at least double canopy. This photo gives you a sense for the enormity of the trees in Laos.



Major Charles Brownle flew F-105Ds for the 357th TFS. On December 24, 1968, he bailed out over Laos, successfully ejecting. Other pilots in his flight saw his parachute reply, followed it to the ground, and saw it get caught in the dense jungle canopy of trees. Attempts to contact Brownlee by radio were not successful, and there was no emergency beeper heard from his radio.

Rescue helicopters had been orbiting in the area in case they were needed. The crews aboard one HH3E, callsign "Jolly Green," immediately responded. The photo shows a HH3C version of the Jolly Green. The rescue aircraft came under heavy fire when it neared Brownlee's location, it was getting dark, so they all left.



The next morning a HH3E Jolly Green returned to the site to recover Brownlee. The crew easily spotted his parachute hanging from the trees. However, the helicopter wash blew the parachute and Brownlee to the ground some 70 feet below. The rescue crew then lowered USAF pararescueman (PJ) Charles Douglas “Doug” King, 100 ft. to the ground. Brownlee appeared lifeless, "inert" according to the PJ. The PJ cut Brownlee from his parachute, and secured him to a rescue device. The rescue crew decided to drag him about 20 feet to reach an open clearing so they could hoist him up, avoiding the trees. Airman King followed along with Brownlee. Just as the rescue crew was ready to hoist both men, the two men came under heavy enemy fire, and King was wounded. As the helicopter pulled away hoping to execute a rescue, the hoist line became snagged in the trees and broke, dropping both men about 10 ft. to the ground. Then the helicopter came under heavy fire and had to leave. The SAR attempt was abandoned, and both men, Brownlee and King were listed as MIA.

Capt. Larry Mahaffey, a F-105 pilot, was hit over NVN on November 18, 1965. Prior to ejecting, he flew his disabled aircraft to mountainous terrain, figuring it was safer there for him. His parachute landed in 100-foot high trees. He could not see the ground, decided the enemy, if they were there, would not be able to see him, so he simply remained in the trees. However, when the rescue choppers came, they could not find him. Mahaffey fired a few flares, the rescue crew spotted him, lowered the penetrator into the "dense mass of limbs and vines," and pulled him aboard.

Capt. Bob Gregory was flying a RF-4C, First Lt. Larry Stutz the co-pilot. Their mission was to follow a bombing raid 25 miles north of Hanoi and photograph the bomb damage for later assessment. They were flying 660 knots at 75 ft. altitude, "barely over the trees," and were hit by ground fire. Both men ejected. Stutz was captured almost immediately after parachuting into a NVN village. Gregory's parachute became snagged in the trees but he plunged to the ground, was knocked unconscious, and later died during imprisonment.

An Air America UH-34 large cargo hauler was shot down in 1963 over Laos. One Lao "Kicker" landed in a tree at night, saw grass not far below him, so he cut himself loose.

He then found that the elephant grass was very high, so he fell 50 ft down a hill.



Major Forrest Fenn, a F-100 pilot with the 85th TFS, ejected after being hit over Laos. The next morning, SAR crews came to rescue him. The helicopter crew let the jungle penetrator down 240 ft. to reach Fenn. He described the ride up as one “through a tangle of breaking limbs, leaves and tree trunks (that) took my breath away."

Rescue crews would encounter difficulties weaving themselves through the trees to get their man, and sometimes their cables broke and they crashed down through the trees themselves. Search and Rescue (SAR) missions were almost always very risky.

Finally, let's briefly look at the "shell-shock" of ejecting from the aircraft and spending time on the ground.

Major Dewey Waddell was shot down over NVN on July 5, 1967. He ejected and was captured. He said:

“It’s quite a shock when you’re zooming along and then all of a sudden you’re sitting on the ground.  One of the first thoughts I had when I was sitting on the ground was, Everybody I see from now on may be wanting to kill me. That focuses your attention. But conveniently they didn’t try to kill me. They just wanted to capture me.”

Lt. Commander Harvey Eikel, USN ejected over NVN as well on August 31, 1968. After landing on the ground, he had to evade the enemy for two hours. A Navy helicopter arrived for the rescue through intense hostile fire. At one point enemy soldiers were only 100 ft. away from him. The rescue chopper picked him up and took him to a ship offshore.

Martin Mahrtt was shot down over NVN flying a F-105. He landed in a mojuntainous area =south of the Red FRiver. Mahrtt described the ordeal:

"Initially, I was capped (combat air patrol cover to protect him) by members of my flight, then A1-Es protected me until the Jolly Green helicopters arrived (about two hours later). I was picked up and as we exited the area, we were attacked by North Vietnam MiGs. They fired heat-seeking missiles at the rescue aircraft, but the missiles did not guide. The helicopters landed on a mountaintop in Laos which was occupied by US Special Forces. They refueled the choppers from 50 gal drums using hand-cranked pumps. Later, I learned that my miraculous rescue was the furthest north that a pilot h. ad been rescued"

Many pilots were badly injured prior to ejecting, usually by shrapnel and fire.  Or after ejecting their bodies often would swing wildly in the air and they might also suffer from wind-blast. Once they did eject and hit the ground, they had lost a lot of blood from deep lacerations and might fall into shock, or even death. Open wounds were infected, which would be fatal whether captured or on the run.

After finishing my research, I searched for Sanders' family members. I found his brother, at the time living in Hawaii. We had a great conversation. I was the first to tell him that the Hmong found his brother hanging in the trees, cut him down, and got him to a safe base. His brother was surprised, listened intently, I led him to the article, and he thanked me for hunting him down and calling him.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Five-foot 4 inches, 150 lbs, Medal of Honor WWII, a legend

Nicholas Oresko  was born in 1917. He grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. On January 23, 1945, he was involved in taking down German machine gun positions just east of the Moselle River border between Luxembourg and Germany. He was part of an Army operation to "mop up" German military members as General Patton's 3rd Army swept into Germany. For his valor, he received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman on October 30, 1945. This story is about him.

You might ask why Oresko?  I saw an article in Business Insider which said he died on October 4, 2013 at age 96, at that time our oldest recipient of the Medal of Honor. He had no family left to stand by his side. But dozens of military veterans and school kids heard he was not recuperating well from surgery on his leg and came to his room to visit, and be with him.

That all peaked my interest.

Military.com has a wonderful video of Nicholas wshere he describes the events of the battle. You'll love the guy. I have transcribed what he said and will present it later.

Nicholas Oresko grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father came to the US from Russia, though I think he was of Ukrainian heritage. Growing up, Nicholas talked Russian to his father and English to his mother, who was born in New Jersey.

In the video, he said when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean, he wanted to be a pilot; when they had stories about fighter pilots he wanted to do that; and when Joe Louis won the title he wanted to be a boxer. His problem was he was a short guy, 5 ft. 4 in. and said to weigh in the neighborhood of 150 lbs. 

His father was quick to remind him of his being short, telling him constantly that he had to read and study, read and study over and over if he wanted to be anything.

Nicholas understood his size issue, but just kept plugging on. Oresko said his mother always told him:

"Remember that, in life, you can always do more than you think you can." 

Applied to Nicholas, that was quite prescient.

Myles Ma wrote about Oresko during his final days. Ma said Oresko had been living in an assisted living home in Cresskill, New Jersey. He required surgery on a broken right femur that happened when he fell. He went to Englewood Hospital for the surgery.

He had no immediate family. His wife and son had died. 

But Englewood Fire Chief Gerald Marion invited firefighters who had served in the military to visit Oresko.

Jack Carbone was a friend who cared for Oresko. Carbone commented: 

“Nick didn’t have to worry. Because the family he didn’t have was really the family he hadn’t met yet, and that was the army and the military ... A hero like Nick changes the course of history."


More than 12 people were at the hospital before the staff took him to surgery. Regrettably, the surgery was too much for Oresko. He died of complications. His funeral was held on October 10, 2013.

Bergen County Police led a hearse taking Oresko's body to the funeral home in a procession that included Englewood fire­trucks.

One of Oresko's friends, Richard E. Robitaille posted the information on the internet leading to an outpouring of affection from people across the country. He said:

"They understood the type of person we were talking about and said, ‘We can't let him die alone'"

Robitaille added that people came from as far away as Maine and Maryland to visit Oresko. He added:

"He's loved throughout the Army. He's an American hero."

Three hundred people attended the funeral at The Anna Maria Ciccone Theatre on the Bergen County College campus in Paramus. Four Medal of Honor recipients attended.

I'd like to show a few photos from his funeral. They are very telling about the man and his legacy.


 
 
The lady in the center of this photo is Genevieve Doocey, a long-time friend of Oresko. She received the flag on behalf of a grateful nation.

Let's review what these people said about him to get a better sense for the kind of man he was.

Bob Jerome carried Oresko's Medal of Honor at his funeral and noted:


“He was the Fred Astaire of the Medal of Honor Society. He was one of the most amazing dancers that you’d ever want to see.”

Perhaps because of his father's constant urging, Oresko had a great interest in education. Bayonne School #14 was renamed in his honor in July 2010. It is called the Nicholas Oresko Community School. Broadly speaking, #14 is a school largely for gifted students.

Oresko visited his namesake school often. Many students visited him in the assisted living home in Cresskill.

Westwood, New Jersey Police Officer Scott McNiff said of Oresko:
 
“He’s a legend, he’s an inspiration, he’s everything I admire in a human being.”
 
It seldom gets any better than that.
 
Councilman Max Basch said of him:
 
"Sergeant Oresko defended our freedom, our inclusiveness and our tradition of helping each other. We owe him a debt of gratitude."
 
Col. Harvey Barnum, USMC (Ret.), himself a Medal Honor recipient, said this at Oresko's funeral:

"Taking out two enemy fortified bunkers,  killing 12 of the enemy, Sgt. Oresko cleared the way for Allied forces to advance forward. Despite being severely wounded, weak from loss of blood, Sgt. Oresko refused to be evacuated until he was assured of mission accomplishment."
 
Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., USA, Superintendent, U.S. Military Academy, spoke at the funeral on behalf of the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff. Mike Strasser, U.S. Military Academy Public Affairs, said that four Medal of Honor recipients attended along with David Tarantino, an Eagle Scout with Troop 113 in Hackensack, New .Jersey. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered flags to be raised at half staff for a week to honor Odasko.
 
Col. Jack Jacobs, USA (Ret.), Medal of Honor recipient, commented:

“It would be nice … if all the kids knew about the Nicholas Oresko story and had baseball cards with Nick Oresko’s picture on it. There’s a real model for the young kids … about service, sacrifice,  patriotism, and diligence.”
 
General Caslen said: 
 
"By all accounts, he was a tremendous friend to so many, and would always take the time to talk about his experiences. 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.
 
"Thinking about the words and phrases that capture the essence of the 'Greatest Generation,' I realized that they represent what made Sergeant Oresko great. Traits like selflessness, loyalty, courage and integrity were evident in everything he did. Sergeant Oresko embodied the Army values; he made honor a matter of daily living--carrying out, acting and living our values each and every day.
 
"Sergeant Oresko was wounded in the attack, yet despite his wounds, he continued to fight in order to protect his Soldiers and complete the mission. 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.

“Sir, we hope in your eyes we have earned what you have done for us.”
 
Major Kenneth Nielson, USA, the West Point Chaplain, said this:
 
"His actions were those of a man who was formed by those who loved him and who, in turn, strove to be a man of courage and love."
 
The Citation to Accompany the Medal of Honor for MSgt. Nicholas Oresko is everywhere in the internet. I have decided not to paste that into this article. Instead, I have transcribed Oresko's explanation of what happened on January 23, 1945. I transcribed this from the video I mentioned previously.
 
The Battle of the Bulge began roughly on December 16, 1944 the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front and lasted until January 1945, two days after Oresko's match with the Germans. The Battle of the Bulge was the Germans' last attempt to stop the Western march to Germany. It caught the US by surprise, but the US prevailed.  
 
I need to show you a map so you know he was and so you know generally what was happening. Don't let the map scare you with all those notations!
 
Lots to see on this map. The red arrow through the center of the graphic points to the German offensive designed to split the US forces and capture the Ardennes Forest region. The bottom black arrow points to where US forces were positioned on December 20, 1944. The Germans pushed them back to top black arrow by December 26. You can that push created a "bulge" splitting US forces. However, US forces recovered and [pushed the Germans back into Germany, shown by where they were located on January 26.

Oresko was a platoon leader with Company C, 1st Battalion, 302nd Infantry (C/1/302 Infantry), 94th Infantry Division (ID). The 94th ID was part of General Patton's Third Army. Follow the blue arrow. It moved out of France into the southeast portion of Luxembourg on January 7, 1945, replacing the 90th ID. The 94th crossed the Mosel River into Germany and seized Tettingen, Germany on January 14, 1945, about 12 miles southeast of Luxembourg City. Tettingen is marked roughly by the blue dot.
 
Much of the 94th ID kept moving east.  division then seized several other towns in succeeding days. Oresko's unit was in Tettingen on January 25, 1945, behind the division's eastern advance. In military parlance, he was tasked to "mop up" those German soldiers who remained in and around Tettingen. Mopping up is anything but an easy chore. Yes, the 3rd Army was moving quickly to the east into Germany, but the Germans still held strong positions in the Tettingen area. Deadly enemy automatic fire from the flanks pinned down his unit. 
 
I'll should mention that this area of Germany was known as Hitler's "West Wall." It was meant to defend the industrial Saarland. Saarbrucken, marked by the red dot at the bottom of the graphic in the right quadrant, was in the Saar Valley, a massive German industrial center because of its plentiful coal deposits. This West Wall was to defend the Saar's heavy industries
 
The Germans built the Siegfried Line along from south-to-north along its western border, marked by the thick red line.  It passed through the area near Tettingen. It was a concrete obstacle course of fortifications, bunkers, ditches and barriers, often known as the Dragon's Teeth. The photo shows a portion of the Dragon's Teeth. The Germans had positioned many German forces in this area to defend the Saar Valley.

So TSgt. (at the time) Nichiolas Oresko and his 94th ID platoon. In those days, an infantry platoon was meant to have three six-man squads, or 18 riflemen, plus a four man headquarters element, totally 22 men. I do not know how many Oresko had, but that gives you a rough idea. Survival among the men in the rifle squad was always fluctuating.

While he was only commanding a platoon, you can see how his men were part of a huge and very important recovery from the Battle of the Bulge and the push to Berlin.
 
With that, this is how Oresko described events:

"Our job was to take the two (enemy) machine guns that were on the side of the hill somewhere looking down on us. We couldn't see them, but they saw us and every time we attacked you would lose some people. So after two days of battling and preparation for artillery and mortar fire, we decided the third day we would attack without preparation.  
 
(In other words, no artillery and/or mortar fire to soften their target area. It was his platoon against the machine guns.)

"We'll wait until it starts to get dark. It was January, it was cold, and the snow was deep and we thought we could sneak up on the machine guns that way.  

"So I told my men tomorrow we attack at 4:30. No preparation. Just get ready to sneak up on the enemy. Next day came, 4:30, I  said to my men, 'Okay, let's go. Move out.'

"Nobody moved. I yelled again, 'C'mon, let's go.' Again, nobody moved. And I felt so alone. 'Cause I said, 'Well somebody has to move so I guess I'll just have to go by myself.'

"I looked up at the sky, and I said, 'Lord I know I'm gonna die, let's just make it fast, make it quick 'cause I know this is end.'

'And a cold wave came over me, you don't feel anything, you're numb, you're not in your right mind, you go by instinct, so I stepped out of the trenches and by myself, step by step through the snow, and the Germans didn't see me. And little by little I could see that my men one by one started to follow but they were maybe 50 feet away and they were no help to me. So I was alone. 

"Now you can't imagine how it is to be alone on the battlefield and your men on the ground and the Germans in front of you. What do you do? You just keep plugging along step by step and I say, 'Well if I have to die for my country, I'm ready.'

"And then all hell broke loose somehow. All I know is there was a lot of screaming, and yelling and shooting and firing (inaudible) the first machine gun was knocked down, but I can't remember much about that. Only then when I was wounded I came back to reality. I thought they'd missed me because my rifle belt and my clothing were full of bullet holes but they missed me but I was on the ground, I was knocked down. And then as I started to walk I could feel warm stuff coming down my leg. I was wounded seriously in the right hip. And then I knew I was wounded. And then it started to hurt. 

"And of course the more it bled the more blood I lost and I was weaker. I was still alone. This is the important thing. I kept trudging ahead, figure I'm gonna die anyway so what difference does it make. 

"'While I was crawling my helmet hit a wire which I knew was a booby trap. But because I was low that the shrapnel from the booby trap went over me instead of in to me, because I was so low to the ground. 

"Then I thought I better rest a while so  I saw a little indentation on the ground, so I went in there and I rested. So then I said I think I'll just lay here for a while. As I lay there, I could see right over me a flame of  red, blue and purple coming out of something. And that was the enemy's machine gun. They thought they had killed me and they went back and fired on my troops who were on the ground.

"Well I couldn't go because the guns would get me, I couldn't go forward 'cause they were there, and apparently they thought they'd killed me. They didn't see me. Well I saw them. So I said great, what I will do now is take one of my grenades out of my shirt and throw it in and finish the job, hopefully. 

"Well I reached in and the grenades were gone 'cause I lost them as I was crawling. What else could happen? So I crawled back about twelve feet I guess, and I found the grenades and put one in my shirt and crawled up to the same position. They were still firing at my men. I was just below them. 

"So I said, all right, here we go! I counted to four, I pulled the pin, I counted to four,  threw it in (inaudible) jumped in after and started shooting, who the grenade didn't get my rifle did. And then there was peace.

"It was so quiet it was unbelievable. It was over. The guns were gone, and then my men came running, and helping me and patching me up, and so on and so forth, 

Oresko took his mother to Washington to be with him when he received the Medal of Honor. Oresko told her:

"Well mom, I hope this makes up for all my naughtiness when I was a young man, because I think I was a pretty naughty young man."

The town of Tenafly, New Jersey dedicated an oval-shaped park in the heart of town in his name.



An Army unity relevant to Oresko is the 94th Training Division. It's Total Army School System (TASS) Training Center, Ft. Lee, Virginia has been named in honor of Msgt. Nicholas Oresko. Brigadier General Héctor López, the commanding general of the 94th Training Division in 2018, said this of Oresko:

“He led by example … he demonstrated the kind of leadership that is needed these days in all ranks. As leaders in today’s Army, we must cling to Master Sgt. Oresko’s indomitable spirit and be willing to do what is right for our units and Soldiers.”