Dogface extraordinairePaul Wiedorfer

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The son of a German immigrant, Wiedorfer joined the U.S. Army during World War II, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His unit was pinned down by German machine-gun fire. “Suddenly something popped into my mind,” he said years later. “Something had to be done, and someone had to do it. And I just did it.” What he did was charge the two machine-gun nests firing on his unit. He had to run 150 yards, in the snow, to get there, but he neutralized both firing positions and captured 24 enemy soldiers.

It was Christmas Day, 1944, and it was Wiedorfer’s first day of combat. He was uninjured, but later, while crossing the Saar River, shrapnel from a mortar shell hit him, tearing open his abdomen. “That was Feb. 10, 1945,” he remembered. “The sergeant’s back was blown wide open, and he was dead when he hit the ground. I was just lucky, I guess.” It took him three years to recover from his wounds. Early on, recuperating in a hospital in England, the guy in the next bed was reading the paper and asked, “How do you spell your name?” He replied “‘W-i-e-d-o-r-f-e-r’, and he said, ‘You just got a medal.’ I said was it the Bronze Star, and he said no, “Congressional Medal of Honor.’” — the highest medal a soldier can receive — for his actions on his first day of combat. “To be perfectly honest with you,” he admitted, “I wasn’t really sure what the hell it was, because all I was some dogface guy in the infantry.” After the war, Wiedorfer was a power station operator in Baltimore, Md., and retired in 1981 as a supervisor of safety and training. He was modest about his awards (which did include a Bronze Star — and a Purple Heart): “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Medal of Honor didn’t exist because there were no wars and we could all live in peace?” Wiedorfer died May 25 from heart failure. He was 90.

Wiedorfer’s official Medal of Honor citation:

He alone made it possible for his company to advance until its objective was seized. Company G had cleared a wooded area of snipers, and 1 platoon was advancing across an open clearing toward another wood when it was met by heavy machinegun fire from 2 German positions dug in at the edge of the second wood. These positions were flanked by enemy riflemen. The platoon took cover behind a small ridge approximately 40 yards from the enemy position. There was no other available protection and the entire platoon was pinned down by the German fire. It was about noon and the day was clear, but the terrain extremely difficult due to a 3-inch snowfall the night before over ice-covered ground. Pvt. Wiedorfer, realizing that the platoon advance could not continue until the 2 enemy machinegun nests were destroyed, voluntarily charged alone across the slippery open ground with no protecting cover of any kind. Running in a crouched position, under a hail of enemy fire, he slipped and fell in the snow, but quickly rose and continued forward with the enemy concentrating automatic and small-arms fire on him as he advanced. Miraculously escaping injury, Pvt. Wiedorfer reached a point some 10 yards from the first machinegun emplacement and hurled a handgrenade into it. With his rifle he killed the remaining Germans, and, without hesitation, wheeled to the right and attacked the second emplacement. One of the enemy was wounded by his fire and the other 6 immediately surrendered. This heroic action by 1 man enabled the platoon to advance from behind its protecting ridge and continue successfully to reach its objective. A few minutes later, when both the platoon leader and the platoon sergeant were wounded, Pvt. Wiedorfer assumed command of the platoon, leading it forward with inspired energy until the mission was accomplished.

From This is True for 29 May 2011