RIP Mike Colalillo, MOH, WWII
Mike Colalillo, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for an extraordinary machine gun assault on German soldiers toward the end of World War II that inflicted 25 enemy casualties, died Dec. 30 at a nursing facility in Duluth, Minn. He was 86.
He had congestive heart failure, said his son, Al Colalillo.
I'll come back to the Washington Post story in a minute, but his actual citation is pretty awesome reading:
He was pinned down with other members of his company during an attack against strong enemy positions in the vicinity of Untergriesheim, Germany. Heavy artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire made any move hazardous when he stood up, shouted to the company to follow, and ran forward in the wake of a supporting tank, firing his machine pistol. Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire. When his weapon was struck by shrapnel and rendered useless, he climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned an exposed machinegun on the turret of the vehicle, and, while bullets rattled about him, fired at an enemy emplacement with such devastating accuracy that he killed or wounded at least 10 hostile soldiers and destroyed their machinegun. Maintaining his extremely dangerous post as the tank forged ahead, he blasted 3 more positions, destroyed another machinegun emplacement and silenced all resistance in his area, killing at least 3 and wounding an undetermined number of riflemen as they fled. His machinegun eventually jammed; so he secured a submachinegun from the tank crew to continue his attack on foot. When our armored forces exhausted their ammunition and the order to withdraw was given, he remained behind to help a seriously wounded comrade over several hundred yards of open terrain rocked by an intense enemy artillery and mortar barrage. By his intrepidity and inspiring courage Pfc. Colalillo gave tremendous impetus to his company's attack, killed or wounded 25 of the enemy in bitter fighting, and assisted a wounded soldier in reaching the American lines at great risk of his own life.
A little more about Mike, and his life away from the field of battle:
A few weeks later, he was approached by two military police officers who escorted him to a nearby headquarters. He recalled later that he thought he was under arrest. He was informed that the tank’s commander had nominated him for the Medal of Honor, which he received in December 1945 at a White House ceremony.
Mr. Colalillo said his boyhood friends in Minnesota were surprised by the award and told him, “How could a little twerp like you get the Medal of Honor?”
Michael Colalillo was born Dec. 1, 1925, in Hibbing, Minn., and grew up in West Duluth. His parents were Italian immigrants and had nine children.
After his mother died, he dropped out of school at 16 to support the family. He worked in a bakery where he said he “did everything from cleaning pans to putting jelly in the Bismarcks,” a type of pastry.
After his military service, Mr. Colalillo worked for an ironworks and was seriously injured on the job when one of his arms got caught in a conveyor belt. He never fully recovered. He later was a foreman at a warehouse near the Duluth harbor and retired in the late 1980s.
His wife of 61 years, Lina Nissila Colalillo, died in 2007. Their daughter Joanne Colalillo died in 2001.