“I never wanted to kill anybody…”

 

In April of 1945, US Army Private Mike Colalillo was removed from the German front lines by armed Military Police, and taken to Division Headquarters.  He didn’t know why, but felt he must be in some kind of trouble.  At headquarters, the Private was informed that he had been nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The Hibbing, Minnesota native replied, “What the hell’s a Medal of Honor?”  

A few days earlier, on April 7, 1945, the 100th Infantry Division came under heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun attack near Untergrieshem, Germany.  A rifleman, Colalillo was pinned down under sustained fire.  “I could see our guys getting shot,” he would later recall.  In the midst of the attack, incredibly, Colalillo stood and began running toward the enemy, firing his weapon, and calling out to the other men to do likewise.  His Medal of Honor citation reads, “Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire.”   How many people reading these words would do that? 

The Good Book tells us that, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”   Those beautifully wrought words of the King James Version were put to action in the mud of battle where bullets tear through flesh and young men die.  His own weapon disabled by shrapnel, Private Colalillo climbed up on a tank where he manned an exposed machine gun.  A hail of bullets pinging all around him, he turned the machine gun on the enemy.  “I could see the muzzle flashes of the Germans shooting at us, and I aimed at them,” he would later recall.  When the dust settled, Colalillo was officially credited with killing or wounding 25 enemy soldiers.  

How did this son of an immigrant iron mine worker, whose mother died when he was 16, who was drafted into military service when he was 18, describe the valor and actions that earned him our nation’s highest military honor?  “I never wanted to kill anybody, and I never had any particular yen to be a hero.  Heroes are a dime a dozen in my book.”  

After the war, Mike Colalillo came back home to work as a coal dump laborer.  An accident on the job left him with a paralyzed left arm, and he went to work as a longshoreman in Duluth, Minnesota until his retirement in 1987.   Unassuming, hard working, courageous, and by any standard an extraordinary man, he reminds us that it isn’t the politician who saves the country.    

He recalled President Truman presenting him with the medal and telling him, “I’m proud of you.  I [would] rather have this than be president.”   Who among our political class would make such a statement today, knowing that most people who earn the Medal of Honor receive it posthumously?  It’s tempting to observe that heroes like Mike Colalillo are a thing of the past, but a look at the Medal of Honor recipients in recent years shows that when freedom courses through the veins of her defenders, valor runs strong.  

Last Friday, while we were preparing to welcome a new year, Mike Colalillo passed away at the age of 86, in Duluth.  One of 46 Minnesotans to have received the Medal of Honor, he will be laid to rest Saturday at 11AM (Central Standard Time), with full military honors.  Perhaps you might join me in a moment of silence at that time, in recognition of a humble man of extraordinary courage, and in celebration of a nation that produces people of his caliber.  

There are 20 comments.

  1. Thatcher

    Another perfect reminder that there will always be more good people in the world than bad people. A simple and somewhat cheesy sentiment, maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Good men and women like Colalillo walk around us every day. These stories remind me that cynicism has no place in a life well lived.

    • #1
    • January 5, 2012 at 5:13 am
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  2. Inactive

    I’ll join you.

    • #2
    • January 5, 2012 at 6:54 am
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  3. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    dogsbody: I’ll join you. · Jan 4 at 5:54pm

    Thank you.

    • #3
    • January 5, 2012 at 6:58 am
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  4. Inactive

    Dave, thanks once again for ‘keeping it real’. When the hyperbole of the election season brings us a lot of people who like to talk about what they are doing, or going to do, for us and then to be reminded that men like Mr. Colalillo have proven again that its real actions that count in life. And through those actions have made our lives and freedoms possible. May he Rest in Peace, he has earned it.

    • #4
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:02 am
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  5. Member

    Amen.

    • #5
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:08 am
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  6. Moderator

    Likewise. Amen, and thank you.

    • #6
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:18 am
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  7. Thatcher

    The citations for those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor never fail to make me feel humble, and very, very grateful.

    • #7
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:25 am
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  8. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Percival: The citations for those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor never fail to make me feel humble, and very, very grateful. · Jan 4 at 6:25pm

    I think it’s profoundly humbling for everyone that reads them. I can’t help but wonder what effect it might have on people who have the words, “The Honorable…” in front of their name, if they read these citations. Might make a few politicians conclude that taking a real stand isn’t so dangerous after all, compared with those who had everything to lose and stood their ground.

    • #8
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:30 am
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  9. Contributor

    Great post, Dave, and thanks! What a great man.

    • #9
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:30 am
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  10. Member
    Dave Carter

    I think it’s profoundly humbling for everyone that reads them. I can’t help but wonder what effect it might have on people who have the words, “The Honorable…” in front of their name, if they read these citations. Might make a few politicians conclude that taking a real stand isn’t so dangerous after all, compared with those who had everything to lose and stood their ground. · Jan 4 at 6:30pm

    I think politicians seek “The Honorable…,” so they give it to one another because no one else will. And You know how much that means.

    And then there’s People of honor: Private Colalillo, for One.

    • #10
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:41 am
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  11. Member

    Pausing to honor those who went above and beyond the call — great reminder, Dave — I’d like to add the name of Col. Robert Howard. You can read his tribute here. And you can see a short video about him here.

    All CMH winners are special men, but Bob was special to me because I knew him. When I was a freshly minted 2Lt. from ROTC I had the honor of going through the US Army Infrantry School’s Basic Officer Course with Bob. He was a 1Lt. by direct battlefield commission, having served 54 months in Vietnam and having been wounded 14 times. He was the most highly decorated soldier of the modern era, and the only soldier in history to be nominated for the award three times. Regulations permit only one CMH per lifetime, and Bob was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and numerous other awards for his service.

    Thanks, Dave, for a reminder of just what it is in our national history that is important.

    • #11
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:54 am
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  12. Member

    “He was a man taken for all in all. Never shall I look upon his like again.”. He will be sorely missed by those of us who value freedom.

    • #12
    • January 5, 2012 at 7:59 am
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  13. Inactive

    I’m in! Beautiful post, Dave!

    • #13
    • January 5, 2012 at 8:02 am
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  14. Thatcher

    I’m sad for his passing and grateful for his service and sacrifice. Thanks for making us aware, Dave.

    • #14
    • January 5, 2012 at 8:06 am
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  15. Thatcher
    Dave Carter

    ..He recalled President Truman presenting him with the medal and telling him, “I’m proud of you. I [would] rather have this than be president.” Who among our political class would make such a statement today, knowing that most people who earn the Medal of Honor receive it posthumously? It’s tempting to observe that heroes like Mike Colalillo are a thing of the past, but a look at the Medal of Honor recipients in recent years shows that when freedom courses through the veins of her defenders, valor runs strong.

    Last Friday, while we were preparing to welcome a new year, Mike Colalillo passed away at the age of 86, in Duluth. One of 46 Minnesotans to have received the Medal of Honor, he will be laid to rest Saturday at 11AM (Central Standard Time), with full military honors. Perhaps you might join me in a moment of silence at that time, in recognition of a humble man of extraordinary courage, and in celebration of a nation that produces people of his caliber. ·

    Hey Dave, never have you been more right about anything then this article. Thank you.

    • #15
    • January 5, 2012 at 8:09 am
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  16. Inactive

    While reading your post I could not help think of the liberal pundits writing about Obama’s courage in ordering the OBL raid and the conservative pundits writing of the courage Bush showed in ordering the surge. Somethings wrong!

    • #16
    • January 5, 2012 at 8:12 am
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  17. Member

    God Bless all our vets and special honor to the most courageous among them. Thank you for the store Dave.

    • #17
    • January 5, 2012 at 9:02 am
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  18. Inactive

    Great story, which I would have never heard about were it not for my friends on Ricochet. Thanks very much for this, Mr. Carter.

    • #18
    • January 5, 2012 at 11:36 am
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  19. Member

    Amen, Dave.

    • #19
    • January 6, 2012 at 8:21 am
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  20. Member

    The moon gives you light,

    And the bugles and the drums give you music,

    And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,

    My heart gives you love.

    Walt Whitman

    • #20
    • January 6, 2012 at 8:25 am
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