Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
RUSSELL E. DUNHAM
Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army Company I, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division
In mid-1940, Russell Dunham, unable to find a job, joined the Army. After the war started, he saw action in North Africa, Sicily, and Anzio as part of the 3rd Infantry Division. In August 1944, his unit landed at Toulon in the south of France and fought its way toward Alsace-Lorraine. Five months later, Sergeant Dunham’s company was facing a significant German force at the small town of Kaysersberg, France. On the morning of Jan. 8, 1945, the men were issued white mattress covers to camouflage them in the deep snow and ordered on patrol. Heavily armed with carbine magazines and a dozen grenades hooked into his belt, Dunham scrambled through the snow up a hill where three German machine guns were dug in.
The first gun was in a bunker made of logs; Dunham took it out with a grenade. He advanced toward the second gun and had turned to call up his squad when a bullet hit him in the back and knocked him fifteen yards down the hill. As he got back on his feet, a grenade hit nearby; he kicked it away. He then crawled to the machine gun and threw his own grenade into the bunker, killing two of the Germans and taking a third prisoner. With blood staining his white wrapper, he ran fifty yards to the third machine-gun emplacement and took it out with a grenade, killing its three crew members. As German infantrymen began to jump out of the foxholes the machine guns had been protecting, he fired down on them. Chasing them down the back side of the hill, Dunham and his brother Ralph, who was in the same unit, came upon a fourth machine gun, and Ralph took it out with another grenade. Suddenly, an enemy rifleman appeared out of the trees and shot point-blank at him; he missed Dunham but killed a GI behind him. Dunham immediately shot the German with his carbine. By the end of the action, he had killed nine enemy soldiers.
Dunham's back wound had not yet fully healed when he was back on the line again. On Jan. 22,
his battalion was surrounded by German tanks at the town of Holtzwihr. Most of the men were forced to surrender and eventually sent to Germany, but Dunham managed to hide in a sauerkraut barrel right outside a barn. The next morning, as he was about to make his escape, two German soldiers took him prisoner. While they were patting him down, they found a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and began to fight over it. As a result, they never finished searching him and missed a pistol snuggled up under his arm in a shoulder holster. They held him in the barn all day; late in the afternoon, they drove him toward the German lines.
After going a few miles, the driver stopped at a roadside bar. When the other guard's attention wandered, Dunham drew his pistol and shot him in the head, then sprinted back in the direction from which they had come. He located the barn where he had hidden earlier in order to orient himself, then struck out for the American lines at night.
He hid the next day, resuming his journey at nightfall; his feet and ears were frozen. Then he was spotted by American engineers working on a bridge over the Ill River. They took him to the battalion field hospital, where doctors worked feverishly to save his feet from amputation. One of the medics treating him reported that the commanding officer had intended to recommend him for a Distinguished Service Cross but was now changing it to a Medal of Honor.
Lieutenant General Alexander Patch presented the medal to Dunham on April 23, 1945, in Nuremberg.