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.
Paul J. Wiedorfer
Private, U.S. Army Company G, 318th Infantry, 80th Infantry Division
Working in the war industries gave Paul Wiedorfer an automatic deferment until 1943, when he was drafted. The following year, he was in Europe with the 80th Infantry. After fighting through France and into Belgium, his battalion was taken out of combat and put on "corps reserve." But the rest wasn't for long—when the Battle of the Bulge began, his unit was loaded onto trucks and sent to the front. They were on the way to relieve the garrison at Bastogne when American troops, mistaking them for Germans, opened fire on them. Wiedorfer's commanding officer had to drape their vehicles with white sheets to convince the Americans to cease firing.
At around noon on Christmas Day 1944, Wiedorfer's company was near Chaumont, Belgium, clearing a wooded area of enemy snipers. The day was cloudless and very cold; the three-inch snowfall from the previous night had turned to ice. One of the platoons was crossing an open area when two German machine guns, flanked by riflemen, opened fire from dug-in positions. The Americans scrambled for cover behind a small ridge.
Afraid that his immobilized buddies would be cut to pieces, Private Wiedorfer stood up and charged the enemy. Slipping repeatedly on the frozen ground until he got to within a few yards of the first machine-gun nest, he tossed a grenade in, then shot the three enemy soldiers manning it. He continued to fight his way through the snow, crouching as he ran toward the second position, all the while sensing and hearing the shells from the small-arms fire the Germans were concentrating on him. He counted it a miracle that he wasn't hit. When the grenade he threw at the second enemy position killed one soldier, six others stood up and surrendered to him. By this point, the pinned-down American platoon was able to get up and advance with the rest of the company.
Private Wiedorfer's platoon leader had been killed several days earlier; when his sergeant was also killed in this action, he took over and led the unit for the next several weeks. In early February 1945, fighting on German soil, he was hit during a mortar attack. Although the body of a GI, killed instantly near him, stopped some of the shrapnel, Wiedorfer was struck by fragments in the stomach and in both legs. His left leg was broken; his right hand was shot through. He was evacuated to England, where he was treated for two months, then sent home, where he was hospitalized at Walter Reed for the next two and a half years. One morning, a sergeant in the bed next to him, reading the GI newspaper Stars and Stripes, said, "Hey, Paul, what's your last name?" Wiedorfer spelled it for him. The sergeant looked up. "Hell, you got the Medal of Honor, man!"
Wiedorfer thought someone would just come by his hospital bed to hand the medal to him. But by the time Brigadier General E. F. Koening, the commanding officer of the hospital, arrived to make the presentation on May 29, 1945, he was surrounded by hundreds of people—officers, nurses, and a full military band.