On this day in 1931, a hero is born. Ola Lee Mize has been called “one of Alabama’s great fighting sons,” who fought “the greatest one-man battle of the Korean War.”
Yet Mize nearly missed his chance to serve in the Army. At only 120 pounds, the son of Alabama sharecroppers was initially deemed too light to serve. Moreover, an old injury had left him virtually blind in one eye.
He should have flunked the vision exam, but he tricked the examiner into testing his good eye twice.
Mize’s heroism came in Korea during the night of June 10-11, 1953, as his company worked to hold a strategically important hill known as Outpost Harry. Late that night, the weapons squad leader called Mize over, noting that something seemed wrong with the terrain.
“I climbed up there,” Mize later explained, “looking over the trench line . . . . Bushes all over the place. Well, the first thing I said: ‘Where the hell did all those bushes come from?’” He realized that the bushes were moving. “I just automatically started spraying the hell out of all those bushes,” he shrugged.
Chinese artillery opened fire, then a large force of the enemy attacked. Mize felt as if he spent the next two hours, “just shooting Chinese as fast as they come over that trench line.”
In the hours that followed, Mize was everywhere. He organized a defensive perimeter, and he even crafted a system of moving soldiers from one bunker to another, making the American force look larger than it was. When he saw a friendly machine-gun position under attack, his Medal citation describes, “[h]e immediately fought his way to the position, killing 10 of the enemy and dispersing the remainder.” At one point, he ran through an intense barrage to rescue a wounded soldier.
“Twice or maybe three times,” eyewitness Pvt. Allen K. England concluded, “they nearly got Sgt. Mize with grenades and artillery blasts. The blasts would stun him, but he would get up and call for more ammunition and shout encouragement to us.”
“I thought I’d bought the farm,” Mize later admitted. “I just knew I was going to die. I knew it. I accepted it. All I wanted to do was take as many of them with me as I could.”
American counterattack forces finally reached Mize’s position after dawn on June 11. The outpost was secured, and Mize took his men back to American lines.
“I didn’t know how I looked,” he later said. “My clothes were blown off, and my face was all black and burnt from where I’d been burnt from flash.” Officers there thought Mize had been killed in the overnight fighting, and they didn’t recognize him when he arrived.
“They said, ‘Who are you?’” Mize later chuckled. “I said, ‘I’m Sergeant Mize.’ They said, ‘No, you’re not. Sergeant Mize is dead.’ I said, ‘I hope not, sir. I’m standing here, talking to you.’”
Mize tried to refuse the Medal of Honor, telling his commanding officer that he “would prefer that my entire unit be recognized for their stubborn stand at Outpost Harry.”
He didn’t get his way, of course. Instead, he received the Medal from President Eisenhower in September 1954. “I was scared to death!” he joked. “They had here a little country boy from northeast Alabama—a redneck meeting the President of the United States? It was unreal.”
When Mize retired from the Army years later, he was a Colonel. He still didn’t think he’d done anything special in Korea.
“I just happened to be up there when the attack came,” he concluded. “I didn’t have time to be scared or anything else.”
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Douglas Martin, Ola L. Mize, Honored for Heroics in Korean War, Dies at 82 (NY Times; March 16, 2014)
Dwight Jon Zimmerman & John D. Gresham, Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq (2011) (Foreword by Col. Lee Mize, USA (Ret.))
Emily Langer, Ola L. Mize, who received the Medal of Honor for valor during the Korean War, dies at 82 (Wash. Post; Mar. 13, 2014)
Homage Accorded to Gadsden Hero (Chattanooga Daily Times; June 19, 1954) (p. 5)
James H. Willbanks, America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan (2011)
Medal of Honor citation (Ola Lee Mize; Korea)
Medal of Honor oral history (Ola Lee Mize; Korea)
One-Man Battle by Tampan Wins Nation's Highest Military Honor (Tampa Times; April 13, 1954) (p. 4)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (2d ed. 2006)