On this day in 1944, an army sergeant risks his life in an action that would ultimately earn him the Medal of Honor. According to his citation, the last words heard from Peter Dalessondro as the Germans descended upon him were: “OK, mortars, let me have it—right in this position!”
However did Dalessondro survive the experience? But he did.
“I felt like my demise was near, so I radioed artillery and asked them to fire at me,” he told a newspaper reporter many years later. “They did, but the German captured me before my outpost was blown apart.”
Dalessondro believed that the Germans would have shot him right then and there, but for the fact that they admired his bravery so much. As a captive, the “German officer put me out on the front lines digging trenches and gun positions for four months. I didn’t complain—at least I was alive.”
So what, exactly, had prompted the Germans’ admiration?
Germans and Americans were then facing off at the Battle of the Bulge, and Dalessondro was helping to hold a key road junction near Kalterherberg, Germany. Early on the morning of December 22, Germans attacked the American position.
Apparently, the attack was pretty intense, and it threatened to disorganize the American forces.
Dalessondro, however, actively moved among the men, encouraging them and organizing them, even though it meant “brav[ing] the intense fire.” The attack was repulsed, at least for a little bit. Then a second attack was launched.
Dalessondro’s Medal of Honor citation describes his actions during this second attack: “After exhausting his rifle ammunition, he crawled 30 yards over exposed ground to secure a light machinegun, returned to his position, and fired upon the enemy at almost pointblank range until the gun jammed. He managed to get the gun to fire 1 more burst, which used up his last round, but with these bullets he killed 4 German soldiers who were on the verge of murdering a [medic] and 2 wounded soldiers in a nearby foxhole.”
Dalessondro found himself alone and surrounded. It was then that he asked American artillery to shoot upon his position.
He was ready to die, especially if he could take a bunch of Germans with him.
Except he didn’t die. He was captured. He lived as a prisoner of war for months before finally being freed.
On August 30, 1945, he received the Medal of Honor from Harry S. Truman.
Another American hero from the Greatest Generation.
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Jim DeGennaro, Medal of Honor Recipients Recall Heroic Battle Deeds (Lakeland Ledger; Nov. 12, 1975)
Medal of Honor citation (Peter J. Dalessondro; WWII)
Peter Caddick-Adams, Snow & Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-45 (2014)
Soldier to get honor for ordering barrage (Baltimore Sun; Aug. 14, 1945) (p. 9)
SPC Keith Thompson, Medal of Honor: In Tribute (NCO Journal; Winter 95-96) (reprinted at p. 29, HERE)