Mike Colalillo -"What the hell's a Medal of Honor?"


Nov 30, 2009
Mike Colalillo, last Medal of Honor recipient still living in Minn., dies
Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
Updated: January 2, 2012 - 8:26 PM

With the Duluth resident's Army company under intense German fire during World War II, he rallied his comrades.

(Re-touched) photo of President Harry S. Truman presenting the medal of Honor to Sgt. Mike Colalillo of Duluth, published March 7, 1949.

Photo: , Associated Press

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Minnesotan Mike Colalillo received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor for bravery, from President Harry Truman on Dec. 18, 1945.

Colalillo, 86, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient in Minnesota, died on Friday in Bayshore Health Center in Duluth.

In a news interview after leaving the Army, Colalillo said, "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."

The Army private was a rifleman in the 100th Infantry Division and stationed near Untergriesheim, Germany, on April 7, 1945, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

According to the Medal of Honor citation:

Colalillo and others in his company were pinned down during a battle. He stood up amid heavy artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire, shouted to his comrades to follow and ran forward as he fired his weapon.

"Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire," the citation read.

When shrapnel disabled his weapon, Colalillo "climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned an exposed machine gun on the turret of the vehicle and, while bullets rattled about him, fired at an enemy emplacement with such devastating accuracy that he killed or wounded at least 10 hostile soldiers and destroyed their machine gun."

In the end, Colalillo was credited with killing or wounding 25 enemy soldiers.

The Medal of Honor Society said there are 84 Medal of Honor recipients alive today. Forty-six Minnesotans have received the Medal of Honor, according to the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley in Little Falls.

Colalillo was born on Dec. 1, 1925, in Hibbing, Minn., the son of an Italian immigrant father who worked in the iron mines.

He was one of nine children; his mother died when he was 16. At 18, he was drafted into the Army.

In an interview in 2008 with the 100th Infantry Division Association newsletter, Colalillo recalled that "the good Lord was with me" during that battle. "I could see our guys getting shot. ... I could see the muzzle flashes of the Germans shooting at us, and I aimed at them.

A few days later, Colalillo said, he was ordered back to division headquarters under military police escort. He thought he was in trouble.

Told at headquarters that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor, Colalillo said he responded: "What the hell's a Medal of Honor? They had to explain to me what it meant."

Colalillo recalled that when he received the medal, Truman said to him: "I'm proud of you. I [would] rather have this than be president."

After his discharge, Colalillo worked as coal dump laborer until an on-the-job accident left his left arm paralyzed. He later became a longshoreman in Duluth, retiring in 1987 after 19 years as a foreman.

Michael Colalillo Medal of Honor Park in Duluth is named for him. It includes a flag and memorial plaque that honors other WWII veterans.

Colalillo was preceded in death by his wife, Lina, and a daughter, Joan Colalillo. He is survived by a son, Al Colalillo of Hayward, Wis., and a daughter, Michele Schneeberger of Meadowlands, Minn.

Visitation for Colalillo is scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday in Dougherty Funeral Home, 600 E. 2nd St., Duluth. Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday in St. James Catholic Church, 721 North 57th Av. W., Duluth. Burial will follow at Forest Hill Cemetery with full honors by the Minnesota Army National Guard.

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With our fellow Citizens in Iowa beginning the Presidential Election Process could it be a more fitting time to recognize the humility of one of America's hero's who put his life on the line so we wouldn't have to. RIP Michael and thanks for a job well done.