Feature

Russell Dunham

The fearless sergeant who won the Medal of Honor

The fearless sergeant who won the Medal of Honor
Russell Dunham
1920–2009

For 64 years, Russell Dunham carried in his body shrapnel that was a poignant reminder of the remarkable wartime exploits that won him the Medal of Honor. He died last week of congestive heart failure.

Born in East Carondelet, Ill., Dunham joined the Army in 1940, said The Washington Post. After seeing action in North Africa and Italy, Dunham, by then a sergeant, found himself in the small, snowy town of Kaysersberg, France, on Jan. 8, 1945, facing three German machine gun emplacements. “He took out the first bunker with a grenade. Advancing toward the second, he glanced around to call up his squad and a bullet hit him in the back, leaving a 10-inch gash.” Despite excruciating pain, Dunham crawled to the second emplacement, killing two Germans and capturing a third. By now his white-camouflage robe was “stained a conspicuous red.” Yet Dunham “ran 50 yards to the third emplacement” and destroyed it with another grenade.

Two weeks later Dunham was back fighting in the French town of Holtzwihr, said The New York Times. Surrounded by tanks, most of his men surrendered. Dunham “hid in a sauerkraut barrel outside a barn,” where two German soldiers discovered him. “While searching him they found a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and began to fight over it. They never noticed a pistol in his shoulder holster.” En route to a POW camp, one of his captors stopped at a bar. “The second soldier’s attention wandered and Dunham shot him in the head.” In subzero temperatures, he walked for two days until he reached the American lines, nearly losing his feet to frostbite. He received the Medal of Honor that April.

Dunham worked for 32 years with the Veterans Administration in St. Louis. He is survived by a daughter and two stepchildren.

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