We note with awe the passing of Michael Colalillo, who died today at a nursing home in Duluth, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
Mr. Colalillo, 86, born in Hibbing but a Duluthian through and through, was also the last living World War II veteran from Minnesota to receive the Medal of Honor.
He was awarded the medal by Harry Truman.
Private First Class Mike Colalillo, 2d Squad, 2d Platoon, Co. C, 1st Battalion, 398th Infantry, 100th Infantry Division was pinned down with other members of his company during an attack against strong enemy positions on 7 April 1945 in the vicinity of Untergriesheim, Germany. Heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire made any move hazardous when he stood up, shouted to his company to follow, and ran forward in the wake of a supporting tank, firing his machine pistol. Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire. When his weapon was struck by shrapnel and rendered useless, he climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned an exposed machine gun on the turret of the vehicle, and, while bullets rattled around 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. Maintaining his extremely dangerous post as the tank forged ahead, he blasted three more positions, destroyed another machine gun emplacement and silenced all resistance in this area, killing at least three and wounding an undetermined number of riflemen as they fled. His machine gun eventually jammed; so he secured a submachine gun from the tank crew to continue his attack on foot. When our armored forces exhausted their ammunition and the other to withdraw was given, he remained behind to help a seriously wounded comrade over several hundred yards of open terrain rocked by an intense enemy artillery and mortar barrage. By his intrepidity and inspiring courage Private First Class Colalillo gave tremendous impetus to his company’s attack, killed or wounded 25 of the enemy in bitter fighting, and assisted a wounded soldier in reaching the American lines at great risk to his own life.
His friends never let him get a big head about the medal. “They said ‘How could a little twerp like you get the Medal of Honor?'” he told MPR’s Mark Steil in a 2008 interview. Unfortunately, you’ll need the RealPlayer to hear it. Heroes last longer than some technologies.
His story above, and the story of Jeno Paulucci, who died in November, are also great reminders of how the tough neighborhoods of Duluth cranked out impressive people ready to take on the world.