Paul J. Wiedorfer, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, dies

Baltimorean received honor for his actions to take out German machine gun nests during Battle of the Bulge

May 26, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

On Christmas Day during the Battle of the Bulge, Paul J. Wiedorfer charged 150 yards across a snow- and ice-covered field under intense enemy fire, singlehandedly knocked out two German machine gun nests and took 24 prisoners. His spectacular feat earned him the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.

"Suddenly something popped into my mind. Something had to be done and someone had to do it. And I just did it. I can't tell you why," Mr. Wiedorfer recalled in a 2008 interview with The Baltimore Sun.

Mr. Wiedorfer died Wednesday of heart failure at Loch Raven Community Living and Rehabilitation Center. The former longtime Parkville resident was 90.

Victoria Kueck, director of operations for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in Mount Pleasant, S.C., told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that Mr. Wiedorfer was the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient from Maryland.

Mr. Wiedorfer learned of the honor from a fellow patient after he was wounded in 1945.

Three days before V-E Day on May 8, 1945, Mr. Wiedorfer, who was 24, was recuperating at the 137th United States Army General Hospital in England from severe wounds he suffered in a mortar attack while crossing the Saar River earlier that year.

In the attack, a fellow infantryman near Mr. Wiedorfer, who was a staff sergeant, was killed instantly by an exploding mortar shell. Shrapnel ripped into Mr. Wiedorfer's stomach, broke his left leg and riddled his right. Two fingers on his right hand were seriously injured.

"That was Feb. 10, 1945. The sergeant's back was blown wide open and he was dead when he hit the ground. I was just lucky, I guess," he told The Sun in 2008. "I spent more than three years in hospitals recovering from those wounds."

Another patient was reading the Stars and Stripes when an item caught his eye and he asked Mr. Wiedorfer, "How do you spell your name?"

"It really was funny," he said in the 2008 interview. "I said, 'W-i-e-d-o-r-f-e-r,' and he said, 'You just got a medal.' I said was it the Bronze Star and he said no, 'Congressional Medal of Honor.'

"To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn't really sure what the hell it was, because all I was, was some dogface guy in the infantry," he told the newspaper.

"All the officers and nurses were wearing their Class A uniforms and there was a band. Gen. E.F. Koening came into the ward and presented the medal," he recalled. "I really was embarrassed by all the fuss."

Mr. Wiedorfer, the son of a German immigrant National Brewing Co. worker and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the 2400 block of McElderry St. He attended St. Andrew's School and graduated in 1939 from Polytechnic Institute.

He was working as an apprentice power station operator for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. when he enlisted in the Army in 1943.

After being assigned to the Quartermaster Corps, he took and successfully passed an examination for air cadet training. After three months' training, Mr. Wiedorfer was reassigned to the infantry.

His wife, the former Alice Staufer, whom he married in 1943, told The Sun in a 1945 interview, "He was disgusted, fed up. His one ambition was to be a pilot and just when he was on his way he was shifted to the infantry."

Assigned to Company G, 318th Infantry, 80th Division, which was part of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s 3rd Army, Mr. Wiedorfer saw combat for the first time on Christmas Day 1944.

During the campaign for Bastogne, Belgium, his company was pinned down by enemy fire at the edge of a forest.

Near noon, Mr. Wiedorfer realized his platoon could not advance until the two German machine gun nests had been destroyed. His adrenalin-laden 150-yard charge over a fresh 3-inch snowfall was made in a crouched position and in a hail of enemy gunfire.

"He slipped and fell in the snow, but quickly rose and continued forward with the enemy concentrating automatic and small-arms fire on him as he advanced," read the Medal of Honor citation.

He came within 10 yards of the first machine gun nest and hurled a grenade that instantly killed several German machine-gunners.

Then he jumped into the hole of the crew that he had just knocked out, quickly turned and emptied one clip at the second nest, killing three more soldiers, and taking many prisoners.

Mr. Wiedorfer's valiant charge left him miraculously unscathed.

"This heroic action by one man enabled the platoon to advance from behind its protective ridge and continue successfully to reach its objective," read the citation.

He also was given a battlefield promotion that afternoon to sergeant, and a few minutes later, after the platoon's leader and sergeant were wounded, he assumed command and led his men forward.

In honoring 100 infantrymen who were Medal of Honor recipients during World War II, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson referred to Mr. Wiedorfer in a May 6, 1945, account published in The Sun.

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