Remember Bayonne’s Ukrainian-American War Heroes on this Memorial Day | opinion

By Michael Embrich

My day started like any other in the mayor’s office at Bayonne City Hall. I checked my email and phone messages. I noticed a special message. It was from another veteran I had worked with at local veteran service organizations. He wanted to let me know that there is a WWII veteran of Ukrainian descent who was born and raised in Bayonne and received the Medal of Honor. He said nothing existed in Bayonne to commemorate his service or the medal.

His name was Master Sgt. Nicholas Oresko and he was alive at the time. Oresko was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for solo capture of a key strategic hilltop defended by Nazi machine gun blockhouses. The Nazis had the high ground and spent three days beating up Oresko’s men. Oresko finally had enough and stormed the hill himself. After being shot and badly wounded in the hip, Oresko neutralized the machine guns and the 12 soldiers operating them, then escorted his unit to safety. His citation for the medal is below.

After doing a little research, I learned that Oresko was actually born and raised in Bayonne and nothing in the city of Bayonne had been named after him. I brought this to the attention of then-Mayor Mark A. Smith, who had the perfect idea: naming the newly built School 14 after Oresko, if he had the honor. The location was perfect. School 14 was right at the intersection of 24th Street and Gregg Lane, a street named for another World War II Bayonne Medalist, Stephen R. Gregg.

Mayor Smith reached out to Mr. Oresko and he was honored to accept the offer to name School 14 in his honor. At this point, Mr. Oresko was in his 90’s and we knew we had to move with utmost speed to ensure Mr. Oresko could attend the school’s naming ceremony.

Mayor Smith went straight to work, informing then-superintendent of schools Patricia McGeehan of his intention to have the school named after Mr. Oresko. She agreed. The Bayonne Board of Education voted to name the school after Oresko and the rest is history.

I will never forget sitting there and seeing the look of pure joy on Oresko’s face during the official naming ceremony later this fall. Oresko’s war wounds would soon catch up with him; He died as a result of surgery to repair a broken leg. But I know he found solace in the fact, “I won’t be here in a few years, but my name will be, which is great,” which he declared at the 2010 naming ceremony.

It was one of the greatest honors of my life to have known Mr. Oresko and to have played a small part in naming the Nicholas Oresko School after such a man. As another generation, miles from our shores, tries to halt the manic advances of Putin’s war machine trying to push further into Europe, we can only get an eerie feeling that history is repeating itself and we thank God for people like Nicholas Oresko and all his fellow Ukrainians fighting for us and freedom as we remember those who served on this memorial day.

Citation: M/Sgt. Oresko was a platoon commander with Company C in an attack on strong enemy positions. Deadly automatic fire from the flanks pinned his unit. Realizing that a machine gun in a nearby bunker had to be eliminated, he quickly worked on his own, defying the bullets falling around him until he was close enough to throw a grenade into the German position. He stormed into the bunker and used point-blank gunfire to kill any enemy occupants who survived the shell blast. Another machine gun fired at him, knocking him down and badly wounding his hip. He refused to withdraw from the battle and placed himself at the head of his platoon to continue the attack. As withering machine gun and rifle fire swept over the area, he alone beat his men to a second bunker. With a grenade he paralyzed the burrowed machine gun defending that position and then obliterated the troops garrisoning it with his rifle, completing his second self-imposed one-man attack. Despite being weakened from loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until it was ensured that the mission was successfully completed. Through quick thinking, indomitable courage, and unwavering dedication to the charge in the face of stiff opposition and while wounded, M/Sgt. Oresko killed 12 Germans, preventing the attack from being delayed and allowing Company C to reach its objective with minimal casualties.

Michael Embrich, Bayonne

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