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Russell Dunham

World War II Hero, Medal of Honor Winner

Russell Dunham
World War II hero Russell Dunham wears the Medal of Honor around his neck and Purple Heart on his coat. Dunham and other Medal of Honor recipients were honored at the dedication of a national Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis (see article below).

From the Alton Telegraph by Ande Yakstis, staff writer. Alton – Fifty four years have passed since Russell Dunham was awarded the Medal of Honor, but he remembers the day he ran through a hail of enemy bullets to wipe out three German machine gun nests. “It happened in 1945 but I still remember staring into the eyes of the German machine gunner,” said Dunham, who lives in rural Jerseyville. Dunham was a 25 year old infantryman who was thrust into history as a World War II hero when he wiped out three German machine gun nests and captured 29 enemy soliders on a battlefield in France. Dunham and other Medal of Honor recipients will be honored May 28 at the dedication of a national Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis.

The Medal of Honor Memorial was constructed in a fund raising campaign by the Indiana Power and Light Co.

“The names of Russell Dunham and all the Medal of Honor recipents back to the Civil War are engraved in the Memorial,” said Susan Hanafee of IPALCO. Dunham and other Medal of Honor winners will be grand marshalls in the big parade May 29 through the streets of Indianapolis before the Indianapolis 500 on May 30 at the Indianapolis Speedway. “Russell Dunham and other Medal of Honor recipients will be honored guests at the Indianapolis 500 mile race,” Hanafee said.

The 79 year old war hero’s hair is graying but his memory is clear about the day – Jan. 8, 1945 – when he suddenly turned into a hero of World War II. Dunham and his brother, Ralph were hard working boys from a farm in Fosterburg when they left home to fight with the 30th Infantry in the bitter battles across France.

Dunham’s bright blue eyes show the anguish when he tells the story of how he single-handedly knocked out three German machine gun nests and saved the lives of hundreds of U. S. soldiers. Sgt. Dunham was leading foot soldiers of his platoon of Co. I, 3rd Infantry Division through the German lines at Alsace-Lorraine in France. “We broke through the German lines and were behind the enemy, ” Dunham said. German machine gunners opened fire on the advancing U. S. infantryman and many soldiers fell dead in the snow. “We were pinned down by the German machine guns,” Dunham recalled. Dunham mustered all his courage and quickly decided to attack the German machine gunners to save his comrades. He wrapped a white mattress cover around his body to camouflage himself in the snow. He loaded his belt with hand grenades and ammunition, picked up a fast firing automatic rifle and ran up the hill to face the German machine gunners. A German rifle bullet ripped into his back, spun him around, and he rolled down the hill. He was bleeding from his wound but he struggled back to his feet and ran back up the hill firing the automatic rifle at the machine gun nest. The mattress cover wrapped around Dunham’s body was soaked with blood, making him an easy target for German soldiers. He continued up the hill, firing his rifle and throwing hand grenades. “I got so close in the German gunner that I stared right into his eyes,” said Dunham, who tossed a hand grenade and silenced the machine gun. Dunham continued to run forward in the face of a hail of bullets, knocking out two more German machine gun nests and capturing enemy soldiers. His bravery on Hill 616 is a part of the World War II history.

Dunham and his wife, Wilda, live on a small farm near Jerseyville. “We live quietly,” Dunham said, I plant a summer garden with lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.”

Dunham’s memories of his battle for Hill 616 are relived when he speaks to children at area schools. He loves children who crowd around him to see his Medal of Honor and listen to his stories of the war. Children are anxious to see his other medals, including the Purple Heart for his wounds in action, the Silver Star, Bronze Star and famous Croix de Guerre for heroism from the president of France.

Fifty four years after the war ended, Dunham still has a piece of steel shrapnel from a German shell in his leg. “When the weather turns bad I feel a numbness in my leg, ” he said. “The shrapnel in my leg is a reminder of the war we fought.”

Russell E. DUNHAM (from the Internet) Rank and Organization: Technical Sergeant, U. S. Army; Company I, 30th Infantry, 3d Infantry division. Place and date: Near Kayserberg, France, 8 January 1945. Entered service at Brighton, IL. Born 23 February 1920, East Carbondelet, IL. G. O. No. 37, 11 May 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. At about 14:30 hours on 8 January 1945 during an attack on Hill 616 near Kayserberg, France. T/Sgt. Dunham single handly assaulted 3 enemy machine guns. Wearing a white robe made of a mattress cover, carrying 12 carbine magazines and with a dozen hand grenades snagged in his belt, suspenders and buttonholes, T/Sgt. Dunham advanced in the attack up a snow covered hill under fire from 2 machine guns and supporting rifleman. His platoon 35 years behind him, T/Sgt. Dunham crawled 75 yards under heavy direct fire toward the timbered emplacement shielding the left machine gun. As he jumped to his feet 10 yards from the gun and charged forward, machine gun fire tore through his camouflage robe and a rifle bullet seared a 10 inch gash across his back sending him spinning 15 yards down hill into the snow. When the indomitable sergreat sprang to his feet to renew his 1-man assault, a German egg grenade landed beside him. He kicked it aside and as it exploded 5 yards away, shot and killed the German machine gunner and assistant gunner. His carbine empty, he jumped into the emplacement and hauled out the third member of the gun crew by the collar. Although his back wound was causing him excruciating pain and blood was seeping through his white coat, T/Sgt. Dunham proceeded 50 yards through a storm of automatic and rifle fire to attack the second machine gun. Twenty five yards from the emplacement he hurled 2 grenades, destroying the gun and its crew: then fired down into the supporting foxholes with his carbine dispatching and dispersing the enemy riflemen. Although his coat was so thoroughly blood-soaked that he was a conspicuous target against the white landscape, T/Sgt. Dunham again advanced ahead of his platoon in an assault on enemy positions farther uphill. Coming under machine gun fire from 65 years to his front, while rifle grenades exploded 10 yards from his position, he hit the ground and crawled forward. At 15 yards range, he jumped to his feet, staggered a few paces toward the timbered macine gun emplacement and killed the crew with hand grenades. An enemy rifleman fired at point-blank range, but missed him. After killing the rifleman, T/Sgt. Dunham drove others from their foxholes with grenades and carbine fire. Killing 9 Germans wounding 7 and capturing 2 – firing about 175 rounds of carbine ammunition and expending 11 grenades. T/Sgt. Dunham, despite a painful wound, spearheaded a spectacular and successful diversionary attack.

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