Mail Tribune

Mail Tribune

Robert Maxwell, 87, of Bend, is Oregon's only living Medal of Honor recipient.

Nationwide, there are 107 veterans still living who have been awarded the nation's highest military award for valor.

Born in Boise, Army Technician Fifth Grade Maxwell was a "wire man" in charge of stringing up the field telephone lines for his unit's communications during World War II.

On the early morning of Sept. 7, 1944, he and three other wiremen with the Army's 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division were manning an observation post at a farmhouse near Besancon, France, not far from the Swiss border. Because they had to lug their wire and tools, they were armed only with .45 caliber pistols instead of the heavier M-1 rifles.

When a platoon of German soldiers attacked the outpost under the cloak of darkness, using machines guns and grenades at close range, Maxwell led his comrades in fighting off the overwhelming force, according to his citation.

After a grenade was thrown in the midst of his squad, Maxwell, who had been wounded the previous January in Italy, lunged to grab it and toss it back before it exploded.

But he wasn't able to locate it in the darkness until it was too late to throw it back. He shielded the other three soldiers from the blast of the grenade with his body.

The explosion blew away part of his right foot and left bicep. Shrapnel wounds had also peppered his body, including one to his left temple, giving him a concussion. He would spend nearly a year recovering from his wounds.

Although the scuttlebutt was that he had been recommended for a Medal of Honor, Maxwell figured it was just squad bay chitchat.

But on May 12, 1945, at what is now Fort Carson, Colo., he received the medal from post commander General C. W. Danielson in a short ceremony.

Ordinarily, the medal is given to the recipient by the president of the United States. His citation was on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's desk when FDR died.

However, in 2006, thanks to an effort by family, friends and Sen. Smith, Maxwell was flown to Washington, D.C. where he met President George W. Bush who personally presented him with a citation for receiving the Medal of Honor.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.