Earlier this month, Robert D. Maxwell — a hero’s hero — died in Bend, Oregon. He was 98.
In 1944, when he was a technician 5th grade in the U.S. Army, Maxwell hurled himself on top of a live enemy grenade, absorbing the full force of its explosion. He was permanently maimed but saved his battalion.
For his valor, Maxwell received the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. He was one of 464 Medal of Honor winners from World War II, 266 of whom were honored posthumously.
With Maxwell’s death, only three Medal of Honor winners from World War II remain alive: Charles H. Coolidge, 97; Frances S. Currey, 93, and Hershel W. Williams, 95.
Every Medal of Honor winner’s story is an inspiring tale of valor, determination and selfless sacrifice.
In 1944, Coolidge, a technical sergeant in the U.S. Army, led a group of machine gunners and riflemen who held off numerically superior enemy forces for four days on a French battlefield. At one point, Coolidge secured all the hand grenades he could carry and crawled forward to take on advancing tanks.
That same year, Army PFC Currey took on German infantrymen and tanks in Malmedy, Belgium, repeatedly exposing himself to hostile fire as he rescued five comrades who had been pinned down in a building. His heroism allowed his unit to hold their position against a much larger enemy force.
In 1945, Williams, a Marine Corps demolition sergeant, used a 70-pound flamethrower to take on a network of reinforced Japanese concrete pillboxes that were holding back American tanks in the battle of Iwo Jima. At one point, he was charged by enemy riflemen with bayonets, and he killed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.
The men are among the final survivors of a generation now known as the greatest.
Other brave men and women have followed in their footsteps on the battlefields of Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. We remember them all on this day, set aside by the nation to honor those who died in service to their nation. And we salute the heroes of World War II, who took on the forces of tyranny with selfless honor and indomitable spirit.