By Paul Lundgren on Dec 30, 2011 in R.I.P.
Minnesota’s only living Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Duluth’s Mike Colalillo, died last night.
A great man and an American hero. Duluthians have always been proud to call Mr. Colalillo one of our own.
I never knew his age before. He quit school to help his mom, ended up in the European theater at age 18? No wonder he played football when he got back, he was still a teenager. RIP, indeed.
He’s one of the few people in Duluth history to have a street named for them using both first and last name.
His heroic action was that on April 7, 1945, he was with a platoon of American infantrymen pinned down by German gunfire. He got freaked out at the sight of his dying buddies, and so he jumped up and charged through the bullets, inspiring the remainder of his unit to follow on an attack. He followed the American tanks that assisted them, and fired his pistol until it was smashed by a shell fragment. Then he got on board the tank, asked permission to fire the turret machine gun, and began blazing away from this exposed position. He didn’t stop even when artillery came closer. The gun then jammed, and he tried to fix it, failed, then borrowed a machine gun from the tank crew and continued on foot. When the tanks began to withdraw, out of ammo, he followed, but stayed in the open to assist an injured soldier in his retreat. He was credited with killing or wounding 25 enemy soldiers. He ended up working as a warehouse foreman at the Duluth Port Terminal and at Interlake Iron. He was known to be modest, saying that the above actions were because he would have died otherwise, and he was glad when they retreated.
It made me smile when I read in one contemporary article (from 1945) on his award (St. PPP)-- he responded when asked about the Congressional Medal of Honor that “It’s all right.” His dad was also quiet, shrugging his shoulders when asked what he thought about his boy and the honor. Such West Duluth northern stoicism.
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