On the afternoon of Jan. 8, 1945, Sergeant Dunham was leading a platoon in the 30th Infantry, Third Infantry Division, when the soldiers, among them his brother Ralph, were pinned down by German fire. They were at the bottom of a hill near the village of Kaysersberg, the birthplace of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
German machine-gunners and riflemen fired down on the Americans while an artillery barrage landed behind them. “The only way to go was up,” Mr. Dunham told Reader’s Digest long afterward.
Wearing as camouflage a white robe made from a mattress cover, Sergeant Dunham ran up the hill ahead of his platoon and charged a machine-gun emplacement. He was shot in the back, and his camouflage became useless: his white clothing was soaked with blood.
Despite “excruciating pain” from his wound, as the Medal of Honor citation told it, Sergeant Dunham wiped out three machine-gun nests and attacked German riflemen in foxholes. Moments later, Ralph Dunham destroyed a fourth machine-gun position.
Firing 175 rounds of carbine fire and throwing 11 grenades, Russell Dunham killed nine Germans, wounded seven and captured two others.
Two weeks later, his battalion was surrounded by German tanks at the French town of Holtzwihr. Most of the men were forced to surrender, but as Mr. Dunham told it to Peter Collier in his book “Medal of Honor,” he hid in a sauerkraut barrel outside a barn.
He was discovered by two German soldiers the next morning, but while searching him they found a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and began to fight over it. They never noticed a pistol in a shoulder holster under Sergeant Dunham’s arm.
While the Germans were taking him toward their lines, one of them stopped at a bar. Sergeant Dunham shot and killed the other soldier. He escaped on foot, was spotted a couple of days later by United States Army engineers building a bridge, and was treated for severely frozen feet.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Nuremberg, Germany, in April 1945.
Mr. Dunham, a native of East Carondelet, Ill., worked as a Veterans Administration counselor after the war. He passed from this world April 10, 2009.
In a 1999 interview with The Alton Telegraph in Illinois, Mr. Dunham told how “the shrapnel in my leg is a reminder of the war we fought.”
And a vivid image endured from that snowy hillside in France: “It happened in 1945, but I still remember staring into the eyes of the German machine-gunner.”
On May 12, 1962, Versace began his first tour of duty in the Republic of Vietnam as an intelligence advisor. In May 1963 he volunteered for a six month's extension of his tour, planning to attend seminary at the conclusion of his service and join the Catholic priesthood, hoping to return to Vietnam as a missionary working with orphans.
Less than two weeks before the end of his tour, on October 29, 1963, while acting as intelligence advisor to Detachment 25, 5th Special Forces Group in the Mekong Delta, Versace accompanied several companies of South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense (CIDG) troops who had planned to remove a Viet Cong (VC) command post located in the U Minh Forest, a Viet Cong stronghold. A VC Main Force battalion ambushed and overran Versace's unit, wounding him in the process. He was able to provide enough covering fire so that the CIDG forces could withdraw from the killing zone.
A second government force of about 200 men operating only a few thousand yards from the main fight learned of the disaster too late to help. U.S. authorities said the communist radio jammers had knocked out both the main channel and the alternate channel on all local military radios. Versace was captured and taken to a prison deep in the jungle along with two other Americans, Lieutenant Nick Roweand Sergeant Dan Pitzer. He tried to escape four times, but failed in his attempts. Versace insulted the Viet Cong during the indoctrination sessions and cited the Geneva Convention treaty time after time. The Viet Cong separated Versace from the other prisoners. The last time the prisoners heard his voice, he was loudly singing "God Bless America". On September 26, 1965, North Vietnam’s "Liberation Radio” announced the execution of Captain Humbert Roque Versace. Versace's remains have never been recovered. His headstone at Arlington National Cemetery stands above an empty grave and can be located in the Memorial section MG-108
- For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while a prisoner of war during the period of October 29, 1963 to September 26, 1965 in the Republic of Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Republic of Vietnam on October 29, 1963, Captain Versace and the CIDG assault force were caught in an ambush from intense mortar,automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a reinforced enemy Main Force battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace fought valiantly and encouraged his CIDG patrol to return fire against overwhelming enemy forces. He provided covering fire from an exposed position to enable friendly forces to withdraw from the killing zone when it was apparent that their position would be overrun, and was severely wounded in the knee and back from automatic weapons fire and shrapnel. He stubbornly resisted capture with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he demonstrated exceptional leadership and resolute adherence to the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into a prisoner of war status. Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American prisoners, and despite being kept locked in irons in an isolation box, raised their morale by singing messages to popular songs of the day, and leaving inspiring messages at the latrine. Within three weeks of captivity, and despite the severity of his untreated wounds, he attempted the first of four escape attempts by dragging himself on his hands and knees out of the camp through dense swamp and forbidding vegetation to freedom. Crawling at a very slow pace due to his weakened condition, the guards quickly discovered him outside the camp and recaptured him. Captain Versace scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and inspired his fellow prisoners to resist to the best of their ability. When he used his Vietnamese language skills to protest improper treatment of the American prisoners by the guards, he was put into leg irons and gagged to keep his protestations out of earshot of the other American prisoners in the camp. The last time that any of his fellow prisoners heard from him, Captain Versace was singing God Bless America at the top of his voice from his isolation box. Unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America and his fellow prisoners, Captain Versace was executed by the Viet Cong on September 26, 1965. Captain Versaces extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life above and beyond the call of duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army, and reflect great credit to himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.