Holding On To History: Medal of Honor recipient Mike Colalillo remembered through scholarship

Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 10:25 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - WWII Medal of Honor recipient Mike Colalillo was not a born soldier as a youngster.

“I was drafted when I turned 18 years old.” said Mike Colalillo in an interview held in his home about 15 years ago.

An infantryman in the 100th Division, Colalillo wasn’t a hero in his first action.

“I was scared, I didn’t know what to do. You calm down a little bit and say, well, they’re going to shoot at me and I’m going to shoot back at them.” said Colalillo.

Colalillo would go on to earn a silver star cleaning out several German machine gun nests and taking several prisoners. The Medal of Honor would come in April, 1945 in a battered German town.

“We were all pinned down and we didn’t know what to do because anybody that got up got shot. American tanks come up behind us and I got up behind the tank and hollered to the boys to come on up until my gun got shot off in my hand. So I jumped on the tank and I used a machine gun on a tank and then when the ammunition ran out on that machine gun, I got a Thompson sub from the captain and or the commander in a tank there and I jumped off and start firing some more and carried another wounded man back.” said Colalillo recounting the battle that earned him the Medal of Honor.

Colalillo was then pulled from the front line and sent home to personally receive the medal from President Harry S Truman. Mike Colalillo would go on to also meet President Kennedy while working for veterans rights. Mike passed away in December 2011. There are several tributes to the hero around Duluth.

“He’s got a street named after him and a statue at the city hall and obviously this exhibit right here because of his medal of honor.” said Jay Hagen of Veterans Memorial Hall in Duluth.

There is also a Mike Colalillo Scholarship. The deadline for this year’s is October 19th. It’s aimed at reminding young people what their elders have done to keep the world safe from fascism.

“We pay tribute to veterans hopefully to remind ourselves of the sacrifice necessary in order to maintain a free nation.” said Ronald Hien, an Army veteran himself.

The Mike Colalillo Medal of Honor scholarship is open to high school seniors and college students who have a connection to Saint Louis County. Deadline to apply is Thursday, October 19. For more information, visit Veterans Memorial Hall located at the Depot in Duluth.

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