First Lieutenant Orville E. Bloch, USA (September 22, 1944)

Orville Emil Bloch was born in Big Falls, Wisconsin on February 10, 1915. He later moved with his family to Steele, North Dakota. Bloch graduated from the North Dakota Agricultural College (the predecessor of NDSU) just before Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

Bloch went to all of the Army, Navy, and Marines as an officer applicant in the wake of the attack and was turned down by all three because he was very short at just 5′ 3″. He didn’t give up, and voluntarily enlisted as a Private in the United States Army on February 20, 1942 at age 27.

85th Infantry Division insignia (Wikimedia Commons)

Bloch’s leadership qualities were discovered by the Army, the height requirement was waived, and he was sent to Officer Candidates’ School. He graduated and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on August 22, 1942. He was then posted to the 85th Infantry Division, then forming at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Bloch was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 338th Infantry Regiment. Before he and his unit went overseas for war duty in December 1943, he had been promoted to First Lieutenant. After final training in North Africa, the 85th Infantry Division entered combat in Italy on as a cohesive unit on April 10, 1944.

Just over five months later on September 22, 1944, E-2-338’s attack had been held up by five Nazi machine gun positions for most of the day. Bloch gathered a few volunteers who followed his lead against the positions. The soldiers who went with him covered his rear while he eliminated the enemy alone and earned the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations from World War II (A-F):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: The 85th Infantry Division in World War II (click photo for site)


Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company E, 338th Infantry, 85th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Firenzuola, Italy, 22 September 1944. Entered service at: Streeter, N. Dak. G.O. No.: 9, 10 February 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Bloch undertook the task of wiping out 5 enemy machinegun nests that had held up the advance in that particular sector for 1 day. Gathering 3 volunteers from his platoon, the patrol snaked their way to a big rock, behind which a group of 3 buildings and 5 machinegun nests were located. Leaving the 3 men behind the rock, he attacked the first machinegun nest alone charging into furious automatic fire, kicking over the machinegun, and capturing the machinegun crew of 5. Pulling the pin from a grenade, he held it ready in his hand and dashed into the face of withering automatic fire toward this second enemy machinegun nest located at the corner of an adjacent building 15 yards distant. When within 20 feet of the machinegun he hurled the grenade, wounding the machinegunner, the other 2 members of the crew fleeing into a door of the house. Calling one of his volunteer group to accompany him, they advanced to the opposite end of the house, there contacting a machinegun crew of 5 running toward this house. 1st Lt Bloch and his men opened fire on the enemy crew, forcing them to abandon this machinegun and ammunition and flee into the same house. Without a moment’s hesitation, 1st Lt. Bloch, unassisted, rushed through the door into a hail of small-arms fire, firing his carbine from the hip, and captured the 7 occupants, wounding 3 of them. 1st Lt. Bloch with his men then proceeded to a third house where they discovered an abandoned enemy machinegun and detected another enemy machinegun nest at the next corner of the building. The crew of 6 spotted 1st Lt. Bloch the instant he saw them. Without a moment’s hesitation he dashed toward them. The enemy fired pistols wildly in his direction and vanished through a door of the house, 1st Lt. Bloch following them through the door, firing his carbine from the hip, wounding 2 of the enemy and capturing 6. Altogether 1st Lt. Bloch had single-handedly captured 19 prisoners, wounding 6 of them and eliminating a total of 5 enemy machinegun nests. His gallant and heroic actions saved his company many casualties and permitted them to continue the attack with new inspiration and vigor.

Bloch was promoted to Captain before the end of the war and remained in the Army. He served during the Korean War as a staff officer and in a variety of staff and training roles afterwards. Declining health prevented Bloch from being sent for duty in the Vietnam War and he retired from the Army as a Colonel on January 31, 1970.

Colonel Bloch passed away on May 23, 1983 and was laid to rest in the Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle, Washington.


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