Russell E. Dunham was born in East Carondelet, Illinois on February 23, 1920. He held just a grammar school education and was a farmhand when he volunteered for the United States Army and enlisted on August 16, 1940.
Dunham fought across North Africa and Europe with the 3rd Infantry Division. By January 8, 1945, he was a Technical Sergeant and acting as a platoon leader in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.
On the afternoon of that day seventy years ago, Company I was pinned down by both Nazi artillery and machine gun fire at Hill 616 near Kayserberg, France. In his own words, “the only way to go was up.” Dunham armed himself with extra ammunition and hand grenades and attacked alone up the hill. Despite the intense enemy fires, the wounds he suffered, and his own blood staining his white camouflage so he was clearly visible to the enemy, Dunham routed the enemy position and was later decorated with the Medal of Honor.
DUNHAM, RUSSELL E.
Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company I, 30th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Kayserberg, France, 8 January 1945. Entered service at: Brighton Ill. G.O. No.: 37, 11 May 1945
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. At about 1430 hours on 8 January 1945, during an attack on Hill 616, near Kayserberg, France, T/Sgt. Dunham single-handedly assaulted 3 enemy machineguns. Wearing a white robe made of a mattress cover, carrying 12 carbine magazines and with a dozen hand grenades snagged in his belt, suspenders, and buttonholes, T/Sgt. Dunham advanced in the attack up a snow-covered hill under fire from 2 machineguns and supporting riflemen. His platoon 35 yards behind him, T/Sgt. Dunham crawled 75 yards under heavy direct fire toward the timbered emplacement shielding the left machinegun. As he jumped to his feet 10 yards from the gun and charged forward, machinegun fire tore through his camouflage robe and a rifle bullet seared a 10-inch gash across his back sending him spinning 15 yards down hill into the snow. When the indomitable sergeant sprang to his feet to renew his 1-man assault, a German egg grenade landed beside him. He kicked it aside, and as it exploded 5 yards away, shot and killed the German machinegunner and assistant gunner. His carbine empty, he jumped into the emplacement and hauled out the third member of the gun crew by the collar. Although his back wound was causing him excruciating pain and blood was seeping through his white coat, T/Sgt. Dunham proceeded 50 yards through a storm of automatic and rifle fire to attack the second machinegun. Twenty-five yards from the emplacement he hurled 2 grenades, destroying the gun and its crew; then fired down into the supporting foxholes with his carbine dispatching and dispersing the enemy riflemen. Although his coat was so thoroughly blood-soaked that he was a conspicuous target against the white landscape, T/Sgt. Dunham again advanced ahead of his platoon in an assault on enemy positions farther up the hill. Coming under machinegun fire from 65 yards to his front, while rifle grenades exploded 10 yards from his position, he hit the ground and crawled forward. At 15 yards range, he jumped to his feet, staggered a few paces toward the timbered machinegun emplacement and killed the crew with hand grenades. An enemy rifleman fired at pointblank range, but missed him. After killing the rifleman, T/Sgt. Dunham drove others from their foxholes with grenades and carbine fire. Killing 9 Germans–wounding 7 and capturing 2–firing about 175 rounds of carbine ammunition, and expending 11 grenades, T/Sgt. Dunham, despite a painful wound, spearheaded a spectacular and successful diversionary attack.
Dunham’s heroism in January 1945 continued about two weeks later when – after returning to the front while still recovering from his wounds – he was taken prisoner by the enemy but overwhelmed his captors, escaped, and returned to his unit.
He survived the war, and like several others of his Medal of Honor-recipient comrades, worked for many years for the Veterans Administration. Dunham passed away at age 89 on April 6, 2009 in Godfrey, Illinois. He rests in peace there at the Valhalla Memorial Park.