By Donna Thornton/News Editor
The nation will mark the loss of a true hero of the battlefield, but Etowah County mourns much more: Col. Ola Lee Mize, who died on March 12, 2014 brought the same sense of honor that served him in war to life on the homefront as well.
Mize received the Medal of Honor in 1954, earning the highest decoration the U.S. military bestows (and a chest-full of other military honors as well) during his service in Korea and Vietnam.
But during a 2007 Patriots Day Luncheon, when the Memorial Park near Noccalula Falls was named for Mize, he named another moment as his finest.
“Becoming a Christian is the greatest thing that can happen to a man on this earth, bar none,” Mize said, according to a Gadsden Times story written by Jimmy Smothers, published Dec. 22, 2007.
“There is nothing that can compare to that,” Mize said. He also said the greatest adversary he ever faced was the devil.
“He’s been after me more than any of the enemy soldiers in any of the combat situations I’ve even been in,” Mize explained.
Those close to Mize knew he was in his final days earlier in the week.
After former Etowah County Veterans Affairs Service Officer Rick Vaughan informed members of the Etowah County Commission of the grave nature of his condition, Commissioner Tim Choate asked for a moment or silence, then led prayer for the war hero.
State Representative and House Minority Leader Craig Ford said Mize’s passing is a great loss to the community, the state and the nation.
“Col. Mize was a true American patriot, and he will be missed,” Ford said, extending his thoughts and prayers to the Mize family.
Gadsden City Councilman Ben Reed counted Mize as a good friend. He knew Mize through the Patriots Association, and well before that.
“I’ve know him for 30 years,” Reed said. “We’ve had many and agreement – and a few disagreements. We put those aside.
“I respected him; I respected what he believed in, that was God, family and country. He was a strong individual,” Reed said. “I admired him.”
Kevin Martin, state veterans service officer for Etowah County, said he had the pleasure of meeting Mize.
“It’s a huge loss,” Martin said. “He was a real American hero. It sounds like a cliché to say that, but the cliché is real.
The life that led Mize to the military, and the service that earned him the Medal of Honor were detailed in the book Medal of Honor: Portrait of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, by Peter Collier.
Mize was the son of an Alabama sharecropper, according to the book. He dropped out of school in 1946 after completing the 9th grade to help take care of his mother, brothers and sisters.
When he found himself only making $15 a week years later, he decided he could “do better in the Army but was rejected because he only weighed 120 pounds. He kept pestering recruiters until they finally let him enlist.”
The Korean War broke out as Mize was finishing his tour of duty with the 82nd Airborne. He had planned to returned to school but extended his enlistment to see combat. He was a sergeant in U.S. Army Company K, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
“On the evening of June 10, 1953, Sergeant Mize’s unit and another platoon were defending a position called Outpost Harry near Surang-ni, Korea, when Chinese troops attacked. First came a shattering artillery barrage, followed by an assault by a battalion-sized force that overran the Americans.
“Some weeks earlier, knowing that his M-1 rifle with its eight-round clip would be ineffective in close fighting, Mize had found a carbine and ‘traded’ his rifle for it. Now he picked up the weapon, which could hold to taped-together clips of 30 rounds each, and attacked the Chinese clogging the American trench line. Firing constantly, he killed about 40 of them.
“With all the company’s officers dead or wounded, Mize worked frantically to establish a defensive position, dragging wounded into shelters made of timbers pulled from American bunkers destroyed by enemy fire.
“Over the next several hours of hand-to-hand fighting, he assembled an impromptu patrol that went from bunker to bunker, firing out of the apertures in an effort to make the Chinese believe they were still opposed by a vigorous force.
“At one point, seeing a Chinese soldier level his weapon at one of his men, Mize killed the soldier with a single shot. At another point, as Communist troops swarmed over an American machine gun, he charged the position, killing 10 enemy soldiers and dispersing the rest.
“He was knocked down several times by grenades, and his uniform was shredded by shrapnel, but he escaped serious injury.
“When the situation seemed lost, Mize got his men to crawl into bunkers and called in American artillery. He decided that it was better to get killed by your own fire than the enemy’s. Around midnight, Mize dug himself out and made his way through enemy fire to his company command post, which had been overrun by Chinese forces. Then he worked his way back to his men.
“They continued to repel the enemy with hand-to-hand fighting. American counterattack forces reached Mize’s position at about noon on June 11.
“After helping to resecure the outpost, Mize got permission to take his wounded men back to the American lines. Upon reaching friendly territory, Mize, the regimental commander, and the division commander were all standing together. The two commanders did not recognize Mize, whose uniform was in tatters, his flak jacket smoking, and his face badly swollen from burns. ‘Who are you?’ demanded the regimental commander. ‘Sergeant Mize,’ he answered, (and) the commander responded, ‘He’s dead.’
When Mize learned months later he would receive the Medal of Honor, the book states, he told his commanding officer he didn’t want it, that it should go to his entire platoon.
On Sept. 7, 1954, he was flown to Denver, where he was decorated by President Dwight Eisenhower.
In the early 1960s, Mize joined the Special Forces and did three tours of duty in Vietnam. He retired as a colonel in 1981.
At the time of this web posting, funeral arrangements for Col Mize were incomplete.