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Nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient, WWII vet dies at 98

On his 96th birthday, Oregon’s only living Medal of Honor recipient, Bob Maxwell, helped unveil the signage indicating U.S. 20 as the new Medal of Honor Highway across the state. He was joined by Governor Kate Brown and other officials. (Oregon Department of Transportation/Flickr)
May 15, 2019

The country’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient died Saturday at the age of 98 in Bend, Ore.

Bob Maxwell, born on Oct. 26, 1920, was a World War II veteran who received the Medal of Honor for his valor while serving in the U.S. Army on Sept. 7, 1944 in France where he used his body to shield his fellow soldiers from a German hand grenade, Stars & Stripes reported.

Before launching himself on the grenade, Maxwell grabbed a nearby blanket and while he was seriously injured from the blast, the blanket saved his life as it took much of the impact.

Maxwell said, “I could hear it fall right near my feet. I didn’t know for sure where it was. This was between 1 and 2 in the morning. I groped to find it and throw it back, but I knew it was too late to do that. I was already crouched down, but I did have my blanket, shoved it down on my chest and dropped where I was,” according to the New York Times.

The Medal of Honor is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Maxwell was also awarded two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and two French combat awards — the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur for his service in World War II, ABC News reported.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said, “Maxwell represented the best of what Oregon and America have to offer.”

Maxwell, a Quaker, was drafted into the Army during World War II, and while he could have claimed conscientious objector status, he did not and began service in Colorado.

Maxwell’s service began in Italy, where he wired battlefront telephone lines. He then served in France as a corporal technician fifth grade.

In Jan. 1944, Maxwell was sustaining telephone wires while under heavy fire and was shot in the leg in Italy. His injuries were serious enough that he remained in the hospital for several months. Upon his release, he was deployed to France.

Following Maxwell’s service in the military, he taught auto mechanics to high school and community college students in Bend, Oregon.

Maxwell was also the director of the Bend Heroes Foundation in Oregon which offered memorials for veterans.

He went on to attain his high school diploma in 2000, at the age of 79.

In 2018, a bridge in Maxwell’s hometown of Bend was named after him, in his honor. Maxwell was there to watch the Oregon Medal of Honor Highway sign exposed on U.S. Highway 20.