MCGUIRE, N.J. — The letter began, "Dear Senator McCain, I am an 87-year -old WWII veteran who participated in the Battle of central Europe, Battle of Ardennes (Bulge), Battle of Germany ..."
The author and octogenarian, Dr. Michael Altamura, addressed the senator in yet another attempt to ensure the recognition of a fellow soldier's heroic act did not die with him on the battle fields of Europe.
"I stood somewhat mesmerized by the spectacle of multiple objects dropping from the sky when Sgt. Edward Oryll, a tank mechanic with the 750th Tank Battalion, surmised the danger and ran over from a protected position to push me down some concrete steps leading to the sugar beet factory basement," said then Cpl. Altamura, a tank mechanic with the 750th Tank Battalion and friend of Oryll.
Oryll, an Ocean Township, N.J., native, was fatally wounded March 3, 1945. A high-altitude German bomber was flying over, unloading bombs onto the soldiers of the 750th Tank Battalion as they pushed through the crossing of the Rhine River.
"Before Oryll could follow me, a cluster bomb landed near the top of the steps and exploded, practically eviscerating (Oryll)," explained Altamura in the letter.
Altamura crawled up the stairs to find his friend lying on his back with critical injuries to his abdomen.
"I took, his and mine, corlise bandages, which we wore in our web belts, to cover his abdominal wound," said Altamura wrote.
Oryll died a few hours later at a forward field hospital from the wounds he sustained during the battle.
The words in the letter painted the bleak scene.
"The last thing Sgt. Oryll said was 'I'm not going to make it,' and mercifully passed out."
Oryll's family filled the Mary Roebling Room, located in ASA-Dix Headquarters, March 9 nearly 67 years later to the day. A flag case with five medals was displayed at the front of the room. Col. Patrick Slowey, ASA-Dix commander, read the letter Altamura wrote.
"I was allowed to live, thanks to (Oryll), and accomplished much these 87 years," Slowey quoted the letter. "I became a certified family physician, who also produced two sons who are physicians. I married a nurse who helped me start my practice in Sunnydale, California."
Slowey spoke about how the Army recognizes the second- and third-order affects of an action.
"I don't know how many lives were saved by this one selfless act," said Slowey.
Altamura epitomized the Army Warrior Ethos, "I will never leave a fallen comrade." He spent 67 years fighting for what he believed was right, because he exemplified these ethos in pursuit of Oryll's deserved recognition.
Capt. Stephen Tolbert, ASA-Dix Human Resources officer in charge, read the order officially rewarding Oryll with the Purple Heart posthumously as family members held hands, "This is to certify that the President of the United States of America has awarded the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, Aug. 7, 1782, to Technician Fourth Grade Edward Oryll Army of the United States for wounds received in action resulting in his death on March 3, 1945 in the European Theater of Operations."
Oryll was additionally awarded the Bronze Star for his courageous act, saving the life of his fellow soldier.
In a letter to Oryll's niece Evelyn Hampton, Senator McCain wrote, "It was an honor to forward Dr. Michael Altamura's moving account of the events of 3 March 1945 to the Department of the Army for their review. Oryll's selfless actions that day saved the life of his fellow brother-in-arms at the cost of his own; an action that universally defines what it means to be heroic amongst service members and veterans."
Oryll was awarded five medals at the ceremony including: the Army Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Slowey presented the flag box to Hampton.
"The 750th Tank Battalion had the least amount of tanks destroyed during World War II and played a key role in breaking through the last line of defense the day Oryll was killed, ultimately defeating Hitler and the Nazis," said Slowey.
The ceremony concluded with remarks from Hampton, who wore a photo of Oryll pinned to her shirt. The photo depicted a young man proudly posing in uniform shortly before deploying to Europe.
"Thank you so much, this means a lot as you can imagine," said Hampton. "Dr. Altamura could not make the trip, due to being recently diagnosed with cancer, but is very happy his friend was honored today."
Oryll's 88-year-old sister, Angelina, made the trip from Maryland to finally see her brother honored 67 years later.
"He didn't get drafted, but volunteered because that's just what people did back then," said Angelina.
Angelina spoke about how she witnessed several people leave for the war, but was saddened that of those who returned, not one of them were her brother.
Slowey spoke with family members about Oryll's service saying, "His selfless act solidifies why his generation is considered the 'greatest generation.'"
Oryll died saving the life of a fellow soldier and friend, bringing great credit to himself, the 750th Tank Battalion and the U.S. Army.