Dec. 1, 1925 in Hibbing, Minn.
Michael Colalillo is best known for
earning the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. The
Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against
an enemy force that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in
the Armed Forces of the United States.
Colalillo's family moved to Raleigh Street in
West Duluth in 1928. He was 16 when his mother died and, in order
to help his family, he quit school and took a job as a baker’s
helper. Shortly after he turned 18, he was drafted.
On April 7, 1945, Colalillo was trapped with other
members of his company during an attack against German positions
in the vicinity of Untergriesheim. In the middle of heavy artillery,
mortar and machinegun fire, Colalillo led his company out with an
attack in which 25 Nazis were killed or wounded. He also assisted
a seriously wounded comrade over several hundred yards of open terrain.
After his division captured the town, Colalillo
was escorted to headquarters and told he had been nominated by his
tank captain for the Medal of Honor. He returned home briefly, before
being flown to Washington D.C., where he was presented his medal
by President Harry S. Truman on Dec. 18, 1945.
“I'm proud of you,” the president said. “I’d
rather have this than be president."
In January of ’46, Colalillo was honored
with a city-wide celebration in Duluth. He returned to school at
Denfeld that year and even played fullback on the football team.
After a brief stint in college, Colalillo went
to work at Interlake Iron, where his father had worked. He stayed
there until the plant closed in 1959, then began a 29-year career
as a longshoreman. He retired in 1987.
Over the years, Colalillo has seen a number a
tributes. There is a bust of him in city hall, a street named after
him that runs through West Duluth, and a plaque dedicated to him
in Veteran’s Park. He was inducted into Duluth's Hall of Fame
in 2004, becoming the 79th person to be honored by the city for
an “outstanding lifetime of public service.”
of Fame Members