The Hero Who Refused His Medal

Ola Mize could have stepped right out of a Hollywood movie. Except he was no actor, to put it mildly. He was the real deal.

Mize came from the humblest of backgrounds and went on to become one of his nation’s great heroes.

Col Ola Mize

Despite the adulation showered on him, he remained an anti-hero, so utterly un-Hollywoodlike; so foreign to the celebrity-centric universe of today’s pop culture. Mize was modest, quiet-spoken, selfless and unbelievably brave.

Born the son of a sharecropper in poor northeastern Alabama he left school in grade nine to support his family. Hoping to better himself, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, but was rejected because of his puny, 120 pounds. So he put on weight. Then he had to cheat on an vision test when Army doctors discovered he was blinded in one eye in a childhood accident. Mize enlisted in the famed 82nd Airborne in 1948, served a term, then re-enlisted for the Korean War.

Only months before the war’s end, his unit was defending  a strategic hill called Outpost Harry, near a place called Surang-ni. They were attacked by Chinese and North Koreans. Mize, a Sergeant,  went out and rescued a wounded comrade at an isolated listening post.

Then, he noticed a machine gun nest was being over-run and fought his way to his beliegered men, killing ten enemy soldiers in the process.

His Medal of Honor citation describes some of what happened next:

“He was blown down by artillery and grenade blasts 3 times but each time he dauntlessly returned to his position, tenaciously fighting and successfully repelling hostile attacks. When enemy onslaughts ceased he took his few men and moved from bunker to bunker, firing through apertures and throwing grenades at the foe, neutralizing their positions. When an enemy soldier stepped out behind a comrade, prepared to fire, M/Sgt. Mize killed him, saving the life of his fellow soldier. After rejoining the platoon, moving from man to man, distributing ammunition, and shouting words of encouragement he observed a friendly machine gun position overrun. He immediately fought his way to the position, killing 10 of the enemy and dispersing the remainder. Fighting back to the command post, and finding several friendly wounded there, he took a position to protect them … At dawn he helped regroup for a counterattack which successfully drove the enemy from the outpost.”

Mize had killed over 60 enemy soldiers. Out of 58 men in his own unit, only eight survived. When it was over, Mize  was covered with dirt, much of his clothing blown off by artillery fire and his skin blackened by powder burns.

He initially refused the Medal of Honor, but finally accepted on behalf of his men.

Mize then volunteered for four tours of duty in Vietnam, including more than three years with the Green Berets, and ended up commanding the Special Forces school and finally retired in 1981 as a Colonel. Aside from his Medal of Honor he’d earned four other decorations, including  the Bronze star … four times.

Ola Mize

Ola Mize at the time of Korea

Here’s Mize, in 2011,  describing his night on Outpost Harry:

On March 5th, this unassuming man died at 82, in Gadsden, Alabama, near the small town where he was born. Mize, as a Medal of Honor winner, was entitled to be buried in Arlington in Washington DC. But he chose to remain in his home town.

The Gadsden newspaper described the road to his gravesite being lined with admirers paying tribute to their local hero.

Mize was being honoured in death for a war he fought in 60 years ago. Sixty years from now, how many Canadians will even remember our Afghanistan war, let alone honour the Canadan heros who did the fighting and who died there?

Ola Mize had a simple theory of leadership that could be applied to any army … or any corporation for that matter. He didn’t need elaborate courses on motivation on how to lead.

Being a leader, he said, simply meant: “I was the custodian of my men’s welfare.”


About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at:
This entry was posted in Canadian Army, korean war, military history, PPCLI, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Hero Who Refused His Medal

  1. a gray says:

    “Being a leader, he said, simply meant: “I was the custodian of my men’s welfare.”” I wonder how many of our “leaders” today would have such feelings.

  2. Excellent story of a selfless brave soldier.
    An inspiration for all potential military leaders.

  3. Bruce says:

    All your stuff is great but I reblogged this one because it’s pure cream of the crop. This fellow was the real deal.

  4. Bruce says:

    Reblogged this on History Stuff That Interests Me and commented:
    Great post from one of my favorite bloggers.

  5. gpcox says:

    If possible, it would be in good manners to reply to some of these comments from the readers.
    [feel free to delete this message after reading – it’s just a hint for your info]

  6. Morguie says:

    Truly an admirable man…not an ounce short of a real patriot. An honest-to-goodness hero that ought to be given the true and fitting honor befitting the selfless courage he showed: a vignette dedicated in classroom history books, so that our youth might be better able to identify what a hero and worthy role model IS as compared to the fake ones Hollywood and music moguls foist upon them in pretense and shameless profiteering exploits. Thank you for this wonderful and enlightening post about a REAL hero worth exemplifying and modeling after….

  7. bookdiva says:

    So poignant and inspiring.

  8. Gypsy Bev says:

    Now that’s a real life hero. What a great line: “I was the custodian of my men’s welfare”. What a blessing to have such brave leaders.

  9. A man I would have loved to spend time with. Down to earth comes to mind. –Curt

  10. Aquila says:

    Thank you for the honor you have given this incredible man. We should all aspire to his standard of leadership.

  11. Musings says:

    Outstanding post and tribute for a real hero. Such an amazing humble person. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Mrs. P says:

    Wonderful post! I especially enjoyed the interview on You Tube.

  13. awax1217 says:

    A true leader does not need accolades. He knows he has the respect of his group and that means the world to him or her.

  14. Dan Antion says:

    That is a perfect quote. I am going to share that and this post (properly attributed) with a friend who is somewhat of a student of leadership. Thanks for another great story.

  15. gpcox says:

    Further Outpost Harry info and photos to help explain what this soldier experienced can be found here….

  16. gpcox says:

    Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:
    A very interesting site by Dan Bjarnason has this wonderful tribute. For the curious – Further information and photos can be found in the link I’ve provided below in the comments.

  17. Richard Soberman says:

    Great article Dan and, as always, very interesting and informative
    Richard Soberman

  18. Pingback: Remembering Medal of Honor Awardee Ola Mize Who Died This Month at Age 82 | ROK Drop

  19. gpcox says:

    Do I have your permission to reblog this post? I would schedule it probably for Saturday, 6 April.

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