Mike Colalillo

Medal of honor scholarship

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Scholarship Information

    High school seniors and college students with a physical connection to St. Louis County, Minnesota, are encouraged to apply for the Mike Colalillo Medal of Honor Scholarship. The 2020 application deadline is Thursday, November 12th.

    Mr. Colalillo was the last known surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in the State of Minnesota. He was born and raised in St. Louis County, and he dropped out of school when his mother died so he could help support the family. Following the war, Mr. Colalillo raised three children in Duluth, Minnesota.  To learn about his military service, visit http://www.vets-hall.org/stories/world-war-ii/mike-colalillo.    

 

Veterans Memorial Hall, a program of St. Louis County Historical Society, honors Mr. Colalillo by awarding annual scholarships to students who live in and/or go to school in St. Louis County, Minnesota.

In 2020, a scholarship of $1,500 will be given to one student. In order to be eligible, applicants must meet one of the following requirements:

  • A full-time student who is enrolled in a higher education institution in St. Louis County

  • OR A resident of St. Louis County who is a full-time student enrolled in a higher education institution in another county or state

  • OR A high school senior who lives in St. Louis County and plans to attend a higher education institution

Scholarship applicants are required to submit a research paper on a topic relevant to veterans of St. Louis County, Minnesota. 
Your paper must be a minimum of four (4) and a maximum of ten (10) double-spaced pages in length. You must address a historical event in St. Louis County, Minnesota, related to a conflict, a war or the home front; OR tell the story of a county veteran. Include at least one source from the Albert J. Amatuzio Research Center, located in the St. Louis County Depot Building, 501 West Michigan Street, Duluth AND you must include a bibliography.

Staff members are available to answer questions, suggest possible research topics, and assist with the research. Please contact:

Jay Hagen, VMH Program Assistant

218.733.7500

jay@thehistorypeople.org

About Mike Colalillo

St. Louis County resident Mike Colalillo served in the U.S. Army during WWII and received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty on April 7, 1945.”

 

Colalillo was 19 years old and on patrol when his company was pinned down by enemy forces near Untergriesheim, Germany. Heavy artillery, mortar and machine gun fire filled the air, and one of Colalillo’s friends was killed. He realized that he was in a kill-or-be-killed situation.

When a couple of American tanks moved past his position, Colalillo stood up, shouted to his company and ran towards the advancing tanks while firing his weapon. The other men were encouraged by his example and followed him into combat.  

 

Colalillo fired his automatic rifle until it was knocked out of his hand by shrapnel. He then vaulted atop the tank he had been following and – completely exposed to enemy fire – asked the tank crew if could use the machine gun mounted on its turret. They agreed.

As bullets pelted the tank and zipped past Colalillo’s body, he took position and began firing.  The Medal of Honor citation reads, in part:

 

Colalillo “fired at an enemy emplacement with such devastating accuracy that he killed or wounded at least ten hostile soldiers and destroyed their machine gun. Maintaining his extremely dangerous post as the tank forged ahead, he blasted three more positions, destroyed another machine gun emplacement and silenced all resistance in his area, killing at least three and wounding an undetermined number of riflemen as they fled.”

The tank gun eventually jammed. Colalillo accepted a submachine gun from the tank crew and continued his attack on foot. He is credited with killing or wounding a total of 25 enemy combatants during the fight. 

 

When the American tanks ran out of ammunition, the soldiers were ordered to retreat. Colalillo heard a wounded soldier call out for help and ran to his aid. Together they crossed several hundred yards of open terrain while under heavy fire. 

 

For his acts of valor, Colalillo received the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government. On December 18, 1945, while standing in the Oval Office, Michael “Mike” Colalillo received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman.

Home Life in St. Louis County

Mike was the first of four children born to Carlo and Vittoria Colalillo, Italian immigrants who settled in the Northland. The family moved from Hibbing to Duluth when he was a child, and they lived near the railroad tracks on Raleigh Street in West Duluth. 

 

Vittoria Colalillo died when Mike Colalillo was 16 years old. As the oldest child, he dropped out of Denfield High School and began working at the Grand Bakery on 57th Avenue West to help provide for the family.  Carlo Colalillo was not happy about that decision, but Mike Colalillo insisted. He worked at the bakery for two years, until he was drafted into the Army in 1944.

 

After the war, Colalillo returned home to Duluth, Minnesota. He worked for the Interlake Iron Works Company and later the Port Authority. 

 

Colalillo married Lina Nissila on November 16, 1945. They raised three children in West Duluth. 

 

Colalillo was a member of the Medal of Honor Society, Duluth Hall of Fame, American Legion, V.F.W., Disabled American Veterans, Raleigh Breakfast Club, and the Italian-American Club. He also coached youth hockey.

Medal of Honor Citation

Private First Class Mike Colalillo, 2d Squad, 2d Platoon, Co. C, 1st Battalion, 398th Infantry, 100th Infantry Division was pinned down with other members of his company during an attack against strong enemy positions on 7 April 1945 in the vicinity of Untergriesheim, Germany. Heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire made any move hazardous when he stood up, shouted to his company to follow, and ran forward in the wake of a supporting tank, firing his machine pistol. Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire. When his weapon was struck by shrapnel and rendered useless, he climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned an exposed machine gun on the turret of the vehicle, and, while bullets rattled around him, fired at an enemy emplacement with such devastating accuracy that he killed or wounded at least 10 hostile soldiers and destroyed their machine gun. Maintaining his extremely dangerous post as the tank forged ahead, he blasted three more positions, destroyed another machine gun emplacement and silenced all resistance in this area, killing at least three and wounding an undetermined number of riflemen as they fled. His machine gun eventually jammed; so he secured a submachine gun from the tank crew to continue his attack on foot. When our armored forces exhausted their ammunition and the order to withdraw was given, he remained behind to help a seriously wounded comrade over several hundred yards of open terrain rocked by an intense enemy artillery and mortar barrage. By his intrepidity and inspiring courage Private First Class Colalillo gave tremendous impetus to his company’s attack, killed or wounded 25 of the enemy in bitter fighting, and assisted a wounded soldier in reaching the American lines at great risk to his own life.

Military Classification

  • Army, Company C, 1st Battalion

  • 398th Infantry Division

Decorations and Awards

  • Congressional Medal of Honor

  • Combat Infantry Badge

  • European-African-Middle East Campaign Service Medal with Bronze Stars

  • Purple Heart

  • World War II Victory Medal

  • Overseas Service Bars

  • Silver Star

  • French Campaign Ribbon

Application form and instructions can be found here.

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