Ola L. Mize, a sharecropper’s son who was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor after leading his outnumbered men in harrowing combat in the Korean War and single-handedly killing dozens of enemy soldiers, died on March 5 at his home in Gadsden, Ala. He was 82.
The cause was lung cancer, his wife, Betty, said.
Mr. Mize ended up serving 31 years in the Army, collecting many decorations for heroism and rising to commander of the Special Forces school at Fort Bragg, N.C. But the Army had rejected him at first because he weighed only 120 pounds.
When he returned, a bit heftier, he had to surmount a bigger problem: he was blind in one eye, which had been accidentally pierced with an ice pick when he was 5 years old.
The vision exam of that time involved holding a paddle over one eye and looking at the chart with the other. He passed the test by briskly switching paddles in a way that made it look as if he was switching eyes, his wife said. He had practiced with spoons beforehand.
Mr. Mize had hoped to go to college after his tour of peacetime duty ended, but the Korean War was starting and he was eager to experience combat. He re-enlisted, and soon he saw horrific combat, as a sergeant.
On June 10, 1953, Sergeant Mize, a member of the Army’s Company K, 15th Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division, was helping to defend a strategic hill near Surang-ni in mountainous South Korea. The hill, called Outpost Harry by the Americans, sat between American and Communist lines, each several hundred yards away, according to VFW Magazine.
The Medal of Honor citation said that after learning that a fellow soldier at a listening post had been wounded, Sergeant Mize, accompanied by a medic, rescued him. When he noticed that an American machine-gun nest had been overrun, he fought his way to the position, killing 10 North Korean and Chinese troops and dispersing the rest. He had been blown down three times by artillery and grenade blasts, and his men were astounded that he returned alive.
When the attacks subsided, Sergeant Mize took his few remaining men from bunker to bunker, firing and throwing grenades as they went, to create the impression that the remaining American force was larger than it actually was. At one point, the citation said, as an enemy soldier stepped behind an American and prepared to fire, Sergeant Mize killed him. At dawn, he helped regroup for a counterattack that drove the enemy away.
He killed as many as 65 enemy soldiers, by one account; he told his hometown newspaper, The Gadsden Times, in 1984 that after he saw another officer’s throat cut, he went “battle crazy.” Of 56 Americans involved in the Outpost Harry fighting, only eight survived.
Ola Lee Mize was born on Aug. 28, 1931. He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year to help his family meet expenses and joined the Army in 1948 because, he said, it paid better than working in a grocery store.
He initially refused the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for valor, but finally accepted it on behalf of his men. It was presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in September 1954. At the ceremony, Mr. Eisenhower told Sergeant Mize’s fiancée, Betty Jackson, that as long as he chose to stay in the Army, her husband-to-be would never have to go into combat again.
He nonetheless volunteered four times for duty in Vietnam and served three-and-a-half tours with the Green Berets, the Army’s Special Forces unit. During his military career he was awarded the Legion of Merit twice, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star five times, the Purple Heart and many other decorations. He was assigned to the Special Forces school in 1975 and retired as a full colonel in 1981. He later worked as a motivational speaker and consultant.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Mize is survived by his daughter, Teresa Peterson; his brothers, Gary, Donald and Johnny; his sisters, Judy Heinrich, Brenda Garza and Della George; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.