BEND, Ore. — World War II veteran Bob Maxwell, the nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient, has died in Oregon more than seven decades after grabbing a blanket and throwing himself on a German hand grenade in France to save his squad mates. He was 98.
Maxwell died Saturday in Bend, The Bulletin newspaper of Bend reported.
The death was confirmed Monday by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, who said Maxwell represented the “best of what Oregon and America have to offer.”
Maxwell earned the nation’s highest military honor while fighting in Besancon, France, on Sept. 7, 1944, the newspaper reported. The bomb severely injured him, but the blanket saved his life by absorbing some of the impact.
He was also awarded two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and two French combat awards — the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur — for his service in World War II.
Maxwell had been the oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, which is bestowed for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Born on Oct. 26, 1920, in Boise, Idaho, Maxwell was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. Though he was a Quaker, he declined conscientious objector status and entered the service in Colorado.
Trained to string heavy wire for telephone lines at the battlefront, he served in Italy and then France, becoming a technician fifth grade and wearing two stripes — the equivalent of a corporal.
In a Dec. 16, 2017, photo, Robert “Bob” Maxwell, 97, America’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, places a wreath in front of the U.S. Army flag while taking part in the Wreaths Across America ceremony at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Ore. (Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin via AP)
Prior to throwing himself on the grenade, Maxwell sustained a leg injury in Italy in January 1944 while maintaining telephone wires under intense artillery fire.
He spent several months in a hospital in Naples, returned to his unit and was sent to France.
After the war, Maxwell became a car mechanic and taught classes on auto repair and service at a Bend high school and two community colleges.
In 2000, at 79, he received his high school diploma.
He also served as director of the Bend Heroes Foundation and helped efforts to build veterans’ memorials throughout Oregon.
A bridge in Bend is named after Maxwell and he was present last year to watch as an Oregon Medal of Honor Highway sign was unveiled on U.S. Highway 20 near Bend.