Although he survived World War II to receive the Medal of Honor and was the region's most decorated veteran, Russell Dunham now has joined the ranks of those that live on only in memory.
Dunham, 89, died of congestive heart failure in his sleep at 12:56 a.m. Monday at his home in Godfrey.
A citation from the U.S. Army's official Web site recalls the events on Jan. 8, 1945, near Kayserberg, France, that earned him his Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is America's top military award for heroism.
Around 2:30 p.m. that day, Dunham single-handedly knocked out three enemy machine guns with his platoon behind him.
Despite being shot, Dunham killed nine Germans, wounded seven and captured two, firing about 175 rounds of carbine ammunition and throwing 11 grenades, thereby spearheading a successful diversionary attack. He saved the lives of more than 150 American soldiers that day. He is the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in Illinois.
Stepdaughter Annette Wilson said he had just turned 89 in February and had retired recently from farming. Due to his failing health, he had moved from his farm just outside of Jerseyville to an apartment near her and her husband in Godfrey.
"He was ready to go," Wilson said of her stepfather. "He's lived a long life. I had told him, 'Of all the men you saw fall (over the years), what a reunion that's going to be.'"
Wilson said Dunham called his fellow Medal of Honor recipients around the country his "brothers" and said none of them really considered themselves heroes.
"I don't feel like a hero even yet today; I just don't feel like I'm a hero. I just did what I had to do, and that was it," he said in an interview for The Telegraph's Veterans' Voices in November 2007. "You got your responsibilities and, naturally, you don't want to lose any more men than you have to." During the war, Dunham was with Company I, 30th Infantry, 3rd Division of the Army, eventually serving as a technical sergeant.
During a previous interview, Dunham remembered receiving the medal at Zeppelin Stadium in Nuremberg, Germany. It was April 23, 1945, and he was with four other men he knew. As always, Dunham remained humble.
"They didn't make any mention of all the people we had lost and had killed and wounded and everything," he said of the event.
Dunham was proud of his brother Ralph, who also served during World War II and was injured a number of times. Ralph died nearly a decade ago, Wilson said.
Dunham was patriotic until the end and attended veterans' conventions as recently as last September. "We went to conventions, we went to parades and watched him lay the wreath at Veterans Day ceremonies," Wilson said. "We were always very proud of him."
He was honored as recently as last week by the Rotary Club and local Bar Association, Wilson said. Dunham retired from the U.S. Veteran's Administration 34 years ago and was enjoying a long retirement, she said.
Visitations will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Friday at Gent's Funeral Home in Alton. A funeral service officiated by a VFW chaplain will follow at 11 a.m. Friday.
Dunham will be buried in Valhalla Memorial Park in Godfrey, where his gravestone is already decorated with his picture and with all the medals he's received, Wilson said.