Published Tuesday, April 3, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News
CARLOS C. OGDEN: 1917-2001
BY MARK EMMONS AND MACK LUNDSTROM
Carlos Ogden sat in the den of his San Jose retirement community home last month, quietly listening to his wife tell the story about the day 57 years ago near Cherbourg, France, that forever changed his life.
``His unit was going up a hill to put this 88mm cannon out of commission,'' Louise Ogden was saying. ``There also were two machine guns up there. The Germans were killing his men, and Carlos decided something had to be done about it. So he went up the hill alone.''
``Nothing to it,'' added Ogden, eyes twinkling mischievously even though his body had been debilitated by a series of strokes as well as leukemia and lymphoma.
``There was a lot to it,'' Louise Ogden countered.
Enough, in fact, to earn the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest military honor. On June 25, 1944, despite being shot twice through his helmet and briefly being knocked unconscious while still carrying a grenade with a pulled pin -- clutching the grenade handle so it wouldn't detonate -- Ogden single-handedly silenced those German guns.
Ogden, who rarely spoke of his war service despite the fame that accompanied the medal, died early Monday morning at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Palo Alto. He was 83. Since his death, the elite Medal of Honor fraternity numbers 149 living members.
``There's no question that he was a hero,'' said Mark Alexander, 90, himself a highly decorated soldier who helped Ogden lead the campaign to erect a San Jose Veterans Memorial outside the Center for the Performing Arts. ``He had the scars to show it. He was admired by the veterans. He was a gentleman.''
To his last weeks, Ogden continued to downplay his heroics.
``I think we've all met people where it seemed that the more they bragged, the less they really accomplished,'' said Jim Ogden, his oldest son. ``Dad never was a good conversationalist. But I don't think you can overstate what he did.''
While they were growing up, Ogden's four sons would pester their father to tell them war stories. He wouldn't. Yet Jim Ogden also vividly recalls how he once taught them how to disarm a knife-wielding attacker.
``I remember thinking to myself, `What are we doing in suburban San Jose worrying about somebody coming at us with a knife?''' Jim Ogden said. ``But looking back on it, he was telling us in his own way what happened to him in that action.''
Nineteen days after D-day, Ogden was a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army's 79th Infantry Division, 314th Infantry Regiment, moving north to Fort du Roule, which defended the approaches to Cherbourg. The howitzer and machine guns pinned down his Company K, wounded its commander and left Ogden in charge.
Charged, despite injuries
Charged, despite injuries
He took a grenade launcher and hand grenades and started running up the slope toward the emplacements. The concussion from the 88mm gun blew out his ear drums, and he suffered a wound in his leg. He launched a grenade and took out one machine gun, then threw a grenade and did the same with the 88mm gun emplacement. But bullets from the other machine gun pierced his helmet and grazed his head. His wrist snapped when he fell, but he still clutched the live grenade. He managed to get up and lob the grenade at the final machine gun, and it, too, fell silent.
When Ogden motioned men to follow, they found him bleeding from head, leg and arm wounds but refusing medical treatment. He led them ahead.
The citation for his decoration said: ``Lt. Ogden's heroic leadership and indomitable courage in alone silencing those enemy weapons inspired his men to greater effort and cleared the way for the company to continue to advance and reach the objective.''
Fifty-six years later, as they sat in their San Jose home, Louise Ogden pointed out, ``He always says that he must of had an angel sitting on his shoulder.''
``Why not?'' the 6-foot-4 Ogden responded from his recliner. ``Can you think of a better place for it to sit?''
Carlos Ogden left the Army decorated, fiercely loyal and patriotic but frustrated with the red tape surrounding his recuperation. More than a year after he was discharged, he still was suffering from his wounds and appealed to a House Armed Services subcommittee to be re-inducted and sent to Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Ogden was a native of Illinois and a graduate of its Eastern Illinois State University before the war, but he chose to settle in San Jose, where he worked as a VA counselor. For years the Ogdens and their lanky sons lived in the strip of San Jose between what is now Interstate 880 and Santa Clara.
Felt lucky to survive
Felt lucky to survive
Jim Ogden said his father returned from the war fully cognizant of how lucky he had been to survive. That knowledge gave him a sense of purpose to not waste the additional time he had been given and to enjoy life.
He was active in a variety of youth sports leagues -- two sons, Bud and Ralph, were athletic stars who would go on to play briefly in the NBA -- and organizations such as the PTA, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. He even cleared out a grove of trees from an orchard behind their house to make a ball field for neighborhood kids to play.
In 1950, Republicans tried to draft Ogden to run for the 10th District seat in Congress, but he declined because he would have had to quit his VA job.
In the middle 1950s, he became a department manager for the Greater San Jose Chamber of Commerce and served as aide-de-camp for the national commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was active as a Mason and a Kiwanian and was honored for his work numerous times.
Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed Ogden director of the California Selective Service System in 1967. It was the era of draft dodging and opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and it gave him gray hair, he said.
In the 1980s, Ogden became the commander for the Legion of Valor, whose highly decorated members include Medal of Honor recipients.
Time and again in retirement, Ogden rose to speak out for his generation of veterans. When Tom Hayden, Vietnam War protester and California legislator, was invited to speak at a San Jose City College graduation, Ogden protested. The invitation was retracted.
At the same graduation, a ceremony scheduled for a claimed Medal of Honor recipient was canceled when Ogden revealed that the claim was a fake.
More than once, Carlos Ogden appeared at ceremonies in which his heroism was extolled, and he often shrank from the praise. He once reminded a group of elementary schoolchildren: ``War is not glamorous.
``Nobody wins, but sometimes we get pushed just too far. We have friends we must protect when someone gets pushy. We have to stand up for ourselves. We have to be strong -- then the bully can't push us around.''