SALEM — When Bob Maxwell saved several men in his Army unit by jumping on a German grenade in 1944, absorbing the full blast and shrapnel with his body, nobody doubted he would deserve the Medal of Honor if he lived.
On Thursday, the Oregon Legislature honored Maxwell, a Bend resident, for not only receiving the nation’s highest military honor but living to become its oldest living recipient. A concurrent resolution of the Legislature gained final approval. The vote did not include a ceremony, with the place and time of presentation to Maxwell to be determined later.
At 96, Maxwell is one of five surviving men of the 472 who received the Medal of Honor in World War II. More than 260 were killed in action and received the medal posthumously.
The Medal of Honor is bestowed on service members for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Maxwell, an Idaho native, was drafted for World War II. A Quaker, he declined conscientious objector status and entered the service in Larimer County, Colorado. Trained to string heavy wire for telephone lines at the battlefront, he served in Italy and then France. He rose to become a technician fifth grade, wearing two stripes — the equivalent of a corporal.
While he was serving with the 3rd Infantry Division in Besancon, France, on Sept. 7, 1944, Germans attacked his position. A “potato-masher” stick grenade was thrown into the midst of his unit. Grabbing a blanket, Maxwell fell on the grenade. He was severely wounded by the explosion, but the blanket took enough of the impact to save his life. His action was credited with likely saving the lives of several American soldiers.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Maxwell was awarded Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’honneur.
After the war, Maxwell used the GI Bill to be certified as an expert in automotive technology. He taught classes on auto repair and service at Bend Senior High School, Central Oregon College (later renamed Central Oregon Community College) and Lane Community College.
Maxwell served as director of the Bend Heroes Foundation, helped drives to build veterans memorials throughout Oregon and has been honored with his name given to a bridge in Bend and other recognition.
The resolution was introduced by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, in the House and carried by Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, in the Senate.
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