Albertville bridge named for war hero

Albertville bridge named for war hero


Ola Lee Mize was not a big man, but when he spoke, everyone listened.

Mize – a highly decorated war veteran from Rabbittown – was memorialized Tuesday with a bridge naming ceremony at a bridge at 1740 Alabama 205, near his homeplace.

Mize was a longtime member of the U.S. Army, decorated with the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Legion of Merit [with Oak Leaf Cluster], Bronze Star [with four Oak Leaf Clusters], Master Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab, SCUBA Badge and Combat Infantryman’s Badge [second award].

“(Mize) was a mentor to a lot of soldiers over the years,” said Circuit Judge Tim Riley, himself a decorated veteran.

“You speak to anyone at Fort Bragg or Fort Benning or any Airborne and they will know him. If you say his name, they will get excited. Many know of him and his accomplishments but don’t know that he was from here.”

A variety of history buffs, area veterans and others attended the brief ceremony held near the bridge Tuesday morning.

Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Kerry Rich were on hand with a proclamation for Mize’s granddaughter, Brandy Pearson, great-granddaughter, Sarah Haney, and great-grandson Andrew Pearson.

“This is one of the fun things we get to do,” Scofield said. “Passing resolutions to commemorate or remember someone for their impact on our area.

“I’m a big history guy, particularly military history. I have to admit when this request first came across my desk, I didn’t know about Ola Mize. I have since learned he was an absolute hero.”

The bridge on Alabama 205 is not far from Rabbittown where Mize was born and raised.

“We are proud to have this new bridge, which was sorely needed,” Scofield said. “But to be able to name it for an actual hometown hero is something else.

“What he did for our freedom and our country is amazing.”

Albertville Mayor Tracy Honea said the ceremony is a relatively rare occurrence.

“This is an honor for us to recognize this man in such a way,” Honea said.

Brandy Pearson said she grew up fishing with her grandfather.

“When he retired from Fort Bragg and came home, he would take me fishing,” Brandy said. “He was a big teddy bear to me. To anyone in the military, they would have said he was stern and strict.

“Having this bridge named in his honor means a lot to the family. It is amazing to know the town still recognizes his contributions to this day.”

Mize’s great-grandson Andrew Pearson said he hopes to one day follow Mize’s steps into the military.

“I’m 15 but I plan to go into the Air Force and get a degree in aerospace engineering,” Andrew said. “I heard some stories about him over the years, but I was too young to comprehend what they were about.

“Now, I’m listening more and understanding more.”

Mize’s story

Mize, the son of the late Hubert A. and Lula Belle Barry Mize, holds a long list of military achievements. He was forced to leave school in the ninth grade to help the family put food on the table. But after working a string of low-paying jobs, Mize tried to enlist in the Army. He was initially rejected for not weighing enough, but he successfully enlisted on a second try in 1950 despite only having one eye.

After basic training, Mize joined the 82nd Airborne Division. He was planning on completing his tour and going to college, but the Korean War interrupted his plans. He decided to re-enlist and volunteered for combat on the front lines. He joined K Company, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

As he had requested, Mize soon found himself on the front lines, manning a critical post in a mountainous area near Surang-ni in South Korea called Outpost Harry.

Company K, 15th Infantry of the 3rd Division took over Outpost Harry near Chumon on June 4, 1953. On June 8, U.N. and Chinese communist delegates seemed ready to sign a cease-fire. Less than 48 hours later, however, the communist forces attacked. Outpost Harry was first hit on the night of June 11.

Mize, then a 21-year-old sergeant, first rescued a wounded man at a listening post for Outpost Harry, then assessed the damage to the listening post and began to set up its defense. Waves of troops came at Mize and the few men who had survived the first attack. In the wreckage, Mize used his carbine to gun down enemy soldiers, while two other Americans caught and refilled his empty clips as quickly as possible.

When the small band had nearly run out of ammunition, Mize decided they should head for the platoon command post -- but they found it battered and out of action. They gathered the ammunition and weapons there and formed a barricade. Mize kept them going for two hours until the enemy fire abated. He encouraged them, moved from one to the next, and begged them to keep up their fire. After a quick patrol, Mize found a lieutenant with a radio set and ordered artillery to take out the enemy positions on the hill.

At dawn, Mize ordered the artillery to cease fire, then organized a counterattack that wiped out the remaining enemy. Mize and the eight men who were left, having regained the bunkers, went back to their battalion.

The battalion commander was incredulous when he learned how Mize had almost single-handedly held Outpost Harry. “Well, there I was when the attack came,” the modest sergeant explained. “There just wasn’t time to be scared or anything. We had to try and hold that position.”

Of the 56 Americans at Outpost Harry, only eight survived.

Sergeant Ola L. Mize was recommended for the Medal of Honor but initially refused, saying, “It should go to the troops who died defending Outpost Harry.” He finally received the Medal of Honor in 1954 from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Ola Mize remained in the Army after Korea and became an officer. He attended the Special Forces Officers Course in 1962 and was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group upon graduation. In late 1963, he deployed to Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group as an A Team Leader. As a Green Beret Camp Commander, he helped train local Vietnamese people to oppose the Viet Cong. In 1965, Mize was assigned to the Special Forces Training Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. As head of the Advanced Training Committee, he was responsible for the HALO, SCUBA, and SKYHOOK schools. He was credited with starting the Combat Divers Qualification Course at Key West, Florida.

Mize returned to Vietnam in 1966-67 and again in 1969 where he was Commander of the 3rd Mobile Strike Force [Cambodian Troops]. He was nominated for a second Medal of Honor but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara turned it down “because Mize was an officer and had already received one.” In 1975, Mize, who was now a Colonel, was assigned as Chief for the Special Forces School, Field Training Division at Fort Bragg. He later became Commander of the school, then known as the U.S. Army JFK Institute for Military Assistance. The school was later renamed the Special Warfare School. Colonel Ola L. Mize retired in 1981. Besides the Medal of Honor, his awards included the Silver Star, Legion of Merit [with Oak Leaf Cluster], Bronze Star [with four Oak Leaf Clusters], Master Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab, SCUBA Badge and Combat Infantryman’s Badge [second award].

After retirement, Colonel Mize moved to Gadsden where he was involved in military affairs and often gave motivational speeches

Ola Mize died on March 12, 2014 at the age of 82. He was buried at Crestwood Memorial Cemetery in East Gadsden.

Just four months prior to Mize’s death, The Ola Lee Mize Patriots Park and War Memorial Museum located at Noccalula Falls State Park had been dedicated and named for the Colonel.

On May 14, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Special Forces Underwater Operations School at Key West, Florida, the Headquarters and Administration Building was named for Colonel Ola Lee Mize.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Summers, The Sand Mountain Reporter

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