Sylvester Antolak: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Sylvester Antolak

Wikimedia Commons Sylvester Antolak

Sylvester Antolak, a Medal of Honor recipient who fought in World War II, performed a feat of such incredible bravery that it’s almost hard to fathom. Toward the enemy he charged, drawing their machine gunfire, seemingly lacking fear. Shot three times, he continued on, determined, resolute. Eventually, he gave his life for the cause of freedom.

Antolak is one of the Medal of Honor recipients who are featured in the Netflix Original series called simply, Medal of Honor. “Pinned down by heavy enemy fire in a field near Cisterna, Italy, in 1944, U.S. Army Sgt. Sylvester Antolak leads a charge that becomes legendary,” Netflix says in the caption with the episode.

Fewer than 3,600 Americans have received the Medal of Honor since 1861; the series highlights eight of them, and Antolak is the first.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Sylvester Antolak Destroyed a German Machine Gun Nest After Charging Toward It

Sylvester Antolak

National ArchivesA cross marks the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant (SGT) Sylvester Antolak, one of many killed during the World War II fight for southern Italy in 1943-44. The American dead are buried at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery.

Those who are greatly honored for courage often share something in common: They ran toward danger to save others. Medal of Honor recipients demonstrate courage that must be decided upon in a split second with great potential cost to oneself. Sylvester Antolak did just that; he took out a German machine gun nest single-handedly and after already suffering grievous injury.

“Near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy, he charged 200 yards over flat, coverless terrain to destroy an enemy machinegun nest during the second day of the offensive which broke through the German cordon of steel around the Anzio beachhead,” reports the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Sgt. Sylvester Antolak Memorial HIghway Dedication Ceremony HIGHLIGHTSThe citizens of Ohio honored WWII Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Sylvester Antolak by dedicating a portion of Interstate 70, near his hometown of St. Clairsville, OH, as the Sgt. Sylvester Antolak Medal of Honor Recipient Memorial HIghway, June 28, 20172017-09-01T04:01:53.000Z

“Fully 30 yards in advance of his squad, he ran into withering enemy machinegun, machine-pistol and rifle fire. Three times he was struck by bullets and knocked to the ground, but each time he struggled to his feet to continue his relentless advance. With one shoulder deeply gashed and his right arm shattered, he continued to rush directly into the enemy fire concentration with his submachinegun wedged under his uninjured arm until within 15 yards of the enemy strong point, where he opened fire at deadly close range, killing 2 Germans and forcing the remaining 10 to surrender.”

2. Antolak Continued Leading the Charge, Ultimately Eliminating 20 Germans

Despite his wounds, and despite achieving the goal of subduing the enemy machine gunners, Antolak wasn’t done – and he paid for his courage with his life.

“He reorganized his men and, refusing to seek medical attention so badly needed, chose to lead the way toward another strong point 100 yards distant,” the Congressional Medal of Honor Society reports.

“Utterly disregarding the hail of bullets concentrated upon him, he had stormed ahead nearly three-fourths of the space between strong points when he was instantly killed by hostile enemy fire. Inspired by his example, his squad went on to overwhelm the enemy troops. By his supreme sacrifice, superb fighting courage, and heroic devotion to the attack, Sgt. Antolak was directly responsible for eliminating 20 Germans, capturing an enemy machinegun, and clearing the path for his company to advance.”

Medal of Honor Trailer VO 2018 HDMedal of Honor narra la historia de los condecorados con la Medalla de Honor por servir en los Servicios Armados de los Estados Unidos. La serie cuenta en cada episodio la vida de estos condecorados a través de entrevistas, imágenes y fotos. Además de ver las propias experiencias de los veteranos, también se cuenta la…2018-10-22T17:09:15.000Z

Sylvester Antolak died on May 24, 1944. He was 27-years-old.

3. Antolak Was Born in Ohio to Polish Immigrants

Sylvester Antolak was the son of Polish immigrants, who was described by former President George H. W. Bush as an “Ohio farmboy” who was “the youngest son.” Continued Bush, speaking on Memorial Day 1989 in Italy, “Sergeant Antolak also understood the cost of freedom. Today in his hometown of St. Clairsville, Ohio, population 6,000, the townspeople will gather by the local courthouse to dedicate a white granite memorial to the county’s Medal of Honor winners. George and Stanley Antolak will be there to remember their brother — their hero and ours. It’s the kind of scene that will be repeated today and tomorrow in parks and churchyards all across America.”

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society gives the following information about Antolak:

Rank: Sergeant
Organization: U.S. Army
Company: Company B
Division: 15th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division
Born: St. Clairsville, Ohio
Departed: Yes
Entered Service At: St. Clairsville, Ohio
G.O. Number: 89
Date of Issue: 10/19/1945
Accredited To:
Place / Date: Near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy, 24 May 1944

You can see Sylvester Antolak’s Army record here. He was single and had no dependents.

4. Antolak Led Audie Murphy Into Battle

Audie Murphy

Audie Murphy

Antolak led another famous soldier into battle: Audie Murphy. According to, Murphy, also a recipient of the Medal of Honor, described Antolak’s courage in his book, To Hell and Back, calling him “Lutsky.”

Murphy wrote, in part:

We roll over the wall and find ourselves in the range of two enemy strongpoints. But for the moment, the krauts are ignoring us. They are absorbed in trying to split the two groups of men that preceded us.

A sergeant in the first platoon senses the predicament. If his men are isolated, they will likely be destroyed. He makes his decision quickly. Motioning his men to follow, he rises and with a submachine gun charges head-on toward one of the enemy positions two hundred yards away.

On the flat, coverless terrain, his body is a perfect target. A blast of automatic fire knocks him down. He springs to his feet with a bleeding shoulder and continues his charge. The guns rattle. Again he goes down.

Fascinated, we watch as he gets up for the third time and dashes straight into the enemy fire. The Germans throw everything they have at him. He falls to the earth; and when he again pulls himself to his feet, we see that his right arm is shattered. But wedging his gun under his left armpit, he continues firing and staggers forward. Ten horrified Germans throw down their guns and yell ‘Kamerad.’

That is all I see. But later I learn that the sergeant, ignoring the pleas of his men to get under cover and wait for medical attention, charged the second enemy strongpoint. By sheer guts, he advanced sixty yards before being stopped by a final concentration of enemy fire. He reeled, then tottered forward another few yards before falling.

Inspired by his valor and half-insane with rage, his men took over, stormed the kraut emplacement, and captured it. When they returned to their leader, he was dead.

This was how Lutsky, the sergeant, helped buy the freedom that we cherish and abuse.

The Netflix episodes end with the present day and feature the family members of the Medal of Honor recipients in some episodes, including that of Antolak. His nephew, Robert Sylvester Antolak, was named after him.

5. George H.W. Bush Remembered Antolak’s Heroism & How He Led Murphy & Others on a ‘Bold Charge’

sylvester antolak

An honor guard stands by as President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush depart following speeches in honor of US military personnel killed during the World War II fight for southern Italy in 1943-44. The ceremony in memory of the veterans is being conducted at Sicily-Rome America Cemetery.

George H. W. Bush lauded Antolak during the speech he gave in Italy on Memorial Day 1989.

“The fight to liberate Italy was as fierce and heroic as any seen in the war. The dangers to each adversary — the danger was such that the outcome of the war itself seemed to hang at that moment on the valor and vigor of each man who struggled near the water’s edge,” he said.

President George H.W. Bush Memorial Day 1989 Speech at Anzio! (Audie Murphy Mentioned)President Bush Memorial Day 1989 remarks given at Anzio. In the speech President Bush pays tribute to WWII and poignantly tells the story about Sylvester Antolak who was a good friend of Audie Murphy's and whose death is mentioned in vivid detail in "To Hell and Back." Antolak received the Medal of Honor posthumously that…2014-01-27T00:11:21.000Z

Speaking of Antolak, Bush remembered, “…On a drizzly morning some 45 years ago this week, he led Sergeant Audie Murphy and others in a bold charge through the rain and the ruin near Cisterna, one man against a machinegun nest that blocked the road to Rome. And three times he was cut down by fire; three times he got back up, tucking his gun under his shattered arm. And by the time he disabled the gunners, 10 enemy soldiers surrendered to this man whom their bullets could not stop.”

Sergeant Antolak “fell near Cisterna that same day. He rests here beneath the pines of Nettuno with nearly 8,000 soldiers, his grave one of two marked with our Congressional Medal of Honor. Joined by the names of another 3,000 missing etched in the white marble of the chapel, they come from every American State from Texas to Maine, Alaska to Florida, New York to California,” said Bush.

USNS Sgt. Sylvester Antolak (T-AP-192) was named in Antolak’s honor. He is buried at Plot C Row 12 Grave 13, Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy.

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