The passing of a hero Stephen R. Gregg, Medal of Honor winner, remembered
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Mar 03, 2005 | 1786 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Stephen R. Gregg was working in the shipyards in Kearny when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

His job made him exempt from the draft, but the bombing made him enlist. .

"I just wanted to go over," he said in an interview in 1998. .

Gregg, one of Hudson County's most highly decorated veterans and a World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, would dodge gunfire and grenades in order to give cover to medics seeking to recover seven wounded soldiers in France. .

Gregg is one of 16 New Jersey and one of two Bayonne residents to receive that distinction from action taken in World War II. .

Described as a quiet man who never boasted of his activities, Gregg also spoke in support of peace efforts until very late in life. He was quoted in one news account over the possible war in Iraq saying, "I know what it is like to be in war. I hate to see our young fellows being sent there." .

It happened in 1944

Gregg distinguished himself on Aug. 27, 1944. Then N-T Technical Sgt. Gregg acted alone in storming a hill to keep a band of German soldiers at bay while medics removed seven wounded Allied soldiers. .

The next day, when the Germans regrouped and attacked with tanks, Gregg ordered two men to cover him as he crawled up a hill toward the enemy. He threw a hand grenade at the Germans, killing one and injuring two others, whom Gregg took prisoner. .

Gregg got his medal from Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch Jr. while still serving in France, but it was not something he boasted about. .

"I just got the medal and that was that," Gregg said during a 1990 newspaper interview. "It was no big thing." He said he risked his life because he had to. "They were my men." .

Gregg's unit was part of a massive movement of Allied forces in a decisive battle designed to destroy a significant part of the German Army. But on the night of Aug. 23, 1944, the German army began to make counter attacks, threatening to ruin the elaborate trap that required allies to block the roads. Thousands of armored vehicles were deployed on both sides. .

During the eight days of battle, the allied field artillery battalions fired well over 37,000 rounds at the desperately confined, retreating German army, with another 75,000 fired by other battalions. .

But this was not the first act of heroism or the only moment of terror Gregg faced during his service to his country in World War II. Wounded during combat in Italy, Gregg once described his tour of duty. In a letter written to another veteran in 1990, Greg wrote, "[I've] been in many battles and invasions since I landed in Africa. Some were small, and others were too long. A battle in Italy does stand out in my mind. Crossing the Rapido River on our way to Rome, [we] had to cross this river not once but twice. [We] had to swim back after the second time, and this was in January. If you didn't get killed before you came to the river, after you crossed it you landed in Hell. ...the smoke almost chokes you, mud, invisible enemy firing from all angles, artillery, etc. After a few hundred yards we were told to dig in. Did you ever try to dig a hole in mud? Later that night we were told to get back to the starting point, not many made it back. The next day we tried again with the same result. Waste of young manhood." .

After the war

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After the war, Gregg went to work for the Hudson County Sheriff's Department as a court officer. He retired in 1996 after 51 years of service. .

Although born in New York, Gregg arrived in Bayonne at 3 months old when his parents, Adam and Ann, relocated here. He attended Donohoe Elementary School and Henry Harris Junior High School before taking up work at a New York City art gallery. He later came back to finish his education. He enlisted in the Army in early 1942 and took up an assignment with the 143rd Infantry Battalion, 36th Infantry Division - whose tour of duty included North Africa, Italy, and a key position in the Allied advance in France, where Gregg won his Medal of Honor. .

A quiet man

Neighbors called Gregg a quiet man who for years strolled the Bergen Point area. .

Anne Leahey, who lived near his small one-family house on Lexington Avenue, said he was involved with numerous civic activities for years, and people often saw him taking strolls. .

Freeholder Barry Dugan, who knew Gregg for more than 40 years, called him "very quiet, humble and laid-back," but someone who never refused to get involved with local veterans' activities. .

"He interacted with everyone in the same way. Whether that was the president or a newspaper boy, he treated everyone with the same respect," Dugan said. "Like so many medal of honor winners, the distinction changed his whole life. This was something he did, but nothing he planned. It was a reaction to a situation. When all the honors were heaped on him, he thought of all the guys who didn't make it back." .

Park in his honor

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Hudson County named Hudson County Park in Gregg's honor on Sept. 28, 1995. .

"Although the county dedicated the park in his name, the county did not put up a plaque there until Dec. 2, 2002," Dugan said. "I was the one that proposed it." .

Gregg was there for plaque's installation, and said he was humbled by it. The plaque, unfortunately, became faded, Dugan said, so that he and the freeholders ordered one that was made of brass and installed it later. .

"When we put the plaque up in 2002, it got streaky after about a year," Dugan said. "I thought we could clean it up. When that was not possible, we ordered one made of bronze - the one that is now in place. Because Gregg was sick at the time, I had a picture of it taken and brought it there for him to see. Some of his comrades picked him up in a car and took him there later so he could see it for himself." .

Gregg, who turned 90 on Sept. 1, spent a lot of time with his wife, Irene, who he cared for up until her death in 2001. .

"After his wife died, he told me he was at a loss," Dugan said. "He said he used to like to go for walks, but he didn't feel like doing that after Irene passed away." .

Gregg is survived by his son, Stephen Jr.; Stephen Jr.'s wife Beatrice of Warren; his daughter, Susan, of Little Falls; his sister, Sophie King, of Florida; and two grandchildren. Viewing will be held at the Z. Dzikowski & Son Funeral Home at 7 to 9 p.m. on Feb 9, and 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 10, with a funeral held at Mount Carmel on Feb. 11. .

Contact Al Sullivan at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com

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