Know Your Military

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Pvt. Nels Wold

Jan. 28, 2019 | BY Katie Lange

Valor can come from those young and old, experienced or inexperienced. During the waning days of World War I, many American soldiers were thrust into the war effort quickly. Army Pvt. Nels Wold was one of them, and in the six months he was in the service, the bravery he showed was enough to earn him the Medal of Honor.

Wold was born in Winger, Minnesota, in 1895 to parents who had emigrated from Norway. He was one of 10 siblings. As a teen, Wold worked a few jobs before joining the Army in April 1918. Shortly after that, his unit — Company I, 138th Infantry, 35th Division — shipped off to Europe.

A man dressed in a suit sits in a chair.
Nels Wold
Army Pvt. Nels Wold earned the Medal of Honor during World War I.
Photo By: Photo courtesy of Fern Letnes
VIRIN: 130524-O-ZZ999-788C

Much of that summer was spent training, but by autumn, the 22-year-old Wold found himself in the trenches during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a major part of the final Allied offensive of the war.

On the foggy morning of Sept. 26, 1918, his unit and thousands of other Allied troops near Cheppy, France, made up the spearpoint of a massive drive to finally push Germany out of France.

According to the 35th Division’s history, Wold’s company had been held up by several German machine gun nests, so he volunteered to sneak up on one of them. It was a success – he managed to silence the guns, kill some enemies and bring back some Allied prisoners — so he sneaked up on three more nests. After silencing all four, he had brought back 11 prisoners.

Later that day, Wold jumped from a trench and rescued a fellow soldier who was about to be shot, taking down the would-be enemy shooter in the process.

His success was short-lived, unfortunately. Wold tried to sneak up on a fifth machine gun nest, but the Germans saw him coming and fired. He went down.

Several 1920’s-style cars surround a crowd at a funeral.
Funeral Announcement
Three years to the day after Army Pvt. Nels Wold was killed and buried near Cheppy, France, his remains were returned to his hometown of Winger, Minn., Sept. 26, 1921, for a funeral that local newspapers reported attracted thousands.
Photo By: Newspaper clipping courtesy of Fern Letnes
VIRIN: 181207-O-ZZ999-188C

When Wold’s company realized he wasn’t coming back, they rushed the nest as a group and took out the enemy inside, dragging the injured Wold nearly a mile to safety, where he died telling his comrades to tell his family he loved them.

Wold didn’t survive, but his company was able to advance thanks to his courage. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor, which was given to his siblings by famed Gen. Leonard Wood during a ceremony in his hometown on Dec. 31, 1919.

Wold was originally buried in France, but three years to the day after his death, his remains were returned and buried next to his parents in a cemetery near his hometown.

This article is part of a weekly series called ''Medal of Honor Monday,'' in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.