GADSDEN (AP) — Friends and colleagues remember Medal of Honor recipient Ola Lee Mize as a hero and leader who refused to accept mediocrity from those who served under him.
Mize, 82, died Wednesday. The Gadsden man received the nation's highest military honor in 1954 for his actions the previous year during the Korean War.
Rick Vaughan was Veterans Affairs officer for Etowah County and knew the retired Army colonel for many years.
"He was a soldier's leader," Vaughan said. "If you had to pick a leader to go to war with, Lee Mize was the one you would want to pick. You would absolutely want to go with him because you knew he would take care of you, make sure you were prepared and had all the skill and knowledge you need to get there and get back safe.
"We just lost a living piece of history. He just can't be replaced."
Vaughan said Mize tried to refuse the Medal of Honor until the men serving under him were also honored. He also was nominated for a second Medal of Honor while serving in Vietnam, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara turned it down, saying Mize was an officer (he went into the U.S. Army as a private and retired as a colonel) and had already received one.
Vaughan said Mize loved the United States and went out of his way to help people. "There's countless young men that he helped change their lives while he was in the military," he said.
He said Mize was "old school — you work hard, you do the right things for the right reason, and then you look at yourself and say 'a job well done.'"
Over the last 20 years, however, Vaughan said Mize would first pronounce that he was a Christian and would say said he'd rather be remembered as a Christian than anything else.
Retired Col. Leonard Kiser of Gadsden, who like Mize served in the Army Special Forces, said Mize was his mentor for years and conducted officer training classes for them.
"He was a dedicated professional soldier even after he retired," Kiser said. "He was Gadsden's real hero. He didn't tolerate mediocrity, he would not tolerate it. If you were not 100 percent dedicated to your job and what you were doing, he wanted you to find something else to do. That's just the way he was. He was a great mentor for young officers."
Kiser said Mize loved his family and his wife, Betty.
"If he knew he was right on an issue, you were never going to influence him to change his mind," he added. "That's just the way he was."
Retired Brig. Gen. Joe Stringham of Skyline in Jackson County served with Mize in Vietnam when Mize was a captain and he was a lieutenant.
Stringham said they joked that Mize had been nominated for a second Medal of honor while in Vietnam, "but it got lost."
Mize was a mentor to him and encouraged him to stay in Special Forces.
"He was the original tell it like it is (guy) and if you were afraid of the answer, don't ask Lee Mize," Stringham said.
He said Mize was a "voice crying in the wilderness" and Mize stood up as an advocate for the Army and for the Special Forces and the non-commissioned officer corps.
Information from: The Gadsden Times, www.gadsdentimes.com