WASHINGTON -- The orders from Melvin E. Biddle's Army commander came quickly. The officer pointed at then-Pfc. Biddle and barked, "You! Out front!"
It was late December 1944 and a ragtag company of American cooks and clerks were stranded in Hotton, Belgium, about four miles from Biddle's unit near Soy.
The Battle of the Bulge had just begun, and the troops in Hotton were surrounded and outnumbered by German forces. They needed to be rescued. Leading the stealthy advance through the snowy forests was Biddle, who took over when his unit's two lead scouts were injured in a land-mine blast.
For his courageous actions during the 20-hour rescue operation, Biddle received the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. decoration for valor.
Biddle, 87, died of congestive heart failure last Friday at his home in Anderson, Ind.
"I'm not a hero, not at all," he told USA Today in 1999. "When the Army put me out front, they put the responsibility on me, and you think about that responsibility instead of the fear."
On Dec. 23, 1944, Biddle came under enemy fire as he crawled toward Hotton through snow and underbrush. In quick succession, Biddle killed three German snipers with "unerring marksmanship," according to his Medal of Honor citation.
He continued his advance 200 more yards before coming upon an enemy machine-gun nest. After killing its two occupants, he lobbed grenades at a concealed machine-gun position nearby and killed three more German soldiers. After signaling back to his unit to advance, Biddle moved forward, shot three more Germans and tossed his last grenade into a third Nazi machine-gun emplacement.
As darkness fell over the American soldiers, German tanks rumbled in the distance. Biddle volunteered to go out alone and scout the enemy armor location. He crawled through the woods, getting so close to German sentries that one stepped on Biddle's hand. He stifled a groan of pain into the snow beneath his face and returned to his unit unscathed.
In the morning, U.S. forces destroyed two German tanks that Biddle had spotted the night before.
He was dispatched to serve as a scout again the following day.
As recounted in the 2003 book "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty" by Peter Collier, Biddle was advancing toward an open field when he saw 13 enemy soldiers. Biddle emptied two clips from his M-1 rifle at the Germans, killing them all. Shortly afterward, he found a 14-year-old in a German uniform roped to a tree -- presumably so he couldn't run away.
A soldier behind Biddle shouted for him to shoot the teenager. Biddle spared the boy and instead took him prisoner.
On Oct. 12, 1945, Biddle stood eye to eye with President Harry S. Truman during his Medal of Honor presentation on the White House lawn, according to Collier's book.
After he left the Army, Biddle spent 26 years at what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs in Indiana.