The only Medal of Honor winner to come from Baton Rouge now has a statue in his honor.
The statue of Army Sgt. Homer L. Wise was erected on Dec. 18 in Veterans Park in his adopted hometown of Stamford, Conn.
The ceremony concluded eight years of work by James L. Vlasto to honor the World War II hero. Sculptor Janice Mauro, of Redding, Conn., created the larger-than-life-size bronze statue.
Wise was born on Feb. 27, 1917, in Baton Rouge and grew up in the Central area. He did not finish school, but, at age 14 and with the Great Depression in full swing, sought work in Texas before returning to Baton Rouge and enlisting in the Army in 1941.
While stationed at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, Mass., in 1942, Wise met Madolyn DiSesa, of Stamford. They became engaged before Wise went overseas, first in North Africa, then into combat at Salerno, Italy. He was known as “Blackie” to the men of Company L, 142nd Infantry Regiment. The actions on June 14, 1944, near Magliano, Italy, that earned him the American military’s highest award for heroism are described in the medal citation:
“While his platoon was pinned down by enemy small-arms fire from both flanks, he left his position of comparative safety and assisted in carrying 1 of his men, who had been seriously wounded and who lay in an exposed position, to a point where he could receive medical attention. The advance of the platoon was resumed but was again stopped by enemy frontal fire. A German officer and 2 enlisted men, armed with automatic weapons, threatened the right flank.
“Fearlessly exposing himself, he moved to a position from which he killed all 3 with his submachinegun. Returning to his squad, he obtained an M1 rifle and several antitank grenades, then took up a position from which he delivered accurate fire on the enemy holding up the advance. As the battalion moved forward it was again stopped by enemy frontal and flanking fire. He procured an automatic rifle and, advancing ahead of his men, neutralized an enemy machinegun with his fire.
“When the flanking fire became more intense he ran to a nearby tank and exposing himself on the turret, restored a jammed machinegun to operating efficiency and used it so effectively that the enemy fire from an adjacent ridge was materially reduced thus permitting the battalion to occupy its objective.”
Wise received the Medal of Honor on Nov. 28, 1944, by which time he also had earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
Two months later, Wise was honored in Baton Rouge with a banquet held by the labor union to which he belonged, and Wise rode on horseback in the Baton Rouge March of Dimes Parade on Jan. 27, 1945. On Feb. 12, he married DiSesa, and they settled in Stamford. Wise was honorably discharged six months later, but re-enlisted in the Army in 1947, retiring in 1966.
Wise was one of six honorary pallbearers when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1958. Otherwise, Vlasto said, Wise drew little attention to his heroism. His only child, Jeffrey, only found out about his father’s Medal of Honor at age 12 when a friend told him.
Wise died of congestive heart failure at age 57 on April 22, 1974, and two years later Stamford named a park in his memory. Jeffrey died in 1990, Madolyn in 2002.