Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Last year, I wrote about the Medal of Honor and recounted the stories of two honorees who served in World War II (KENSUSKINREPORT, Sept. 22, 2007). In 2005, after Congress passed a law to review denials of the medal in some situations to Blacks, Jews and Hispanics because of racial or religious bias, the medal was given to Tibor (Ted) Rubin, a former Hungarian refugee who experienced World War II first
hand and was a hero in the Korean War. The medal had been denied Rubin on several previous occasions and was finally given to him based on numerous affidavits from GI's who served with him and owed their lives to him.

Officially, the Medal of Honor is given by Congress to a member of the armed services who, while serving in the Armed Forces, distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States. Many of the awards are given posthumously, and there are today only about 100 Medal of Honor winners surviving.

Tibor Rubin grew up in a small town in Hungary with his five brothers and sisters, the son of a shoemaker. When the German Nazis overran Hungary, Rubin and his family were forcibly transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. His parents and younger sister were later moved to Auschwitz where they were murdered. After more than a year of terror, Rubin was liberated by the Americans in May, 1945. He was 15 years old.

He came to the U.S. in 1948 where he worked in New York as a shoemaker and then as a butcher. He attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army to help ezpedite his path to citizenship, but was repeatedly turned down because he spoke little English. However, in 1950, he finally passed the language test with some help from two friendly fellow test takers.

In June, 1950, the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and the U.S. found itself once again at war. By July, PFC Rubin was on the frontlines in Korea with I Company, Eighth Regiment, First Cavalry Division, where he was unfortunate enough to be under the command of Sgt. Artice V. Watson who was described by other soldiers as a vicious and sadistic anti-Semite. As such, according to detailed affidavits submitted by at least 10 fellow (non-Jewish) soldiers who served under Sgt. Watson, he consistently "volunteered" Rubin for the most dangerous patrols and missions in the hope of getting him killed. But Rubin, leading a charmed life, confounded those efforts, as he had earlier confounded the German Nazis.

According to his comrades, on one such mission, Rubin secured a route of retreat for his company by single-handedly defending a hill for 24 hours against waves of enemy soldiers. In the overnight hours, he ran from foxhole to foxhole, lobbing grenades at the enemy to give the illusion of a large company of American soldiers. The result was that the enemy held back until the Americans could retreat to safety.

For this and other acts of bravery, Rubin was on three occasions recommended for the Medal of Honor by two of his commanding officers. Both ordered Sgt. Watson to begin the necessary paperwork to secure the medal for Rubin, but both were killed in action soon thereafter.

According to Cpl. Harold Speakman in a notarized affidavit, "I really believe, in my heart, that First Sergeant Watson would have jeopardized his own safety rather than assist in any way whatsoever in the awarding of the medal to a person of Jewish descent."

The story did not end there. In late October, 1950, huge numbers of Chinese troops crossed the border into North Korea to attack the Americans. Most of Rubin's regiment was wiped out, and the severely wounded Rubin was captured, but not until he had manned a .30 caliber machine gun all night and throughout the next day after the three previous gunners were killed. He finally ran out of ammunition, but had slowed the enemy advance. He was forcibly marched to a POW camp. Despite his wounds, he helped carry stretchers of GI's unable to walk, and who would be killed if left behind. He spent 30 months in the POW camp where he was able to utilize survival skills learned in the German concentration camp.

Most of the GI's in the camp were in despair and gave up hope. Not Cpl. Rubin however. According to a fellow POW, Sgt. Leo A. Cormier Jr., "No one wanted to help anyone. Everybody was for himself. Almost every evening, at great danger to himself, Rubin sneaked out of the camp, past the enemy guards, to steal food from Chinese and North Korean gardens and supply depots, stuffing flour and vegetables into his pants and beinging it back to the Americans. Cormier wrote, "He shared the food evenly among the GI's...He also took care of us, nursed us, carried us to the latrine...He did many good deeds, which he told us were mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition...He was a very religious Jew, and helping his fellow men was the most important thing to him." He mixed the flour with water and force fed fellow prisoners and even picked lice off the bodies of GI's too weak to do so for themselves. Rubin was credited with saving the lives of as many as 40 of his fellow POW's.

The Chinese, when they learned that Cpl. Rubin was a native Hungarian, offered on several occasions to repatriate him to Hungary, then a Soviet satellite, and give him a house and a good job. Rubin's response, loosely translated from Hungarian was "No freakin' way!"

Rubin's philosophy of life is instructive, "If you feel hate for your fellow man, you'll only hurt yourself." What impressed me was that Cpl. Rubin's actions were in reckless disregard of the consequences to his safety, risking his life numerous times. Perhaps he had a death wish, but the irony is that he survives today, at age 79. His comrades assumed that he had died until he showed up at a reunion in 1980. After that his wartime buddies campaigned for years to eventually secure the award for the man who had saved their lives.

I'll conclude with these words from former President George H.W. Bush, a wartime hero himself, "The Medal of Honor epitomizes the very best of what America stands for and honors the gallant individuals who have received it. Thses special people represent the very heart and soul of America...These gallant souls in their heroism and their humility epitomize the nobility of service to country and of service above self...Americans for all times will treasure the gifts that these brave warriors have given to all of us so selflessly."




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