Updated on February 6, 2011
The “hero” title gets thrown around a whole lot these days. But since it is Veteran’s Day, I thought it appropriate to highlight a few Medal of Honor recipients through the years. What some of these men accomplished is extraordinary. If you ever have some free time, read all the MOH winners’ stories. These are some true American heroes.
World War 1
Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887 – September 2, 1964) was a United States soldier, famous as a World War I hero. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 132 others during the U.S.-led Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France.
As a devout Christian he had applied for conscientious objector status, but it was denied. With his officers all down, he took command and overran German positions and took over 100 prisoners. His sharpshooting skills were the result of frequent hunting trips used for survival in rural Tennessee.
Sergeant York was a movie starring Gary Cooper that told Alvin York’s story.
World War 2
Desmond T. Doss (January 17, 1919–March 23, 2006) was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor (Cpl. Thomas W. Bennett, an army medic during the Vietnam war, is the only other). He was a Private First Class (at the time of his Medal of Honor heroics) in the U.S. Army assigned to the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division.
Throughout training, his superiors tried their best to break him and make him quit because of his refusal to carry a weapon and his unwillingness to kill because he was a devout Christian. But when he was placed in a combat situation, he more than proved his worth. From his citation during combat on Okinawa:
He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
In a later action, he was twice wounded and while being evacuated on a stretcher he saw another man who was needing assistance. He had the litter bearers stop as he tended to the man and gave up the stretcher for the wounded man to be evacuated. A truly remarkable and brave man.
The Conscientious Objector was a documentary of his experience in the Army. Its a little slow, but does a pretty good job recounting his actions.
Tibor “Ted” Rubin (born June 18, 1929) is a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States in 1948, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Korean War by President George W. Bush on September 23, 2005.
From his citation:
While his unit was retreating to the Pusan Perimeter, Corporal Rubin was assigned to stay behind to keep open the vital Taegu-Pusan Road link used by his withdrawing unit. During the ensuing battle, overwhelming numbers of North Korean troops assaulted a hill defended solely by Corporal Rubin. He inflicted a staggering number of casualties on the attacking force during his personal 24-hour battle, single-handedly slowing the enemy advance and allowing the 8th Cavalry Regiment to complete its withdrawal successfully. Following the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the 8th Cavalry Regiment proceeded northward and advanced into North Korea. During the advance, he helped capture several hundred North Korean soldiers. On October 30, 1950, Chinese forces attacked his unit at Unsan, North Korea, during a massive nighttime assault. That night and throughout the next day, he manned a .30 caliber machine gun at the south end of the unit’s line after three previous gunners became casualties. He continued to man his machine gun until his ammunition was exhausted. His determined stand slowed the pace of the enemy advance in his sector, permitting the remnants of his unit to retreat southward. As the battle raged, Corporal Rubin was severely wounded and captured by the Chinese. Choosing to remain in the prison camp despite offers from the Chinese to return him to his native Hungary, Corporal Rubin disregarded his own personal safety and immediately began sneaking out of the camp at night in search of food for his comrades. Breaking into enemy food storehouses and gardens, he risked certain torture or death if caught. Corporal Rubin provided not only food to the starving Soldiers, but also desperately needed medical care and moral support for the sick and wounded of the POW camp. His brave, selfless efforts were directly attributed to saving the lives of as many as forty of his fellow prisoners.
Rubin was repeatedly nominated for various medals and awards, but was overlooked because of Antisemitism by a superior. According to the Washington Post, “in affidavits filed in support of Rubin’s nomination, fellow soldiers said their sergeant was an anti-Semite who gave Rubin dangerous assignments in hopes of getting him killed.”
I first heard Rubin’s story from a PBS special on MOH winners. Most people would have folded under the racism, but instead that just made his character that much stronger. Finally in 2005, he got the recognition that he truly deserved.
There are of course hundreds of stories of courage under fire. These three just happen to be ones that I am most familiar with. If you would like to read more, here is the Official Medal of Honor site. It will make you proud that this counrty has produced so many heroes and hopefully let you appreciate the sacrifice of our people in uniform.
The Medal of Honor Official Site – I noticed the following note at the bottom of this page:
This leaves just 123 living Medal of Honor Recipients, the least number since the medal was first initiated in 1861.
Originally posted November 2008. Please note – as of this new publishing date, there are now only 85 living MOH winners.