By Paul Sung
“War,” as Director of the MIT Security Studies Program Barry Posen stated, “is a blunt instrument. It is enormously cruel.” The Korean War was certainly a cruel conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. Many soldiers accomplished valiant feats during this extraordinary time, but very few of them received the Medal of Honor. To express our gratitude to our veterans and those who fought in the Korean War, here are the stories of six Medal of Honor recipients.
Ronald Eugene Rosser
Rosser was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 24, 1929. He joined the Army in 1946 and left in 1949. After his brother’s death in the Korean War, Rosser re-enlisted in May 1951 and went to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. He then joined the 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division as a forward observer. During his service in Korea, Rosser served in combat with every line company in his regiment as well as the Dutch battalion and the Turkish Brigade. His greatest feat was during his assignment with Company L of the 38th Infantry Regiment on January 12, 1952. He charged the enemy positions that day with only a carbine and a grenade and ran up Hill 472 three times. During the conflict against enemy forces, Rosser assaulted three bunkers, crossed open terrain several times to carry the away injured, and single-handedly killed at least 13 of the enemy. As a result, he received the Medal of Honor from President Truman on June 27, 1952.
Robert E. Simanek
Simanek was born in April 26, 1930, in Detroit, Michigan. He served as a private for Company F, 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines in the 1st Marine Division as a radio operator. Six months into his deployment in Korea, his 16-man patrol unit took a wrong path to an outpost near Panmunjom, almost behind where Chinese forces were waiting on August 18, 1952. While Simanek and his comrades fought off the enemy in a trench line, two grenades came their way. Simanek managed to kick one away but he threw himself on top of the second grenade in order to save his comrades. Despite his injuries, Simanek helped evacuate his comrades and killed assailants who closed in to attack. He also maintained radio communications to direct air, tank, and artillery fire against Chinese positions. President Eisenhower rewarded him the Medal of Honor on October 27, 1953.
Ernest E. West
West was born in Russell, Kentucky, on September 2, 1931 and raised in the Methodist Children’s Home in Versailles, Kentucky. He served in the Company L of the 14th Infantry Regiment in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division. While his squad neared an enemy outpost, North Korean soldiers attacked from a hill. After a grenade rolled between his legs and wounded his lieutenant, West assumed control and ordered a withdrawal. He then carried his lieutenant to safety and evacuated two other wounded comrades. West killed three enemy soldiers and lost an eye in the process. As a result of his valor, he received the Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower on January 29, 1954.
Dewey was born on November 16, 1931, at Grand Rapids, Michigan. He joined the Marines at age 19 without completing his education at Muskegon high School and became a corporal for the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines. Like Simanek, Dewey fought in Panmunjom against Chinese forces and threw himself between his comrades and a grenade. The grenade landed after a medic was treating him from a leg injury by a previous grenade explosion. He was the first man to receive the Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower on March 12, 1953.
Thomas Hudner, Jr.
Hudner was born on August 31, 1924, at Fall River, Massachusetts. He served in the Navy onboard the USS Leyte together with Jesse L. Brown, the first African-American aviator to serve in the Navy, who was also the first African-American naval officer to be killed in the Korean War. Hudner and Brown were flying on a search-and-destroy mission in the Chosin Reservoir when Brown was downed by enemy forces. Seeing Brown trapped by the cockpit, Hudner crash-landed his plane within a hundred yards of Brown’s location and attempted to pull Brown free. He unfortunately had to leave Brown, but he received the Medal of Honor from President Truman on April 13, 1951, for his attempted rescue. Since then, Brown and Hudner’s families remained close. On top of receiving the Medal of Honor, Hudner also has an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named after him.
Hiroshi H. Miyamura
Miyamura, who was known by his nickname “Hershey,” was born in Gallup, New Mexico, on October 6, 1925. As a second generation Japanese-American, Miyamura showed his allegiance to the U.S. and trained with the U.S. Army’s 442nd Japanese-American Infantry Regiment. Then he rose to the rank of Corporal for the U.S. Army in Company H of the 7th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division. On April 24, 1951, Miyamura and his 15 soldiers held a defensive line near the Imjin River against thousands of Chinese soldiers. Despite being injured by a grenade, he killed more than 50 soldiers before he ran out of ammo, lost consciousness, and woke up as a prisoner of war for more than two years until his release on August 21, 1953. On top of receiving the Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower on October 27, 1953, Miyamura also has a high school and scholarship program renamed after him.
What We Should Emulate
In a book that is cult classic and famous among U.S. military leaders, an old soldier gave words of wisdom to a junior officer that would become a staple passage that many would routinely quote: “Joey, if it comes to a choice between being a good soldier and a good human being – try to be a good human being.” As soldiers, the living recipients of the Medal of Honor during the Korean War were legendary for the amount of casualties that they instilled against their enemies. More important, however, was their willingness to endanger themselves to save their comrades. Not every American can become a soldier who kills, but there are far more opportunities to emulate self-sacrifice for the betterment of other people. We should take up those opportunities as often as we can.
*according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and various news stories, Medal of Honor recipients mentioned in this piece are listed as alive as of November 13, 2017. Though, regrettably, Thomas Hudner, Jr. passed away on November 13, 2017. Our thanks and condolences go out to his family.
Paul Sung is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from the Massachusetts National Guard’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.