Valor of nine selectees inspires others during Korean War
WASHINGTON -- Nine Soldiers who served in the Korean War will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor during a March 18 ceremony at the White House.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops invaded the South, marking the start of the Korean War. The communist forces quickly overwhelmed the smaller number of U.S. and South Korean defenders, forcing them into a small pocket in the southeast, known as the Pusan Perimeter.
In the first two weeks of September 1950, the outcome of the battle was in doubt as communist forces conducted a major offensive, knowing this might be their best chance to take complete control of the Korean peninsula.
The United States, along with the U.N. Nations, sent as many troops to the beleaguered defenders as they could muster, which wasn't as many as they would have liked since they had demobilized in the aftermath of World War II.
Among the reinforcements arriving from Japan were Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division, including Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena and Sgt. Eduardo C. Gomez.
On Sept. 3, 1950, at 1 a.m., the third day of the battle; the North Koreans attacked Gomez's unit, Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, at Tabu-dong on the outermost line of the Pusan Perimeter.
Enemy forces, equipped with Soviet T-34 tanks, had his company outgunned, outnumbered and pinned down.
Gomez realized that if his men were to survive, the tanks would need to be destroyed. So he volunteered to do it.
Despite exposure to direct enemy fire, he managed to board one of the tanks, pry open the turret hatch and lob a grenade inside, killing the crew.
While returning to his company, he was wounded in his left side but refused to be evacuated, manning a .30-caliber machine gun.
As his unit withdrew in the face of overwhelming enemy numbers, he remained in position to slow the communist advance. Only when his company set up a new defensive position did he withdraw and seek medical aid.
MASTER SGT. PENA
The next day, the enemy again attacked at night. At around 11 p.m., in the vicinity of nearby Waegwan, Pena's unit, Company F, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, was attacked by a much larger force.
Because of the darkness and fog, the two forces came within just a few yards of each other. Facing superior numbers and point-blank fire, Pena's company withdrew.
Realizing that his men were leaving their defensive positions and would be exposed to enemy fire, Pena led a successful counterattack to regain their position. However, the enemy continued to attack and Pena's men were running out of ammunition.
Realizing their position was hopeless, Pena manned a machine gun to cover his Soldiers' withdrawal until the early hours of the following morning when his position was finally overrun and he was killed.
The battle for the Pusan Perimeter continued until U.S. forces under the leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed at Inchon, near the South Korean capital of Seoul, on Sept. 15.
The landing threatened to cut off North Korean forces engaged against the Pusan Perimeter and they melted away from there and elsewhere, enabling U.N. forces to advance far into North Korea.
On Oct. 25, some 200,000 Chinese forces crossed into North Korea to bolster their communist ally and prevent U.N. forces from overrunning the peninsula. At this point, enemy forces again threatened to take the peninsula through numerical superiority.
The U.N. advance was halted and the communists forced a slow withdrawal of allied forces.
Cpl. Joe R. Baldonado's unit, Company B, 187th Airborne Infantry Regimental Combat Team, was in North Korea in the hills near Kangdeng, when his unit came under heavy attack at 4 a.m., Nov. 25, two days after Thanksgiving.
He and his men were up against many of those Chinese who'd crossed the Yalu River into the North.
Within two hours, his platoon had used up most of their ammunition and their position on the hill was in imminent danger of being overrun.
Baldonado placed his machine gun in an exposed position at great risk to himself where he could get a clear shot at the advancing enemy. His plan was effective, causing the enemy to fall back in disorder.
Realizing that this one stubborn machine gunner was causing them to lose their momentum, the communists concentrated all their firepower on Baldonado. But he wouldn't budge, continuing his lethal fire, despite grenades exploding all around him.
For about an hour, the enemy made repeated attempts to storm his position, but they were rebuffed each time with appalling casualties. The enemy finally withdrew at daylight, but not before a grenade landed near Baldonado, killing him instantly.
Baldonado and other brave Soldiers like him helped slow the enemy's advance and by the beginning of 1951, the battle lines were in the general proximity of the present-day demilitarized zone, where they'd pretty much be for the remainder of the war.
Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz, Company L, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, encountered heavy fighting in Yangpyong near Seoul on March 6, 1951.
In a desperate attempt to break the war's stalemate, enemy forces launched two suicide attacks against the company's lines.
When Kravitz's machine gunner was killed, he seized the weapon and poured devastating fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants. However, the enemy exploited a breach on the left flank, threatening the company's position and causing them to withdraw.
However, Kravitz decided to remain behind, providing protective covering fire as his company withdrew, despite pleas for him to join them.
He caused the enemy to concentrate their fire on his position, thereby enabling his unit to survive, regroup and eventually retake the position.
When Kravitz's comrades returned, they found his lifeless body beside his machine gun with enemy dead piled high in and around his emplacement.
The following month, the Chinese ordered some 700,000 troops into North Korea, in what became known as the Chinese Spring Offensive.
MASTER SGT. NEGRON
Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron, of the 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, came under heavy enemy attack during that offensive on April 28, 1951, near Kalma-Eri.
The outnumbered Soldiers were forced to withdraw as the enemy overran their position.
But Negron refused to fall back, preferring instead to stay in his exposed position where he could draw a bead on the approaching forces.
As the enemy came closer, Negron hurled grenades at them, halting their attack. He remained in his position throughout the night until his unit could regroup and launch a counterattack.
When fellow Soldiers rejoined him, they found 15 enemy dead just a few feet from his position.
The Chinese Spring Offensive continued into May 1951.
Pvt. Demensio Rivera's unit, Company G., 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, came under attack on the night of May 22 and 23, 1951, near Changyong-ni.
Rivera, an automatic rifleman, held his forward position tenaciously, although exposed to intense fire. He delivered a continuous and devastating fire at the approaching enemy until his weapon became inoperative, whereupon he employed his pistol and grenades and stopped the enemy just a few feet from his position.
During a renewed attack, he fought the enemy hand-to-hand and forced them back.
Finally, as an overwhelming number of the enemy closed in on him, he killed four of them with his only remaining grenade. Since the enemy was in such close proximity, Rivera was severely wounded by the same explosion.
His fearless performance was credited in successfully repulsing the enemy's attacks.
From August to October 1951, U.N. forces engaged the communists in the last major offensive. The battles, known as Operation Nomad-Polar, took place in central Korea near the city of Kumsong.
Sgt. Jack Weinstein's unit, Company G, 2nd Battalion., 21st Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, participated in the operation. On Oct. 19, 1951, Weinstein's platoon secured a strategic hill during fierce fighting that left many wounded.
Before they could consolidate their defenses, the numerically superior enemy launched a fierce counterattack to regain their positions. Because many were wounded, a withdrawal was ordered.
Weinstein volunteered to stay behind and provide those leaving with covering fire as the enemy closed in. He killed six and then ran out of ammunition, but refused to withdraw.
After running out of ammunition, he gathered enemy grenades from the dead soldiers and hurled them at the approaching forces, despite being wounded himself.
He was still fighting when a friendly force arrived and drove the enemy off the hill.
For the rest of the war, which ended in July 1953, very little terrain was taken by either side, but the fighting continued, and casualties on both sides mounted.
One of the largest battles of the war, the Battle of Old Baldy, occurred in the summer of 1952. Old Baldy itself is the name for the highest point on a strategically important ridge in the center of the peninsula. At certain times, Old Baldy was occupied by enemy forces and at others by U.N. troops, such was its value.
On Aug. 1, 1952, Sgt. Victor H. Espinoza's unit, Company A, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, was trying to regain control of Old Baldy from the Chinese, who had dug in at the crest.
Espinoza led the attack. However, intense enemy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire from strongly fortified positions caused their attack to falter.
Despite the obvious danger to himself, Espinoza rushed forward in a daring assault, firing his rifle and hurling grenades at the enemy. He succeeded in silencing a machine gun emplacement and killing its crew. He continued up the treacherous slope, neutralizing a mortar and wiping out two bunkers, killing all inside.
After running out of bullets, he continued throwing grenades, killing more of the enemy in their trenches.
As he continued to advance up Old Baldy, he entered a tunnel on the crest where enemy troops had taken cover. He brought with him some explosives, which he detonated, killing everyone inside and enabling his unit to secure Old Baldy.
Unfortunately, the see-saw battle for Old Baldy would continue into 1953, almost to the end of the war.
Within days, the Chinese had regained the heights of Old Baldy and on Sept. 21, 1952, Pvt. Miguel A. Vera's unit, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 38th Inf. Reg., 2nd ID, attacked.
Although wounded in an earlier engagement, Vera voluntarily joined in the attack, scrambling up the exposed rocky slope. With just 20 yards between them, the intensity of the enemy artillery and mortar barrages and cross-fire from automatic weapons and grenades forced them back.
Vera voluntarily stayed behind to cover their withdrawal, pouring crippling fire into enemy emplacements until he eventually was killed.
The Korean War was sometimes called the "Forgotten War," but these and other heroes would never be forgotten by those who served with them.
The U.S. Army will induct the Medal of Honor recipients into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes in a March 19th ceremony. Interested media should contact Army public affairs at 703-697-2163 or Tatjana Christian at Tatjana.firstname.lastname@example.org.