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Medal of Honor: Korean War

Tibor Rubin was born in Paszto, Hungary on 18 June 1929, the son of a shoemaker. When he was 13 years old, his family tried to escape the Holocaust into Switzerland, but they were caught, and Tibor was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he remained for 14 months, until American troops liberated him. At that point, he said later, “If the Lord have me, if I ever go to America, I gonna become a GI Joe.” He did, despite his broken English (cheating on a test to do so), and landed  an infantry unit sent to Korea with a deeply anti-Semitic NCO. That sergeant frequently made  derogatory comments to his Judaism and even sent him on dangerous missions, including one mentioned in his MOH citation: to defend a hill single-handedly while covering his unit’s retreat. 

Rubin was later captured while injured in battle, and, using the knowledge he had gained in Mauthausen, did whatever he could to ensure the survival of the men around him—stealing food and medication, picking lice off fellow soldiers, and even carrying men to the latrine. A fellow prisoner, Leo Cormier Jr., said, “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.”

Four separate officers recommended him for the Medal of Honor for several acts under fire, but those recommendations were lost when the officers were killed, and the sergeant buried the paperwork. Cpl. Rubin was finally awarded the Medal of Honor in 2005, after Congress mandated the DoD to investigate racial discrimination in the awarding of medals. 

His citation reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Corporal Tibor Rubin distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period from July 23, 1950 to April 20, 1953 while serving as a rifleman with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in the Republic of Korea. 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 successfully complete its withdrawal. 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 40 of his fellow prisoners. Corporal Rubin’s gallant actions in close contact with the enemy and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.” 

His memoirs are recounted in the book Single Handed, and he is interviewed in the documentary Finnegan’s War.

Cpl Rubin died on 5 December, 2015. The Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California, as well as the public library in his hometown of Garden Grove, were named after him.

Watch interviews with Cpl Rubin here and here.

Originally published in the Chanukah 2020 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.