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This Day in History: Demensio Rivera's Bravery in Korea

On this day in 1951, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Pvt. Demensio Rivera initially received a Distinguished Service Cross, but that Cross was upgraded to a Medal in 2014.

His granddaughter was surprised when she got the call about his Medal. She’d had no idea that her grandfather was a war hero. She barely knew portions of her extended family at all.

“I didn’t know anything, not even his name,” Army Sgt. Ashley Randall explained.

Rivera’s bravery had come on the night of May 22-23 in Changyongni, Korea, when his platoon’s outpost was assaulted in the middle of the night.

A dense fog added to the chaos of the enemy attack. Battles such as these, a local newspaper would soon report, were “jam-packed with the events that make men heroes.”

Rivera was determined to hold his forward position, despite the heavy fire. He delivered “continuous and devastating fire” with his machine gun, as his Cross citation describes. His Medal citation adds that he was firing with “deadly accuracy.”

Then his weapon jammed.

Rivera threw down the machine gun, picking up a pistol and a handful of grenades. He resumed his tenacious defense of the position. The enemy was stopped within a few feet of him, but they soon renewed the attack. Rivera apparently engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a few of them at this juncture, forcing the enemy back once again.

By this time, Rivera had used all his ammunition. He had one grenade left. He knew what he had to do.

“Private Rivera pulled the pin from his last grenade and calmly waited for the enemy to reach his position,” his Medal citation concludes. “As enemy troops leaped inside his bunker, Private Rivera activated the grenade with the full knowledge that it meant his almost certain death.”

Amazingly, Rivera survived. Friendly forces would find him severely wounded with the dead or dying bodies of four enemy around him.

“We thought Rivera was a goner,” Lt. Edward W. Rhodes later described, “but we took him back and put some blood back into him and sent him to a hospital. I’ve just heard that he is getting along all right and is improving every day. Believe me, I can use men with guts like that.”

Rivera survived the war, but he wouldn’t live long enough to receive his Medal. Instead, his granddaughter received the Medal for him nine years ago. She was beaming with pride as she took it.

“Knowing what he did,” she said, “that just shows that you shouldn’t ever give up in whatever you do.”

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