On this day in 1952, a Marine engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Amazingly, Robert Simanek survived his experiences in Korea and would personally receive his Medal from President Dwight Eisenhower in October 1953.
Simanek was the third son in a family of four boys. His two older brothers had already served in World War II, and the two younger brothers naturally signed up to serve in the Korean War soon after that conflict began.
Pfc. Simanek had been serving as a radio operator in Korea for about six months when trouble hit.
The young private had been patrolling in front of American lines most of the night of August 16-17, but sleep wasn’t in his future. Early on August 17, he was dispatched to Outpost Irene, near Panmunjom.
“This annoyed me a little bit,” he later smiled, “because I’d been on all night and they had to use me again without any sleep.”
As the American group approached Irene, they ran into the enemy. Soon Simanek and 5 others were pinned down in a trench as the Chinese hurled fire their way.
Simanek was still operating the radio, but now he began firing with his pistol as well.
“I realized that the situation would be pretty good if I could pop up and fire a .45 and try to outgun a burp gun or two,” he described, “and then pop back down and crawl 10 yards away. And it worked pretty good.”
Unfortunately, his weapon jammed just as two Chinese grenades landed in the trench. Simanek was able to kick one away, but the other grenade would present problems. He rolled on top of it, trying to press the grenade down into the dirt with his legs.
The grenade exploded, severely wounding Simanek’s legs and hips.
Miraculously, though, Simanek survived—and he kept going. His legs were all but useless, but he maintained radio communications and kept directing tank and artillery fire for two hours. Finally, the Chinese retreated.
Of the six Marines, two were able to carry one badly wounded Marine away from the outpost. The other three, including Simanek, each had to retreat on their own, despite grave wounds. Simanek’s legs couldn’t have been much help as he crawled and dragged himself down the hill. Yet he made it.
It would be six months before Simanek was able to walk again, but he was standing on his own two feet when Eisenhower awarded him a Medal of Honor in October 1953.
“I used to talk to the high schools,” Simanek later said, “and I told them of course that this is the finest country in the world. That maybe you should all try to get away from it sometime in your life to know how good it is to be a citizen of the United States. But I also told them that no matter how much we love our country, we fought for each other. We never thought about it as self-sacrifice as much as the necessity to do your job so that the group could succeed. Any sacrifices we really made were for each other.”
Yet another American hero, giving his all.
James H. Willbanks, America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan (2011)
Medal of Honor oral histories (Robert Simanek; Korean War)
Medal of Honor citation (Robert E. Simanek; Korean War)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (2d ed. 2006)