Jewish GI receives Medal of Honor, finally
By Tom Tugend
article created on:
LOS ANGELES (JTA)—A Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and Korean War veteran received the Congressional Medal of Honor Sept. 23 in a ceremony at the White House that was 55 years late.
Tibor Rubin, known as "Tibi" to his Hungarian childhood friends and "Ted" to his army buddies, was born in Paszto, a Hungarian shtetl of 120 Jewish families, one of six children of a shoemaker.
At age 13, Rubin was transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was liberated two years later by American troops. His parents and two sisters perished in the Holocaust.
He came to the United States in 1948, settled in New York and worked first as a shoemaker and then as a butcher.
"I was a handsome dog in those days, and the ladies who worked with me always brought me lunch," he reminisced fondly.
In 1949, Rubin tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, as an assumed shortcut to American citizenship. He also hoped, to attend the army's butcher school in Chicago.
He first flunked the English language test but tried again in 1950 and passed, with some help from two fellow test-takers.
Rubin, now 76, does not know precisely which of his wartime feats in Korea met the Medal of Honor criterion of "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an enemy armed force."
He guesses it might have been the time he secured a retreat route for his company by single-handedly defending a hill for 24 hours against waves of North Korean soldiers.
Or it might have been any of the other actions that earned him four recommendations for the Medal of Honor by his commanding officers or fellow soldiers, two times for the Distinguished Service Cross, and twice for the Silver Star.
Had he received all those awards, he would have become the most decorated American veteran of the Korean War. What he actually got were two Purple Hearts for combat wounds and a 100 percent disability.
The long delay in his receiving the medal has been attributed to anti-Semitism, beginning with a first seargeant in Korea who Rubin's fellow solidiers have attested was a vicious anti-Semite who consistently "volunteered" Rubin for the most dangerous patrols and missions.
Rubin's bravery during such missions so impressed two of his commanding officers that they recommended him three times for the Medal of Honor.
Both officers were later killed in action, but not before telling the first sergeant, Artice Watson, to initiate the necessary paper work to secure the medals for Rubin.
Some of the men in Rubin's company were present when Watson was ordered to put in for the medals, and all are convinced that he deliberately ignored the orders.
In an interview three years ago, Rubin said, "I want this recognition for my Jewish brothers and sisters. I want the goyim to know that there were Jews over there, that there was a little greenhorn, a little shmuck from Hungary, who fought for their beloved country."
"Now," Rubin said with a self-deprecating laugh, "It's Mister Shmuck, the hero."