By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2013 – An Army veteran who earned the Medal of Honor for heroic actions while stationed with G Company, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team near Wontong-ne, North Korea, May 31, 1951, died Dec. 21 in Fayetteville, N.C.
The son of a migrant working family in rural California, U.S. Army Cpl. Rodolfo “Rudy” Hernandez enlisted at age 17 and was stationed in Germany before being sent into battle, where 54,200 American Soldiers perished in the Korean War.
Hernandez and his platoon were among the first to be sent to battle on Hill 420.
His 11th and final airborne operation involved Hernandez jumping from just 600 feet above ground, into the enemy’s lair behind the North Korean capital.
“We jumped into the enemy … Before the jump I felt like John Wayne,” Hernandez reported in a 2004 interview to The Point, a U.S. Army newspaper in Germany.
“By the time my chute opened, I was already on the ground,” Hernandez said. “The first round that went over my head was artillery. Afterward I felt this big,” he said, holding his fingers about an inch apart. “I knew they meant business.”
But hope seemed to diminish along with the beleaguered platoon’s ammunition, as enemy fire — mortars, heavy artillery and machine gun bullets — rained on the soldiers, causing multiple casualties.
According to Hernandez’ Medal of Honor citation, he and his comrades were forced to withdraw, but, wounded in an exchange of grenades, he continued to deliver deadly fire into the ranks of his onrushing assailants until a ruptured cartridge rendered his rifle inoperative.
With a head wound and a jammed rifle, Hernandez scrambled to put his bayonet in his rifle and bounded toward the enemy. His charge stymied their advance and enabled his platoon to regain the lost ground.
Hernandez killed six enemy troops before losing consciousness after a grenade exploded near his head and blew off part of his skull. Thirty days later, he would awaken in a military hospital temporarily unable to speak or use his arms and legs.
In a White House ceremony, President Harry S Truman presented Hernandez the highest military decoration for combat heroism on April 12, 1952.
Hernandez spent his post-war years working for Department of Veterans Affairs, retiring in 1980. He is survived by his wife and three children from a previous marriage.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleAFPS)
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