Tibor Rubin's extraordinary Medal of Honor

On May 3, 1945, elements of 11th Armored Division of the famed 3rd Army liberated Mauthausen Concentration Camp, arguably the worst death camp the Nazis had.  Among those starving, crying liberated was a 15-year-old Jewish boy, Tibor Rubin, of Paszto, Hungary.  He had miraculously survived from the age of 13 in a place where Jews were told they would never get out alive.

From the Jewish Virtual Library, Tibor Rubin:

When Mauthausen was liberated by Allied troops, Rubin, then 15, swore that he would repay his liberators by going to the United States and fighting against the Germans. "I was going to go to the U.S. and join the U.S. army to show my appreciation ... It was my wish to fight alongside them," Rubin said.

There were a lot of liberated who made the same promise, but none took it as far as Rubin.  He did get to the United States in 1948 and joined the Army in 1950, after failing a first test due to poor English.  It is believed he had help from other test-takers when he passed on his second attempt.

He went to Korea as a rifleman to fight for his adopted country, just as he promised himself he would.

From the National WW2 Museum:

Part of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division, Rubin was under the leadership of a sergeant who fellow soldiers described as a "vicious anti-Semite," and who regularly gave Rubin the most dangerous assignments. During one, Rubin defended a hill solo for 24 hours, holding off a steady flow of North Korean forces. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor by several officers, but his sergeant refused to put the paperwork in. Affidavits from men in his unit swore that the sergeant was purposefully trying to get Rubin killed and denied numerous recommendations for the Medal of Honor and other valor awards due to Rubin's religion.

That site gives a glimpse of what happened that should have gotten him the Medal of Honor but lacks certain details about the extent of his heroism.

According to MOH Museum:

During his service, his unit was called to retreat to the Pusan Perimeter, but Corporal Rubin was assigned to stay behind to keep open the Taegu-Pusan Road, a vital link used by withdrawing American troops. During the ensuing battle, overwhelming numbers of North Korean troops assaulted a hill defended solely by Corporal Rubin. He alone defended the area for 24-hours, single-handedly slowing the enemy advance and allowing his fellow soldiers to withdraw successfully.

Had he been a gentile, there is no doubt he would have gotten the Medal of Honor for that action alone.  Is there any greater action of going above and beyond any soldier could have taken?  No.  Any gentile in that unit would have gotten the much deserved medal.

His eventual Medal of Honor did include that incident and a future one — something that should have stood alone, except for a single sergeant.  That sergeant was Master Sergeant Peyton, who hated not just Jews, but anyone who was not white.

From Forbes:

Unfortunately for Tibor Rubin, after the Korean War began in June 1950, he had no way to avoid Master Sergeant Peyton. "From the first day they made camp, Peyton continually 'volunteered' him for one dangerous detail after another," writes Cohen. "The master sergeant repeatedly called on Tibor to scout the enemy, check the rear line for infiltrators, patrol forward lines and stand guard over the company vehicles. Tibor soon grew accustomed to the sound of Peyton hollering, 'Get me that f-ing Jew!'"

Despite the known hatred and clear attempt to get him killed, Rubin never refused an assignment.  He put his life on the line without complaint each time he went out.  His gratitude for the country that liberated him was greater than anything a hateful master sergeant could do to him.

Tibor Rubin (YouTube screen grab).

His unit eventually pushed north to Unsan, where he was captured and became a POW at Camp Death Valley.  It was there that he did two remarkable things.

From Coffee or Die:

The Chinese offered Rubin an out — to be returned to Hungary. Instead he chose to stay behind alongside his fellow soldiers, once again a prisoner at the hands of an enemy regime. At night, he snuck out from under the barbed wire fence to retrieve food from the guards' stash; he took vegetables from their victory garden, boiled snow to make soup out of leaves and grass, and found medicinal plants to craft a potion for the sick. He did whatever it took, nurturing his fellow prisoners back to health — he was a doctor, a therapist, and a caregiver, changing roles for the needs of his friends.

In these incredible acts of bravery, he not only refused to be released to Hungary, but escaped every night to bring life-saving provisions to the wounded.

According to MOH Museum:

He broke into the enemy's food storehouses and gardens, risking 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 P.O.W. camp. Corporal Rubin remained in the camp for 30 months.

His Medal of Honor citation and other sources state he saved up to forty lives, but there is no way to be certain exactly how many he saved beyond those forty.  His actions alone would have brought hope to others in less serious condition, keeping them alive as well.

Despite the clear acts of heroism that should have resulted in two Medals of Honor for two distinct actions, as Rubin was deserving, he eventually received a single citation that included both.  It was not until 2005 that he received his much deserved Medal of Honor, ten years before he died of natural causes.

The president was George W. Bush, who said something that truly summed up who Tibor Rubin was ever since being liberated by Americans.

According to MOH Museum:

In the years since Abraham Lincoln signed into law the bill establishing the Medal of Honor, we have had many eloquent tributes to what this medal represents. I like Ted's description. He calls it "the highest honor of the best country in the world." And today, a grateful America bestows this award on a true son of liberty.

Is there any more eloquent way of calling Rubin exactly who he was than a true son of liberty?

The citation for his Medal of Honor includes both events that should have brought about two medals, which has happened on several occasions.

From the National Museum of American Jewish Military History:

Citation: 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 complete its withdrawal successfully. 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 forty 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.

Bob Ryan is a writer who has an MBA.  He is an American Christian Zionist who staunchly supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  He has been a weekly blogger at the Times of Israel since 2019.

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