Rodolfo Pérez “Rudy” Hernández was awarded the Medal of Honor for a ferocious one-man counterattack on enemy forces during the Korean War that left him so badly wounded, his own men thought he was dead when they reached him.
Hernández, one of eight children in a farmworker’s family in Colton, California, joined the U.S. Army at age 17 in 1948. He was a corporal in the 187th Airborne on May 31, 1951, when his platoon was attacked by a larger force of Chinese troops while defending Hill 420 near Wonton-ni, Korea. Hernández and many of his fellow soldiers were under a hail of machine gun, mortar and artillery fire, but he continued to fire at the
onrushing enemy until a cartridge in his rifle ruptured. Hernández then charged and engaged enemy soldiers in brutal hand-to-hand combat with his bayonet. He killed six enemy soldiers despite receiving bayonet and bullet wounds and was only stopped when a grenade blew away part of his skull and left him unconscious.
“I took my rifle and fixed the bayonet, and then I yelled, ‘Here I come!’”
Hernández’s fearless counterattack allowed his fellow soldiers to regroup and retake the hill. When they found him, he was surrounded by dead enemy soldiers and appeared dead himself. But as they prepared to put him in a body bag, they saw his fingers move. Hernández woke up in a military hospital a month later, unable to talk and paralyzed on his right side.
“I did it in gladness, because it’s an honor and a privilege to serve our country”
On April 15, 1952, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. By then, he could speak a few words, but needed help communicating and walking; he never fully recovered from his injuries, instead learning to perform tasks with his non-dominant left hand.
After leaving the Army, Hernández married, had three children and became a counselor for the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles. He moved to North Carolina in retirement and died at age 82 in 2013. He is interred at the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina.