During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with Marine Private First Class Robert E. Simanek, a radio operator whose unit was attacked by Chinese forces on Aug. 17, 1952.
Robert E. Simanek’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Company F, in action against enemy aggressor forces.
“While accompanying a patrol en route to occupy a combat outpost forward of friendly lines, Pfc. Simanek exhibited a high degree of courage and a resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in protecting the lives of his fellow Marines. With his unit ambushed by an intense concentration of enemy mortar and small-arms fire, and suffering heavy casualties, he was forced to seek cover with the remaining members of the patrol in a nearby trench line.
“Determined to save his comrades when a hostile grenade was hurled into their midst, he unhesitatingly threw himself on the deadly missile, absorbing the shattering violence of the exploding charge in his body and shielding his fellow Marines from serious injury or death.
“Gravely wounded as a result of his heroic action, Pfc. Simanek, by his daring initiative and great personal valor in the face of almost certain death, served to inspire all who observed him and upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
In Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, Peter Collier provides more details of the battle and its aftermath:
“Simanek jumped into the trench line with six comrades as the rest of the patrol headed back down the hill. Though wounded by an exploding grenade, he continued to operate the patrol’s radio and fire at the enemy with a .45-caliber pistol. Then his weapon jammed; he yelled to a Marine to toss him another one, but at that moment a second Chinese grenade landed in the middle of the trench. Realizing that it could kill or injure all the Marines in the bunker, he rolled over on top of it and absorbed the force of the explosion with his legs.
“Simanek tried to make his legs move but couldn’t — he was also badly wounded in the hip and knee. With the enemy becoming bolder, he asked for air support, and a P-51 swooped down to drop napalm. For the next two hours, he maintained radio communications with the command post and directed tank and artillery fire against enemy positions, while at the same time shooting at the Chinese with his pistol. The Chinese finally retreated.
“Two members of the patrol who were still able-bodied carried down one badly injured Marine. Two other severely wounded Marines managed to get down the hill on their own. Simanek crawled down from the outpost on his hands and knees.
“He was treated on board a hospital ship and then in Japan before returning to the States. It took him six months to recuperate from his wounds and to learn to walk again.
“He found out he was to receive the Medal of Honor almost exactly a year after the action near the Hook. It was presented to him on Oct. 27, 1953, by President Dwight Eisenhower. When the press asked him after the award ceremony what the president had said to him, Simanek replied, ‘Congratulations on a fine award.’ What the president had actually said was, ‘Turn around, son, and face the crowd.'”
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