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Rudy Hernandez: Paratrooper who was awarded the US Medal of Honor for a single-handed bayonet assault in Korea


Rodolfo "Rudy" Hernandez was a US Army paratrooper who received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly carrying out a bayonet assault on enemy forces during the Korean War.He was a 20-year-old corporal when, despite being severely wounded, he leapt from his foxhole and ran toward North Korean troops, armed with nothing more than a bayonet.

He was a member of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team when his unit was hit by an artillery barrage at around two in the morning in May 1951. Amid the rain-soaked darkness on what troops called Hill 420, he and his foxhole mate fired on enemy positions, even after both were wounded by shrapnel. "I was struck all over my body by grenade fragments," Hernandez told Larry Smith for the 2003 book Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words. A piece from an artillery shell pierced Hernandez's helmet, shearing off part of his skull. Then his rifle jammed.

"I was hurt bad and getting dizzy," he recalled. "I knew the doctors could not repair the damage. I thought I might as well end it now."

Although his commander had ordered a retreat, Hernandez summoned the will to keep fighting, later saying he was driven forward by his "inner man". He fixed a bayonet to his jammed rifle, threw six grenades, then charged out of his foxhole, shouting, "Here I come!"

"Every time I took a step," he recalled, "blood rolled down my face. It was hard to see." He killed six enemy soldiers with his bayonet, his one-man assault making the North Koreans to retreat and allowing his Army unit time to regroup and launch a counterattack.

Injured all over from grenades, bullets and shrapnel, Hernandez collapsed on the battlefield. His body was found the next morning, surrounded by the corpses of the troops he had killed. He appeared to be dead, but a medic noticed some movement in his fingers. He was evacuated to a series of military hospitals and did not regain consciousness for a month.

He had to learn to walk and talk again and could speak only a few words when he was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Truman in 1952. He spoke with difficulty for the rest of his life and never regained full use of his right arm, but later worked for the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles, counselling other wounded veterans.

Rodolfo Hernandez, soldier: born Colton, California 14 April 1931; twice married (three children); died Fayetteville, North Carolina 21 December 2014.

© The Washington Post