That Greatness Of Spirit
Covering the story of this Medal of Honor recipient is doing much more
than a profile of a heroic American. This is the reunion of two old
friends, both of them foot-soldiers from the U.S. Army, and both
decorated with the highest military honors this county bestows.
I am working with Col. Jack Jacobs (on the left), a recipient of the
Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. Jack was here in Orange
County, California to interview another Medal of Honor soldier, 78
year-old Tibor Rubin (on the right), who served in Korea. Rubin had
spent almost three years in a Nazi concentration camp before he was
liberated by Gen. George Patton's troops. It was then he vowed to
"become a GI Joe, 'cause that is what we call the American Army."
As Jack Jacobs asks Rubin about his time in combat, the tone is very
matter-of-fact. These men take no pleasure in remembering similar
shared experiences of escaping death while friends and fellow soldiers
lost their lives.
It's fascinating to hear Rubin describe times in combat: defending a
hill in Korea, for example, as his unit retreats. His Staff Sergeant
had ordered him to defend the hill alone. The sergeant had called Ted
a "stupid son-of-a-bitch Jew" but promised to come back and get the
corporal in two days. It was Rubin's first combat mission, and here is
how it is described by the Medal of Honor Foundation:
"Rubin single-handedly defended the hill for over 24 hours. He
incapacitated or killed a staggering number of Korean troops, and
slowed the remaining force to a standstill. His regiment made a
successful retreat, but his sergeant never came to relieve him."
It was that kind of war for Rubin. A sergeant who assigned him to the
most dangerous missions, and never processed the paperwork from the
commanding officers who recommended the young Hungarian immigrant for
Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor.
The day before this video shoot, when Jacobs and I were talking about
the upcoming interview, Jack told me that decorated combat veterans
often do not elaborate much on their time under fire. He was right.
When Jacobs asked Rubin several times how he was able to persevere
against such difficult odds, Rubin had two basic replies, "I was young
and strong and somehow I made it, I don't know how," and, "You know, I
never want to be a hero, I don't know what really a hero means."
I got a good idea of what being a hero is during my visit with Ted
Rubin. To quote again from the Medal of Honor Foundation:
"The sergeant continued to send Rubin on impossible missions. Each
time he not only survived, he fought brilliantly, and each time the
sergeant deliberately withheld his commendation."
On another hill without a name near the border with North Korea, Ted
Rubin's days in combat ended. He ran through enemy fire to fill in for
a machine-gunner and his mate who had been killed. Rubin was wounded
in the leg, arm and chest but kept firing the machine gun until he ran
out of ammunition. He was taken prisoner. He was held for two and a
half years in a POW camp where the Red Cross was not allowed to visit.
Food was scarce, water was dirty and infected, and there was no
medicine. It's a time Rubin doesn't like to talk about.
Here's the exchange between Rubin and Jacobs about how the young
corporal would break out of prison camp - not to escape, but to steal.
"I try to steal everything I can."
"You stole? You stole from who? From the Chinese and the North Kor.."
"From the Chinese."
"..and you stole what, food?
"Corn. Barley. Millett, ah vegetables, whatever I can."
"And then what did you do?"
"I come back.. and then I give it to all the rest of the guys, because
they was my brothers that needed.. that didn't have food."
Here, Rubin pauses a moment.
"It was very hard."
That Rubin, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, had to deal with
anti-Semitism in the Army, even as he served with honor, is a deep
injustice. It took 55 years for the Army and the leadership in the
Pentagon to recognize his heroism. When President George Bush
presented Rubin the Medal of Honor in 2005, there was only one brief
reference by the president to the long wait: "By awarding the medal of
Honor to Corporal Rubin, the United States acknowledges a debt that
time has not diminished."
The last photo-op of the day was snapshots of the two Medal of Honor
recipients. I got to take the picture, which I hope will take it's
place among the many of a truly remarkable life. Jacobs and Rubin wore
their medals, and the smiles of men who have performed at the highest
level in the worst of circumstances.
I am in awe of this man.