Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Saint in Hell

There come stories at the right time to lift you up and make you feel great to be a human being. Even in the darkest times when men act like beasts, there are greater men who dare to stand up and say no to becoming beasts. Even if such defiance might cost them their lives. Here is one such story.

To look at 79-year old Ted Rubin nowadays, one would come face to face with a slight soft-spoken man with earthy wit and graying hair. Beneath this unassuming fa├žade, beats the heart and soul of a heroic and just man. He has personally suffered evil and deprivation, but still remains a good man that you would be honored to talk with even if you did not know his story. And what a story it is.

Tibor Rubin was born in the country of Hungary on a shetl in 1929. At the age of 13, Tibor was swept up in a maniac’s hatred along with his whole family. At Mauthausen Camp in Austria, an SS officer told Rubin and the other inmates this, “You, Jews, none of you will ever make it out of here alive.” For Rubin’s family that proved true as Tibor lost his parents and his sister before American soldiers liberated the concentration camp in 1945. Those soldiers thoroughly impressed a young Tibor, even when survivors were clothed in rags and looking like living skeletons those soldiers took care of them. To such an extent this impressed Tibor that he vowed he would emigrate to the United States and become a citizen and serve in the military that saved him. Three years later Tibor made it to the United States and enlisted as soon as he mastered enough English.

So on June 25, 1950, a young Tibor ‘Ted’ Rubin found himself assigned to a US Army unit based in Okinawa. As the North Koreans steamrolled through South Korea, Rubin’s unit was called up. Rubin’s commander told him since he was not a citizen, he could be posted somewhere like Japan. Showing the courage that would earn Ted much respect in the future, Rubin refused and elected to go to Korea to fight with his buddies. His wish was granted and soon Ted and his buddies found themselves fighting the North Koreans and pulling back to the Pusan Perimeter.

During the dark early days of the Korean War, it seemed all the news was bad as American and South Korean forces were pushed further and further south until all that was held of the Korean peninsula centered on the city of Pusan. The 8th Cav was one of those units fighting that bitter with-drawl, the 8th was also Rubin’s unit.

At one point, to cover the with-drawl of his battalion Ted Rubin was ordered to hold a hill against the enemy alone. Not only did Ted hold that position for 24 hours, he killed a multitude of the enemy. "I figured I was a goner. But I ran from one foxhole to the next, throwing hand grenades so the North Koreans would think they were fighting more than one person." That courageous stand by Rubin earned him his first nomination for the Medal of Honor but the paperwork got lost and then during the course of the Korean War many who wrote recommendations were killed. But Ted Rubin was not out of the hero business after this event, in fact his greatest feat of being a true human being was just ahead.

"The whole mountain let loose," said Rubin. 3rd Bn of the 8th Cav found itself surrounded by the Chinese and being attacked from all sides at Unsan. Soon there was only one machine gun left to the defenders and three men had already died manning it. So Rubin steped up and manned the machine gun to keep fighting and protect his friends. Soon the unit is over-run and a wounded Rubin is then herded with the other POWs north to a place that would be called “Death Valley.”

During the following years, Tibor ‘Ted’ Rubin waged a war to keep his fellow prisoners alive. Drawing upon what he learned at Mauthausen, he proceeded to teach other prisoners survival skills like making soup from grass. He would also remind them of what they had waiting for them at home, family and friends. As Rubin knew from personal experience, hope is one of the greatest weapons to stave off surrendering to despair and its handmaiden death. And then to top all of the crazy things Rubin was already doing that risked certain death, Ted took to stealing food from the guards’ garden and giving the looted food to others. Some estimate, by his various acts, Rubin was responsible for saving at least 40 people in the prison camps he was in.

Then suddenly the very hot Korean War was over with an Armistice signed between the belligerent parties. And Ted found himself repatriated back to the United States in the first prisoner swap. Ted settled down in New York, became a citizen, married, and proceeded to raise two children. Thoughts of medals and his heroism in Korea became memories as none of the paperwork for the four Medal of Honor recommendations reached where it needed to be for action.

There the whole story would lay except for a piece of legislation directing the Dept. of Defense to review its records for any possible Medal of Honor candidates that had been missed. One of those candidates was Tibor ‘Ted’ Rubin. On Sept. 23, 2005, President George W. Bush presented to Rubin the Medal of Honor on behalf of a grateful nation.

Today, we remember the mother, father and sister that Corporal Rubin lost to an unspeakable evil. We admire the determination of a young man who sought to repay
his American liberators by following in their footsteps, and we recall the selfless acts that gave his comrades strength and hope in their darkest hours.

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.


Mike's America said...

I saw his story on the military channel. How great it was that he had so much respect for the U.S. military that he became one of their finest heroes.

What a good nation we must be to attract such people to our shores. I hope we never lose that spirit of service and dedication.

Anna said...

I hope we never lose it either Mike. I saw that show Feats of Valor and the interview with Rubin. Like many other Medal of Honor winners, it was never about Ted. Ted kept putting his comrades first. He came across as a wonderful human being whom I would be honoured to know.