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Cpl. Tibor Rubin, in a 1950 photo.
After five decades Tibor Rubin was finally recognized today for his heroic efforts to save fellow U.S. soldiers during the Korean War. The 76-year-old former Army corporal was awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony.
President Bush bestows the Medal of Honor on former Army Cpl. Tibor Rubin.
Rubin's story is extraordinary. He survived captivity not once, but twice in his lifetime — first at a Nazi concentration camp, later as a prisoner of war in Korea.
Rubin was born to a Jewish family in Hungary in 1929. When he was still a young boy his family was forced into a German concentration camp. Most of his relatives died there. But Rubin survived — and was liberated by the U.S. Army.
He made a vow that he would join that Army — a pledge he kept in 1948 after his family moved to America. He was eventually sent to the front lines in the Korean War.
There, his never-give-in, never-give-up attitude kept his fellow soldiers alive on the battlefield and later when his unit was captured and held as prisoners of war.
At the Battle of Unsan in 1950, the soldiers of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division were surprised by a large Chinese offensive, suffering major casualties. Rubin used the last machine gun to defend a position so badly wounded soldiers could retreat.
After the battle, hundreds of members of the 1st Cavalry were taken prisoner and forced into a camp. They battled fatigue, hunger and freezing temperatures.
Food was so scarce that Rubin began to sneak out at night to steal whatever he could find — barley, millet, animal feed.
Rubin had picked up essential survival skills in the concentration camps. The most important of those lessons, he said, was that the mind could prevail even as the body suffered. He kept his fellow soldiers going through pep talks.
"You just cannot give up," Rubin says he told them. "I don't think the Lord is going to help you; he's only going to help you if you help yourself. You have to try and you have to get home somehow."
More than 1,600 POWs died that winter at Camp 5 in Korea. Rubin's fellow detainees say his actions kept at least 40 prisoners alive. Over the next decades Rubin was nominated several times for service medals, including the Medal of Honor.
But there were always problems with the paperwork. The Pentagon now says that someone in his chain of command may have stymied the process because Rubin was a Hungarian Jew.
But he says that "after 55 years, I never figured I'm going to get it, so I'm very happy."