LOS ANGELES – A concentration camp survivor who joined the U.S. Army out of gratitude, fought in Korea and spent 2 1/2 years in a Chinese prisoner of war camp was awarded a Medal of Honor (search) on Friday, 55 years after his heroism.
President Bush gave the nation's highest military honor to Hungarian-born Tibor Rubin (search), 76, in the White House East Room. The medal recognizes him for overcoming dangers as an infantryman, trying to save fellow soldiers in battle and as a prisoner of war, even as he faced prejudice because he was Jewish and a foreigner.
"By repeatedly risking his own life to save others, Cpl. Rubin exemplified the highest ideals of military service and fulfilled a pledge to give something back to the country that had given him his freedom," Bush said.
The Hungarian-born Rubin, of Garden Grove, Calif., stood at Bush's side with his head slightly bowed and his hands clasped behind his back as the president extolled him, then fastened the gold medal around his neck.
"It's a wonderful, beautiful country. We are all very lucky," Rubin told reporters later.
When Rubin was just 13, he and his family were rounded up by the Nazis and taken to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. His parents and sister died at the hands of the Nazis but Rubin survived for 14 months. He was liberated by American GIs and vowed to join the U.S. Army if he ever made it to America.
After he came to this country and enlisted, he was quickly sent to Korea. There, Rubin's actions during battle and as a prisoner of war went beyond bravery to heroism, as Bush described them.
Assigned to defend a hill, Rubin single-handedly held off the enemy for 24 hours, inflicting casualties and allowing his own unit to withdraw safely. Later he was captured by the Chinese. During captivity, he risked his life to steal food for fellow prisoners, give them medical help and keep their morale up. He refused an offer from his captors to return to communist Hungary.
"Those who served with Ted speak of him as a soldier who gladly risked his own life for others," Bush said.
His acts of compassion came even though he suffered prejudice. The Army says Rubin's fellow soldiers and commanding officers recommended him for the Medal of Honor three times before, but the paperwork was not submitted because a member of his chain of command was believed to have discriminated against him.
Rubin has refused to say anything negative about the Army and his long wait for the Medal of Honor. But in affidavits filed in support of Rubin's nomination, fellow soldiers said their sergeant was an anti-Semite who gave Rubin dangerous assignments in hopes of getting him killed.
In 1988, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States urged Congress to recognize Rubin's efforts.
More than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded since the decoration was created in 1861.