Former Valley resident Rodolfo P. "Rudy" Hernandez, who earned the nation's highest honor for bravery on a bloody hill in Korea, died Saturday in North Carolina. He was 82.
Mr. Hernandez was one of at least 10 Valley men honored with the Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration.
Though he was born in the Southern California city of Colton, Mr. Hernandez grew up in Fowler and attended Fowler schools. He enlisted in the Army at 17.
Mr. Hernandez received the award for his bravery in the Korean War in the battle on Hill 420, near Wontong-ni. The paratrooper's platoon was vastly outnumbered and under attack, and most members of Mr. Hernandez's platoon retreated because they ran out of ammunition.
Despite being severely injured and with his rifle jammed, Mr. Hernandez attacked the enemy with grenades and his bayonet, killing six.
His fellow soldiers found him later lying next to the enemy he killed. They thought he was also dead -- until they saw his fingers twitch.
His injuries left him unconscious for 30 days. He had severe head wounds. He lost four teeth and his chin was crushed. He was unable to walk or talk. After many surgeries and rehabilitation, Mr. Hernandez eventually regained partial use of his right arm and learned to write with his left hand. His sister, Rose Lango of Bakersfield, said he had a permanent smile sewn on his face and never complained of pain, though she was sure it was there.
President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Mr. Hernandez on April 11, 1952 in a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden. More than 10 years later, Mr. Hernandez was a guest at the White House again at an annual military reception hosted by President John F. Kennedy.
After Mr. Hernandez returned from war and received the Medal of Honor, the Fresno community pooled its resources to build a home for him and his family. Volunteers constructed the home at 2712 Cornell Ave., blocks from the Fresno Veterans Affairs Hospital, where Mr. Hernandez frequently received treatment.
"The support he received from the Fresno community is the reason we got to keep him for 60 more years," Lango said.
After about five years of recovery, Mr. Hernandez began working as a counselor for the U.S. Veterans Administration. He also ran the concession stand at the old Fresno County General Hospital.
He and his first wife, Bertha Hernandez, moved to Los Angeles and had three children. He retired and moved to North Carolina in 1979 with his second wife, Denzil.
On Aug. 6, the Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion Complex was rededicated in Mr. Hernandez's name.
Rodolfo P. Hernandez
Born: April 14, 1931
Died: Dec. 21, 2013
Survivors: Wife Denzil Hernandez; daughters Martha Reclusaeo and Anna Weather; son Rudolfo Jr.; sisters Rebecca Lozano and Rose Lango; brothers David Hernandez, Thomas Hernandez and John Hernandez
Occupation: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company G, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team; Veterans Administration counselor
Services: Jan. 6, 2014, in Fayetteville, N.C.
Valley's Medal of Honor recipients
The central San Joaquin Valley has been home to at least 10 Medal of Honor recipients. They are:
- David E. Hayden, a Fresno resident, for bravery in France in 1918 during World War I. (He died in 1974.)
- Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, of Fresno, for bravery in the central Solomons in 1943-44 during World War II. (He died in 1988.)
- Joe M. Nishimoto, of Fresno, for bravery in Italy in 1944 in World War II. Awarded medal posthumously.
- Kazuo Otani, of Visalia, for bravery in Italy in 1944 during World War II. Awarded medal posthumously.
- Roy W. Harmon, of Pixley, for bravery in Italy in 1944 during World War II. Awarded medal posthumously.
- William R. Shockley, of Selma, for bravery in Luzon, Philippine Islands, in 1945 during World War II. Awarded medal posthumously.
- Alejandro Ruiz, a former Visalia resident, for bravery on Okinawa in 1945 during World War II. (He died in 2009.)
- Rodolfo P. Hernandez, formerly of Fresno, for bravery in Korea in 1951. (He died in 2013.)
- Jack William Kelso, of Caruthers (born in Madera), for bravery in Korea in 1952. Awarded medal posthumously.
- George Alan Ingalls, a Hanford native, for bravery in Vietnam in 1967. Awarded medal posthumously.
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