Today: Oct 21 , 2018

Corporal Tibor Rubin visits the VA Medical Center in Prescott

02 May 2008  
Corporal Tibor Rubin, in town as part of the Days of Remembrance Event, visits the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott.
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Sarge shakes Corporal Tibor Rubin's hand.

Seated in a wheelchair, Corporal Tibor Rubin was pushed into a recreation room at the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott. Immediately upon entering the room, he started to comfort the residents with a greeting, "You are going to be alright," Rubin said with encouragement. "Don't give up."

Rubin is the only Holocaust survivor to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor and the men were anxious to shake his hand. After Rubin went around to each patient, one of the men asked Rubin to take a few minutes to share his story. Rubin agreed immediately; this was an audience of men that understood in ways that most civilian audiences cannot. So, the men circled around Rubin in their wheelchairs, and listened attentively with faint smiles that seemed to reflect their own war memories.

Rubin's Story

Rubin started simply, in broken English. "I wasn't born here. I wasn't a citizen. I was in a German concentration camp. And the United States Army liberated me out of the concentration camp. And we was nothing but stinky bones, sickness everywhere. And they were so nice to us, I was only 15 years old, and I promised I going to become a GI Joe. Because that's the way we used to call you boys."

Three years after his liberation, he tried to follow through on that promise, "So what happened when I first come to United States I then tried the recruit station and I told the sergeant, I said, 'Hi.' and he said, 'Can I help you, young man?' and I said, 'Yes. I want to become a GI Joe.' He said, 'You're in the right place.'"

"But, I don't speak good enough English - that was a long time ago - so he gave me the test, and I only think there was an A,B,C,D. So, I have to tell you one thing, I don't even understand a word. But I figure I might as well, take a chance and I would pick an A and a B and a C - I flunked it. I flunked it two times."

Rubin took the test a third time, and this time he passed, with the help of some friends . Rubin continued, "And then I was in Okinawa. Okinawa, you know, under Japan. Then, what happened then, my captain called me, see - Tibor is my first name - 'Tibor, I have good news for you and bad news. Which one you want to hear first?' I said I want to hear the bad one. He said, 'The War is in North Korea who invaded South Korea and our regiment, which was the 29 Infantry Regiment, have to go.' But, he told me, that's the bad news. The good news is that -" Rubin noticed one of the men trying to get closer. He stopped his story to request, "Help him up a little bit. He is a nice young fellow. God bless you, try to get better. Don't give up."

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Sarge listens intently to Corporal Rubin's story.

"Thank you, Sir," the patient said. His name is Alex Sowers, but everyone calls him Sarge.

One of the VA staff members explained, "Sarge was in three wars. He was in WWII, Korea and Vietnam."

Rubin nodded in admiration, as he said with a smile, "Boy, he's a - I take off my medal."

The staff member replied, "I thought you'd want to know that."

Sarge didn't say a word, but smiled faintly.

Rubin continued, "Anyway, I tried my very best. What happened - my Captain, a very nice man. He said, 'Tibor, I already have orders, you don't have to go to Korea.' I said, "Why not?" He said, 'You are not a citizen, you wasn't born here, you are only in here a few months in the country.' So, I told him why I want to go because of the men who liberated me that was the finest, and I wanted to grow up and become a GI Joe. So, he said, 'I cannot do nothing.' I said, you must know something. He said, 'I didn't tell you anything. You go down to headquarters and the capital...'"

Rubin went to headquarters, and made his pitch. "So, at night Seargeant see me and say, 'Yes Tibor.' I said, 'I have to talk to somebody, I want to volunteer to Korea.' He said, 'Something wrong with you?' I said, 'No. I want to go. Because I have all the paper, I went through basic training, you know, everything.' So, the guy said, 'I am going to see the Commander,' which he did. And they let me go to Korea."

Once in Korea, Rubin encountered the anti-Semitism he had hoped to leave in Hungary. "So, I went to Korea and I was there two days, I had had a Sergeant, but this was different. And I met the guy, a handsome looking, good soldier, that was my first Sergeant I was going to meet. I did know one thing. He don't like Jews. He don't like blacks, he don't like nobody. But, he was very religious." Rubin lifted his hands, still bewildered to this day.

"So, what happened there, the third day, he put me out in a field over there in Korea and he told me the regiment have to move back to a farther place because the North Koreans were very strong and we don't have enough troops there. Thank God, we have the Air Force, the best in the world. And he said, 'You guard the movement.'"

Rubin obeyed orders, despite the situation that left him in. "So, what happened there, all of a sudden, I realized, I am by myself. So, you know, I figured, that you know, it is not a joke. So I start to praying, 'Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Somebody have to get my a** out of here.'"

The entire room laughed. Rubin smiled, too, as he picked up the story again, "But, in the meantime, I have to do something. So I went to all the foxhole and was loaded down with the hand grenade, and put all the clips in the carbine and the M1 so I figured if they're coming, I'm going to run back and forth, so they don't know only one guy over here. So, the North Koreans at 1 o'clock in the morning, and they used to holler, 'Bonzai, Bonzai!' You know, that's their victory, like the Japanese. So, I don't have to tell you, I was so scared, I couldn't even crap my pants. So, I said, 'What the h*** am I going to do here by myself?' So, anyway, what happened, I was running one end, the other end, it was a small hill, and everywhere, boom and then boom, I couldn't even remember what I throw, boom and ba bingo," Rubin paused for a moment. The men were intent on the story, they didn't take their eyes off him.

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Corporal Rubin prayed for deliverance.

"So, in the meantime," Rubin said. "I heard a lot of crying and screaming, so it looked like somebody got killed. I said, I never kill anybody, and I come from a very religious Jewish family, 'Thou shall not kill.' Here I am killing people, even the North Koreans was mean son-of-a-guns, you know? But it was somebody's father, somebody's husband, somebody's son, who knows. So, anyway, I was up the mountain 24 hours. I was soaking wet, I prayed so much, the Lord tell me, He said, 'Please don't, it's too much.' Anyway, what happened there, thank God we have the Air Force, was excellent Air Force. If not for the Air Force, they would drove us in the sea. So, what happened there finally after three days, I figured out Sergeant not going to come take me out because he left me there, maybe somebody killed me. So, I went down there finally around five miles back, I met my company. First Company Calvary Regiment."

"So, there was the Sergeant, he said, 'Look at Rubin, he look like he just took a Turkish bath.' Because I was soaking wet," Rubin explained. "So, I say to him, 'I'd like to see the Captain.' He said, 'What you want to see the Captain for?'"

Rubin was firm, "I said, 'So I can report on what I did.' So, finally, he let me do it, I was surprised. When I told the Captain, what I did over there, I said I don't see everything. The captain thought, battle fatigue - how you call it? shell-shocked or something. I said I'm all right. He said I will send you a few days to take a break. I said, "I don't need a break." So then they come with their health drugs and a bunch of good [unintelligible] there and they come where I was. And day time, you know the Koreans was hiding, but they have very good snipers. You know, sharp shooters. So what happened when we went there, I noticed what I did, there were the bodies. I was sick for a few weeks."

Rubin's genuine sorrow was evident even now, and his audience nodded slightly. They had felt such remorse at one time, they understood. "And the captain come to me and he said, 'Tibor, you just earned that Congressional Medal.' And I felt better then. So he pulled me aside, and he told me, 'Tibor, in a war, if you don't kill them, they kill you. If they don't kill you, you kill them. That's what war is. But don't forget one thing, fighting in South Korea beats the heck out of fighting in United States.'"

"So, I got my first Medal of Honor recommendation," Rubin said. "But that Sergeant, he didn't send it in. So, anyway, then, you know, he told me that, 'You know, you talk very funny.' I don't have a Southern accent, so... He said, 'Where are you from?' I said, 'I from New York.' He said, 'Don't lie to me. You don't come from New York.' So, I told him, 'I born in Hungary, I am a Jewish fellow. You know?' And he said, 'You're lying again. No Jew would be coming here. They're not crazy. They're back in [unintelligible] making money. None of the Jews that stupid.' I said, 'Yes, you're looking at one of them.' So, anyway, I become his 'volunteer'. Everytime he need a 'volunteer' he send for me. And here is what he said, 'Get me that ?$#@#3 money-talking Hungarian Jew.' Pretty soon I forget my own name!"

As Rubin recounted his story, he did not sound bitter, just matter-of-fact, "So, everytime they send me on volunteer details. I was his volunteer... Anyways, he send me more and more and more places. And I was, even I went to the Concentration camp, but war is war, you know. Different. In the concentration camp they shoot you and that is the end of the story. So, what happened, I was praying to the good Lord, and saying, 'Could you get me some guts?' - you know, guts? Because I had to show that man we Jews can try, we Jews can die, we Jews can get wounded and maybe even become a prisoner of war, which you don't want to be..."

"So, anyway, to make the story short. I ended up put up for six different times the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not even Oliver Murphy can beat that. Then I was recommended three times for the Distinguished Service Cross, three times the Silver Star, I have two Purple Hearts. So, that makes Sergeant York even look a little bit like a schoolboy," Rubin said with a laugh.

"But, the facts remain, I joined the Army to show my appreciation to the United States," Rubin said. "If not for them, I wouldn't have been liberated. And the men under General Patton, unbelievable, they were so nice. So, it took me three years to come to America, they put me in a children's camp because Hungary was a enemy of United States. Hungary, Italy, Germany and Japan, that was the Axis... It was hard to get here. So, finally I get here, I tell you, I never been in a beautifuller country. I had shalom. You know what shalom means? Peace. I could move where I want to, I don't have to worry about the SS or the Gestapo or who going to beat me up. And I never see a country like this. The most beautiful, the best country in the world. So I was fighting for the best country in the world, I was a GI Joe, and I try my best."

Rubin's story continued again, "So, anyway, what I want to say, I get captured. I was two and a half years a Prisoner of War in North Korea. So, what I learned in the concentration camp I tried to use it. I steal everything from the Koreans and the Chinese. I used to tie my GI bands and I fill it up. If I get caught, they beat the s*** out of you and they shoot you. And I did that, so I also saved 40 men alive in the POW camp. You know?"

 

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The men listened to Corporal Rubin's story intently.

The men were obviously touched by both the story and the storyteller. Rubin said, "So what I try to tell you, I just was a country boy, you know, it took me 50 years to get the medal. You know why? I have the wrong last name. Anyway, what happened, it took me 55 years because of the wrong name, 'Rubin'. So, finally, they come, the Congressmen, they come up with a bill and President Bush signed it, 'You have to look at the Jewish war veterans because some of them maybe deserve the Medal of Honor.' So, they have 900 names from the second World War and the Korean War. So, President Bush signed it, he's a very fine man. A wonderful man, a beautiful First Lady. He signed it, so they cut it down to 300. Then they cut it down to 138."

"So, then what happened, my wife told me - she's from Poland - she say, 'Tibor, Teddy, you crazy, you cannot fight it no more. Because number one, you wasn't born here, number two, you wasn't a citizen, and you got a lousy last name, 'Rubin'.' So I told her I have to fight, because I was a victim. And I told her, one day I'm going to take you to the White House and I think you're going to say, "Oh my God, take me to that May Company and get a new dress." And that's happened," Rubin said with a wide smile.

Rubin Receives the Medal of Honor

"So they call me from the White House, and I always sleep late, and my wife say, 'Teddy, get up. Somebody calling you from the White House.' I say, yeah, they call me so many times... So, anyway, it was a President advisor, and he say, 'Mr. Tibor Rubin, Sir, the President just signed the bill, you going to be getting your Congressional Medal of Honor.'"

At that point, the men erupted into applause. Rubin looked pleased, and went on with his story, "I didn't believe that, so I told that nice man - I met him later, I say, 'Listen, all my life, they call me a schmuck, and then I become a country boy. Now you tell me I'm going to have the Medal of Honor?' He says, 'Mr. Tibor Rubin, Sir, you no more a schmuck. You're no more a country boy. He say, everybody have to call you Sir.' Which country can happen that - a schmuck, a country boy and a Sir? You know that - United States."

Rubin stopped to explain the presence of the man, pushing his wheelchair, "So, they sent out a couple of guards - Robert is here, my body guard. So, I always ask the Lord, I say, 'Please, I have two body guards, when You going to get me a body?'"

"So, anyway, what happened there, I went to the White House, and a General come to me, he was a big fellow, I hardly reach his belly button. And he say, 'Corporal Rubin, Sir, could I ask you something?' I say, 'You can ask me anything.' He say, 'Why you have to wait 55 years?' I say, 'Well, it could take a little while to tell you, but I make it sure because cousin George really wanted to give the Medal.'" Rubin grinned. "I called him Cousin George. I said, 'It is like this - And next time I join the United States Army, my name going to be MacDonald or Smith. No more Rubin.'"

Rubin gave a brief review, "So, to make the story short, what happened here, I do not know how to explain. I wasn't born here. Never been to a country like this. The most beautiful country in the world. You know, and then to get the Medal of Honor from Mrs. Bush and President Bush. And he put the Medal on me. And he did one thing he never did that before. He come behind me, and he put his arm around me. And I went to the First Lady, I always had a lot of guts, no brains, but guts - I went to the First Lady, Mrs. Bush, the First Lady Bush, and I asked her, 'If you don't mind, I give you a few hugs and a few kisses.' So, I gave her four kisses four hugs."

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After Corporal Rubin finished speaking, the men gathered around for photos.

"And I have to tell you one thing, it was one of the best experiences I ever had. Then - this was a civilian ceremony," Rubin explained. "Then we go to the Pentagon, for the military service. And the Army, Chief of the Army, you know, a Four-General made a beautiful speech about me and then the Secretary of the Army, then they showed that my picture when I was 20 years old, when I was supposed to get the Medal. I was a good looking guy, and people asked me what happened, and I get shell-shocked. So, anyway, then you know what they do, they give me the Medal of Honor, you know, they already have my name, they put my name in the Hall of the Heroes."

As Rubin thought about his life's story, it was clear that he was still surprised by it all. "So, what I try to tell you, a Jewish fellow, a country boy, a schmuck, and now somebody in the Hall of Heroes... So anyway, it's a beautiful story. But I must find the guy, when I find him, I have to show the United States; Number one, that the Jews can fight. Number two, I must show my appreciation, I want thank them, what the soldiers did for me. I was a kid, I was 15 years old and I was liberated. And then, I loved America. You know, I never eat that good. And I come on the boat, I gained 15 pound, I eat like a horse. So, what I try to tell you, the only thing I can tell you, we all are lucky because we are living in the most beautiful country in the world."

The men in the wheelchairs came closer, they shook Rubin's hand, they didn't want to let go. Sarge wheeled up right beside him, as photos were taken with Rubin and this special group of men. Men who love their country, men who had sacrificed, men who had deeply lived their patriotism.

"This story go much longer," Rubin said. "It wasn't so easy. But, going from a concentration camp to the North Korean POW camp and Chinese, it wasn't a picnic. But I always used to pray to the Lord, I prayed to Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, 'Somebody get my a** out of here." And Somebody did."

More Information

The United States Army has created a web page in honor of Corporal Tibor Rubin. It includes videos of Corporal Rubin telling his story, the White House Medal of Honor Presentation, the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon and more.

Photo Gallery

Click on a thumbnail to view a larger image. Prescott eNews would like to offer a special thank you to the VA and the men for allowing us to use their photos.

Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder and Editor of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She asks a lot of questions! In her spare time, she loves photography, cooking and hanging out with her family.