WASHINGTON – Corporal Joe R. Baldonado defended Hill 171 near Kangdong, Korea, expertly aiming his machine gun to cut down wave after wave of enemy attackers who were advancing on the squad to seize their position.
His platoon had expended nearly all of its ammunition to repel the attack and had no time to dig in as the enemy advanced to within 25 yards.
The Army infantryman held his exposed position and delivered a withering stream of fire on the advancing enemy that forced them to fall back in disorder.
But then the enemy concentrated all of its firepower on Baldonado and his gun, attempting several times to rush his position while hurling hand grenades that rained down dangerously close but failed to dissuade him from firing continuously at the enemy.
The hostile troops were driven back each time with appalling casualties, and eventually withdrew after making a final assault on Corporal Baldonado’s position.
This time the grenade landed by the machine gun, killing Baldonado instantly.
Baldonado’s remains were never recovered from the Nov. 25, 1950 battle, and when the Korean War ended in 1953, the Colorado native’s acts of bravery were ignored and he was passed over for the Medal of Honor.
But those deeds of heroism were finally recognized on Tuesday, as Charles Baldonado stood in for his deceased brother during a White House ceremony with President Barack Obama to accept the distinguished medal awarded posthumously.
Charles listened solemnly as a military aide recounted the corporal’s actions that day, and how Baldonado distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity while serving as an acting machinegunner in 3d Squad, 2d Platoon, Company B, of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment.
“Corporal Baldonado’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army,” the aide said.
Congress passed an order in 2002 that was signed into law by President George W. Bush calling for a review of certain Hispanic, Black and Jewish Americans who served in the Vietnam War, Korean War, and WWII to determine if they were passed over for the medal because of discrimination.
Baldonado, who was born in Colorado on Aug. 28, 1930, was determined to be one of 24 individuals who were wrongly denied the honor, only three of whom are still alive.
“This is the length to which America will go to make sure everyone who serves under our proud flag receives the thanks that they deserve,” Obama said.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Baldonado has received the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, United Nations Service Medal and the Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal.