b. 14/04/1931 Colton, California. d. 21/12/2013 Fayetteville, North Carolina.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 31/05/1951 near Wontong-ni, Korea.
Hernandez was born April 14, 1931, in Colton, California, to David and Guadalupe, who emigrated from Mexico. At age 8, he left school to join his parents in picking crops in fields across the state to help provide for himself, his brother and two sisters.
By the time Hernandez was a teen, World War II had ended and many veterans had returned home, so there weren’t many options for work. To continue bringing in money for his family, he joined the Army when he turned 17. He volunteered to be a paratrooper and was eventually assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Inevitably, his unit was sent to Korea.
On May 31, 1951, Hernandez’s platoon was defending its position on a hill near Wontong-Ni, Korea, when they were attacked by a much larger enemy force. Heavy artillery, mortar and machine gun fire led to casualties and low ammunition, so the soldiers were ordered to withdraw.
Hernandez was bleeding profusely from a head wound caused by artillery shelling, but he wasn’t ready to give up. He continued firing at incoming enemy soldiers until a ruptured cartridge made his rifle stop working. Hernandez later said that between the inoperable gun and his head wound, he thought that was the end of the road for him. So, instead of running for cover, he jumped out of his foxhole, threw several grenades and rushed the enemy.
Armed with only that inoperable rifle and a bayonet, Hernandez killed six enemy soldiers before the combination of grenade shrapnel, bullet wounds and bayonet stabs knocked him unconscious. But thanks to his actions, the enemy’s advance stalled, which led American troops to counterattack and retake their lost ground.
Once the area was again secure, the corporal’s men found him surrounded by dead enemy fighters. A New York Times article said that Hernandez was so badly wounded that his comrades initially thought he was dead and started to put him in a body bag before one of them finally saw his hand moving. Hernandez later learned that the head wound he suffered had sheared off part of his skull, paralyzing his right side. A bayonet had also almost taken off his jaw. He had to relearn how to walk and speak, and learn how to write with his left hand, as his right hand was permanently damaged.
Hernandez was still recovering when he received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman at a White House ceremony on April 12, 1952, two days before he turned 21. By then he was able to speak a few words again, but his brother, Gilbert, escorted him to the ceremony to help him walk and communicate.
Hernandez spent years going in and out of hospitals, but his injuries didn’t slow his drive. He studied business administration for 3 years at Fresno City College in Fresno, California. He got married, had three children and became a counselor in Los Angeles for the Veterans Administration, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hernandez retired from the VA in 1979 and moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, near the base where he began his Army career. Despite never regaining the use of his right arm, he took up golf and played into his 70s.
Hernandez’s first marriage ended in divorce, but he remarried in 1995. He and his second wife, Denzil, were together until he died on Dec. 21, 2013. He was 82.
Cpl. Hernandez, a member of Company G, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. His platoon, in defensive positions on Hill 420, came under ruthless attack by a numerically superior and fanatical hostile force, accompanied by heavy artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire which inflicted numerous casualties on the platoon. His comrades were forced to withdraw due to lack of ammunition, but Cpl. Hernandez, although wounded in an exchange of grenades, continued to deliver deadly fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants until a ruptured cartridge rendered his rifle inoperative. Immediately leaving his position, Cpl. Hernandez rushed the enemy armed only with rifle and bayonet. Fearlessly engaging the foe, he killed six of the enemy before falling unconscious from grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds, but his heroic action momentarily halted the enemy advance and enabled his unit to counterattack and retake the lost ground. The indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty clearly demonstrated by Cpl. Hernandez reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.
BURIAL LOCATION: SANDHILLS STATE VETERANS CEMETERY, SPRING LAKE, NORTH CAROLINA.
SECTION 4D, PLOT 200.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.