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Medal of Honor recipient who jumped on grenade in Korean War dies at 92

Marine Corps Pfc. Robert Simanek wears his Medal of Honor while discussing his actions in Korea. (US Department of Defense/Released)
August 04, 2022

Medal of Honor recipient Robert E. Simanek, who jumped on a grenade while fighting in the Korean War, passed away on Monday in Novi, Michigan, at the age of 92, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Simanek was awarded the military’s highest honor after he dove onto a grenade to protect his fellow Marines while at Outpost Irene, Korea, on Aug. 17, 1952. 

In an interview posted on YouTube in September 2011 by Medal of Honor Book, Simanek recalled the chaotic battle that day. 

“Two grenades came in at the same time, right on the spot. I managed to kick one away, but I couldn’t – didn’t think there was any time left for the second one,” Simanek said. 

After jumping on the second grenade, Simanek’s fellow Marines started to pick him up, but their efforts were thwarted when they were wounded by enemy combatants. 

“We decided right then and there that their legs were still good and that their wounds were, I think, more severe than mine, and that they should get as far as they could go down now,” Simanek said. “So, I was left there on top of that hill, just all by myself, wondering ‘what should I do next?’ I didn’t know.”

“I crawled on my hands and knees, with my feet up, which was awfully awkward just using my knees as a base,” he continued. 

A rescue team eventually found Simanek and he was transported by helicopter to safety.  

Simanek was a private first class with the 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division at the time of the battle. Miraculously, Simanek survived and received months-long treatment in various military hospitals before he was medically discharged from the Marine Corps. 

During a ceremony at the White House on Oct. 23, 1953, then-President Dwight Eisenhower awarded Simanek the Medal of Honor. 

“My grandmother was from Germany and had a very strong accent and President Eisenhower was more impressed with her, listening to her talk, than he was with me,” Simanek said with a grin. 

Born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 26, 1930, Simanek was the third of four brothers. After high school, Simanek worked for Ford Motor Company and General Motors before joining the Marine Corps in 1951. After the war, he returned to his home state where he earned a business management degree. 

“I used to talk to the high schools, I told them, ‘Of course this is the finest country in the world, and maybe you should all try to get away from it some time in your life so you can know how good it is to be a citizen of the United States,” Simanek said. 

“But I also told them that, no matter how much we love our country, we fought for each other,” he added. “We never thought about it as self-sacrifice as much as the necessity to do your job so that the group could succeed. Any sacrifices we really made were for each other.”