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Airborne & Special Operations Museum display depicts heroism of Rudy Hernandez

 

Those looking to remember Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Rudy Hernandez need only walk through the doors of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville.

There, a life-sized mannequin of Hernandez is staring down visitors, bloody bayonet in hand, mouth open, eyes focused.

Hernandez, 82, died Dec. 21 at Womack Army Medical Center and his likeness has stood in the museum lobby ever since.

Hernandez's funeral is scheduled for noon Monday at Covenant Love Church. He will be buried at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake at 2 p.m. Visitation will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the church.

Museum officials, who had been planning an updated exhibit to the Korean War for more than a year, unveiled the mannequin earlier than anticipated as homage to Hernandez, who frequented the museum and celebrated his birthday there each year with other veterans of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.

Hernandez's likeness is meant to be a highlight of the updated Korean War exhibit.

Jim Bartlinski, the museum director, said the museum hopes to recreate the actions that led to Hernandez being awarded the Medal of Honor.

The soldier's likeness will be placed atop a hill, with the bodies of five North Korean soldiers scattered around him, Bartlinski said. A sixth soldier will be frozen in time, moments away from Hernandez's bayonet.

"We're trying to recreate the hill, the dead soldiers," Bartlinski said. "It's going to be dramatic."

Bartlinski said the museum hopes to have the diorama ready to unveil May 31, the 63rd anniversary of the date when a bloody and battered Hernandez stormed out of a bunker and toward a group of enemy soldiers armed only with a grenade and bayonet.

Hernandez's assault single-handedly stopped an enemy advance and spurred his fellow soldiers to counterattack.

The morning after the attack, Hernandez was pronounced dead after being found lying among the North Korean soldiers who had been killed by his bayonet.

But he was alive and would spend months in hospitals overseas and in the United States.

Those injuries are on display at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, which has placed flowers next to the mannequin.

Bartlinski said Hernandez consulted on the mannequin and selected the eyes and hair.

Hernandez helped the museum pick the right uniform and even helped with the diorama layout, Bartlinski said. He asked that the mannequin be bloodier and dirtier.

"He was very pleased by it," he said. "It made him proud to see it."

Paul Galloway is executive director of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation.

"He wasn't shying away from anything," Galloway said. "He wanted it to be accurate."

Bartlinski said museum officials were quick to pull the mannequin out of storage when they heard of Hernandez's death. The tribute will stand in the museum lobby through January at the least, officials said.

The updated Korean War exhibit and the Hernandez diorama will be permanent exhibits, Bartlinski said.

Thousands of dollars are still needed to finish the exhibit, Galloway said.

As the military pinches pennies on the heels of sequestration and other budget cuts, which still limit the museum's operating hours, Galloway said the museum would need roughly $5,000 to finish the Hernandez diorama and more to install a screen that would show a video of Hernandez describing the actions that earned him the nation's highest military award.

The foundation is accepting donations to help with the exhibit, Galloway said. They can be made in person, by mail or at asomf.org.

Bartlinski said he had high hopes the exhibit would be ready by the May 31 anniversary. But the celebration will be bittersweet without Hernandez there to enjoy it, he said.

"We really did want him to be at the opening of this exhibit," Bartlinski said. "But I'm pleased he got to see it. What a way to honor the gentleman."

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum is open under limited hours until a deal between the Army, which owns the museum, and Fayetteville is finalized.

For now, the museum is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

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