Fort Bragg unit to recognize Medal of Honor recipient
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 1, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Bragg’s Warrior Transition Battalion will be re-dedicated to a Korean War hero on Friday as the unit kicks off a month of events to highlight the work it does for veterans and the Fort Bragg community.
Officials will unveil a new plaque honoring the late Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Rodolfo “Rudy” Hernandez during an opening ceremony for Warrior Care Month, an initiative begun by the Department of Defense nearly a decade ago.
The battalion will host an open house after the 9 a.m. ceremony. Later this month, it will host yoga and art events, a wheelchair basketball tournament and a job fair.
The Warrior Transition Battalion complex was first dedicated to Hernandez in 2013, months before he died after a battle with cancer. He died in December 2013 at age 82.
Hernandez, who lived in Fayetteville from 1980 until his death, received the nation’s highest award for valor after he cheated death on a battlefield in Korea.
Lt. Col. Phillip B. Brown Jr., the commander of the Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion, said the plaque will help highlight Hernandez’s service and inform visitors and soldiers of his legacy.
The son of a California migrant farm worker, Hernandez was honored by President Harry S. Truman during an April 1952 ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
A year earlier, Hernandez — serving with Company G, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team — suffered what was believed to be a mortal wound when he was struck in the head by shrapnel as his unit fought off a North Korean assault.
Armed only with grenades and a bayonet, Hernandez single-handedly charged into the approaching enemy soldiers, halting the enemy advance and spurring his fellow soldiers to attack and repel the assault.
Hernandez was found the next day near death, surrounded by the bodies of six enemy soldiers who had been killed with the bayonet. He carried the wounds of that battle, including scars from being stabbed in the face, for the rest of his life.
Dennis Small, the deputy commander of the Fort Bragg WTB, said Hernandez was being honored for his wartime heroics as well as for his efforts with fellow wounded veterans in the decades following his military service.
Hernandez served as a counselor to wounded veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, working for what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is buried at Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake and is the first Medal of Honor recipient to be buried in a North Carolina veterans cemetery.
Brown said Warrior Care Month is an opportunity to educate the community about what the WTB offers. The unit blends adaptive reconditioning and occupational therapy to help injured and wounded soldiers return to duty, he said. Or it prepares them for their post-military careers.
“It’s our chance to really engage with Fort Bragg,” he said.
On Nov. 15, Brown said, the WTB would host yoga in the complex’s garden at 10 a.m. and open an art exhibit in the same location at 1 p.m. The art on display will include paintings and photography by current and former WTB soldiers.
On Nov. 16, the unit will host a wheelchair basketball tournament starting at 8 a.m. at the Ritz-Epps Physical Fitness Center on Fort Bragg.
The events are open to the public.
On Nov. 20, the unit will host an education and entrepreneur fair at 9 a.m. at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center. The event is for current and former WTB soldiers and their families.
Brown said the WTB at Fort Bragg is growing — it is now home to more than 200 soldiers, after having a little more than 160 in June of this year.
That growth can be traced in part to a higher operational tempo of local soldiers training and deploying overseas, Brown said.
But with the growth, he said, it was also important to show the community how the WTB serves not only soldiers, but the larger mission as it prepares some troops to return to service.
“We are a readiness provider,” Brown said.
He urged members of the Fort Bragg community to learn more about the unit’s efforts and its soldiers during Warrior Care Month.
“The biggest thing is come by,” Brown said. “Come see it and meet the soldiers. Be as involved and as invested as you can.”
At Fort Bragg, the WTB has helped more than 8,000 soldiers recover from injuries and illness over the past decade. As a whole, the Army has cared for 72,000 such soldiers. In both cases, about 45 percent of the soldiers have returned to duty.
The Fort Bragg unit remains one of the Army’s largest after the force shrank the number of WTBs from 25 to 14 in recent years.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at email@example.com