Patriot, Chapter 1919
was born in Lockhart, Texas in 1930.
He grew up there in the care of his grandmother and attended school
until sometime in his twelfth year.
Although very young, he did some work at the Baker Theatre in
Lockhart and learned to run the movie projector, a skill he used to
advantage in later years.
When he was thirteen, he was sent to live with his sister in San
Antonio where he continued to attend public schools for another two years.
At age fifteen he moved out on his own, lived in a
rented room, worked as a projectionist in a movie theatre and also worked in
a grocery store on weekends.
Two years later, just days after his seventeenth
birthday, Ruben visited his local Army recruiter.
His parents were not available to sign their
permission for him as an underage recruit, and he had some difficulty
convincing an adult friend and mentor to sign for him as his “guardian.”
But, Ruben finally managed to meet the Army’s
paperwork requirement, and he was inducted into the Army at Fort Sam
Houston, Texas on January 24, 1947.
Ruben was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for Basic Training and then was
shipped to Japan. He was
assigned to the 27th
Infantry Regiment, 25th
Infantry Division. The regiment
was stationed on Honshu Island at Camp Sakai, about 5 miles outside Osaka.
That became Ruben’s home for the next three uneventful peacetime
years before the outbreak of the Korean War.
He was first assigned to Heavy Weapons Company and then to Company D
and then to the Recon Platoon of Headquarters Company; and in each case he
was sought out and utilized for his experience in running movie projectors,
whether for the 16mm training films in the units or the 35mm projector used
to show post movies. Ruben was
settled comfortably into the training routine, he remembers having climbed
Mount Fuji twice with his squad, much of his personal photo album is
snapshots from that time in Japan, and in January 1950 Corporal Espinoza
reenlisted for another three years.
But, the good times ended soon after that.
The North Korean Army (NKA) invaded South Korea on June
25, 1950. The attack came as a
surprise for which the United States was unprepared.
However, the 27th
Infantry Regiment was about as well prepared as could be expected at the
time, and they were close to where the action was, so they were the first
major element of the 25th
Infantry Division to be sent into combat.
The regiment landed by ship at Pusan, Korea on July 10th and
immediately moved up to initial positions approximately 35 miles north of
Taegu to confront the advance of the North Koreans.
From July 24-29 the regiment fought a major action against the NKA 2nd
Division at Hawanggan, inflicting over 3,000 casualties, before retiring in
good order. This was the first
action in which an American unit had fought the North Koreans to a
standstill and still remained combat ready.
The United States and South Korean forces that had been
giving ground consolidated their defense in an area around the port city of
Pusan in southeast Korea, the “Pusan Perimeter,” which they successfully
defended for the next several months.
Infantry Regiment was designated as the US Eighth Army’s reserve.
From its position in the hills near Taegu it was used as a “fire
brigade” that was rushed to block the North Koreans wherever the defensive
line had been penetrated. It
was during this phase of operations that Ruben Espinoza was wounded.
“We were set up on a hill near Taegu.
Early on the morning of August 4th
I was having breakfast in the mess area when suddenly the sound of gunfire
broke up whatever was going on.
Troops started rushing around everywhere and I got back to
my unit in a hurry.
There was about a platoon of the North Koreans that had gotten
close in before our reaction force could stop them.
I was wounded by a burst of automatic weapons fire, hit in
the upper left side, hip and left arm.
I had to be picked up and carried down the hill and taken to
an Aid Station.
I don’t know what level of medical facility I was in but there were
nurses and doctors busy giving their full attention to a number of
casualties that had been brought in.
My stretcher was sort of off to one side and no one seemed
to be aware that I needed treatment too.
A Chaplain came by and said he thought I was a Korean.
Later a Medic came to take a look at me and he was saying he
thought the wound in my side might be rather minor, so I showed him my left
arm. I knew
it looked bad, because a lot of bone was fully exposed and after that I was
finally taken care of.
I overheard several of the nurses saying they had thought I
was just a kid
(I had been in the Army for over three and a half years by that time).
I wasn’t there very long.
After only about three or four hours there they determined
that I should be evacuated back to Japan.
That took a lot longer, it took two or three days before the
ship got to Yokohama.
From there I was taken to the large general hospital in Tokyo for
treatment and recuperation.
It would be over three months before I could return to duty.
In November 1950, before the Chinese came into the war, the
Infantry had reached the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and it took a long
time for me, moving by train and by truck to catch up to them.
I remember the day I got back to my unit because it was
I arrived just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.”
had been back with the Recon Platoon for about three months after the
beginning of the Chinese intervention when he received orders to return to
He spent the remaining months of his enlistment training
National Guard troops at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Sergeant Espinoza was discharged from the Army in
January 1953 and immediately enlisted in the Air Force.
After service in Alaska and at Edwards and George Air Force Bases in
California, and here at Bergstrom AFB, he retired in June 1967 with more
than 20 years active military service.
He later joined the Camp Mabry work force as a State
employee Security Officer, serving with distinction until his recent
retirement at the age of 81, and where he was honored at an awards ceremony
on February 15.
He has been a member of the Military Order of the Purple
Heart for the past twelve years, and this month
Patriot Ruben Espinoza.