Tibor Rubin, born in Hungary, has led an interesting life.
At 13, he was a concentration camp prisoner. At 21, he was fighting in Korea, on his way to becoming an American war hero. And on Saturday (7/26), the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a commemorative stamp sheet with Rubin’s picture on it.
The headshot of Rubin as a young soldier is part of a collage of 13 veterans of the Korean War, all recipients of the Medal of Honor.
On the stamp sheet, the 13 faces surround the First Class Forever stamp, depicting the Medal of Honor, America’s highest recognition for valor in the face of an armed enemy.
Rubin’s birthplace was Paszto, a Hungarian shtetl of 120 Jewish families, where his father worked as a shoemaker and supported a family of six children. In 1943, young “Tibi” Rubin was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp In Austria, and liberated by U.S. troops two years later. In gratitude, he pledged to join the American army if he ever made it to that country.
He arrived in New York in 1948, enlisted in the army in early 1950, and a few months later found himself on the frontlines in Korea.
His courage and skill, first on the battlefield and then in assuring the survival of his fellow GIs in a brutal Chinese prison camp, were such that his commanding officers recommended him three times for the Medal of Honor.
But the paperwork needed to actuate the award never reached the Pentagon. According to sworn affidavits by dozens of his company buddies, the process was consistently sabotaged by the company’s first sergeant, a virulent anti-Semite, who regularly “volunteered” Rubin for the most dangerous missions.
After a decades-long campaign by Rubin’s former comrades, President George W. Bush at long last conferred medal on Rubin at the White House In 2005. The President noted that “by repeatedly risking his own life to save others, Corporal Rubin exemplified the highest ideals of military service and fulfilled a pledge to give something back to the country that had given him freedom.”
After his discharge from the service, Rubin worked as a butcher, until war wounds forced him to retire. Now 85, he lives in Garden Grove in Orange County.
Poor health prevented him from attending the postal service ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, but he was represented by his daughter, Rosalyn Rubin.
With his rich Hungarian accent and brash Jewish humor, Rubin was once likened to a cross between actress Zsa Zsa Gabor and comedian Jackie Mason.
He displayed these mixed talents when he asked this reporter to join him for the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on Sept. 23, 2005.
The army had assigned a small detachment to Rubin, as a kind of honor guard and chaperone, and the former corporal learned that while wearing the Medal of Honor protocol required five-star generals to salute him and for the President of the United States to rise when Tibor entered the room.
What impressed Tibor even more was that everyone now addressed him with the salutation “Mister” or “Sir.”
“When I first joined the army, everyone thought I was a greenhorn, a little schmuck from Hungary,” he explained. “But suddenly everything has changed. Now they call me MISTER Schmuck.”