Medal of Honor recipient receives new headstone

Monday, June 2, 2014 - 9:22pm

A new headstone for Master Sgt. Victor H. Espinoza at Fort Bliss National Cemetery reflects his status as a Medal of Honor recipient.

“Without a doubt, he is an example to be looked up to,” said the El Paso native’s son, Tyrone Victor Espinoza, who traveled with his family from Wausau, Wisconsin, to the headstone’s unveiling ceremony Tuesday. “He’s a great role model.”

President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, to Espinoza and 23 other World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans during a ceremony in March at the White House.

The awards followed a 12-year Pentagon review of past racial and ethnic discrimination in awarding the Medal of Honor, according to a White House statement. Three of the veterans were alive, and 21 received the honor posthumously.

Tyrone Espinoza said he never tires of hearing stories about his father, who died April 17, 1986. “He was a great man,” he said.

According to the Medal of Honor citation, then-Cpl. Espinoza and his fellow Soldiers in Company A, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, were responsible for securing and holding an enemy hill in Chorwon, Korea, on Aug. 1, 1952, when they came up against heavy enemy fire.

“Corporal Espinoza, unhesitatingly and being fully aware of the hazards involved, left his place of comparative safety and made a deliberate one-man assault on the enemy with his rifle and grenades, destroying a machinegun and killing its crew,” the citation states.

He did not stop there.

Espinoza continued on and attacked an enemy mortar position and two bunkers with grenades and rifle fire, eliminating all three, the citation says.

When Espinoza reached the top of the hill, he ran out of ammunition, but still did not stop. He called for more grenades, and when a fellow Soldier threw him some Chinese grenades, he immediately pulled the pins and threw them into occupied trenches, killing and wounding more enemy troops with their own weapons.

He did not stop there either. Espinoza went through a tunnel and caused seven more casualties as he pursued enemy troops. When he realized he could not overtake them, he destroyed the tunnel with TNT, called for more grenades and threw them until all the enemy troops were out of reach.

“Corporal Espinoza’s incredible display of valor secured the vital strong point and took a heavy toll on the enemy, resulting in at least 14 dead and 11 wounded,” the citation says.
Master Sgt. Espinoza, along with all the other men who received the Medal of Honor with him in March, had previously received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, according to the White House.

During the ceremony, Tyrone Espinoza thanked Maj. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commander, the Army, Congress and Obama for recognizing that his father deserved the honor. MacFarland attended the event with Command Sgt. Maj. Lance P. Lehr, 1st AD and Fort Bliss command sergeant major.

Tyrone Espinoza also thanked the 23 other men who received the honor with his father, especially those who served in the Korean War.

“I want to say that the men left Korea, they left the war, but the war in Korea never left them,” he said.

Patricia Espinoza Ybarra, Master Sgt. Espinoza’s niece who lives in El Paso, attended the ceremony as well. After he left the Army, Master Sgt. Espinoza lived in El Paso until he died, according to an Army biography.

Chaplain (Col.) Youn H. Kim, senior Fort Bliss chaplain, asked everyone present at the ceremony to reflect on their lives and consider whether they are living their lives well.

“May our lives be filled with trust so we might receive the legacy of Master Sgt. Espinoza with great appreciation,” Kim said.

Master Sgt. Espinoza’s grave, number 1115, is located in Section F of the Fort Bliss National Cemetery. He joins two other Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War buried at the cemetery. The cemetery honors a total of five recipients; two are in the memorial section because their bodies were unrecoverable. 

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