Robert E. Simanek, Medal of Honor recipient, passed away Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Novi, Michigan, at the age of 92.
On Aug. 17, 1952, at Outpost Irene, Korea, Simanek was a private first class with 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Rein), when he threw himself on a grenade to protect his fellow Marines. He was treated for seven months in military hospitals before being medically discharged from the Marine Corps due to his injuries.
President Dwight Eisenhower presented his Medal of Honor on Oct. 23, 1953, at a White House ceremony.
Simanek was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 26, 1930, the third of four sons. He briefly worked for Ford Motor Company and General Motors after graduating from Mackenzie High School in Detroit. He joined the Marine Corps in August 1951. He returned to Michigan after the war and earned a degree in business management.
He is survived by a daughter. Burial arrangements are pending.
Marine Pfc. Robert E. Simanek had just fallen asleep after a night patrol in August 1952 when he was rousted to serve as radioman for a 12-man squad headed to occupy a place called “Outpost Irene” north of Seoul. He thought it was going to be easy. “I had been to the outpost before and thought of it as a somewhat vacation because no action had ever been there all the time I’d been on that particular part of the line,” Simanek said years later in a Veterans History Project interview for the Library of Congress.
The Chinese attacked and during the ensuing firefight, two grenades landed in the shallow trench where Simanek and other Marines had taken cover while returning fire. Simanek kicked away one of the grenades, taking shrapnel in his legs from the blast. Determined to save his comrades, he unhesitatingly threw himself on the second deadly missile absorbing the shattering violence of the exploding charge in his body and shielding his fellow Marines from serious injury or death.
At a White House ceremony on Oct. 23, 1953, Simanek was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his actions on Aug. 17, 1952, while serving with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He spent nearly a year recovering from his wounds at military hospitals before being medically discharged from the Marine Corps. He went on to earn a degree at Michigan State University and later worked as an accountant and business manager.
In a tribute to his legacy, then-Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite announced in January 2021 that the next Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary mobile base ship, scheduled to be launched in 2024, will be named the USS Robert E. Simanek (ESB-7). His death leaves former Army Cpl. Hiroshi Miyamura and retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. as the only two surviving Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War out of the total of 146 who received the nation’s highest award for valor in that conflict.
Photo credit: Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Robert E. Simanek, 85, is recognized by former Sen. Carl M. Levin, elected officials and distinguished guests during a naming ceremony at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit, April 11, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Kristine Volk via Wikimedia Commons)