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August 11, 2014

Ceremony honors local Korean War Medal of Honor recipient

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

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Ceremony honors local Korean War Medal of Honor recipient
Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Robert E. Simanek, of Farmington Hills, stands with his wife, Nancy, during a special U.S. Postal Service ceremony Aug. 5 at the American Legion Hall to unveil a stamp sheet he is featured on for Medal of Honor: Korean War Forever stamps.

FARMINGTON HILLS — It would be a remarkable understatement to just describe Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Robert E. Simanek as brave.

Yet, if you let the 84-year-old Farmington Hills resident tell how he used his body as a shield against a hand grenade during the Korean War at 22 years old, “brave” would not be in his version, although President Dwight D. Eisenhower would have disagreed with him.

During a special U.S. Postal Service ceremony Aug. 5 at the American Legion Hall, 31775 Grand River Ave., USPS officials recognized Simanek and others, who are now immortalized on a stamp sheet for Medal of Honor: Korean War Forever stamps.

“I was very impressed and felt totally honored,” Simanek said after the ceremony. “It is difficult to accept such wonderful things because it was a magnanimous gesture (by) the postage department. I’m sure all the other living medal recipients felt the same way.”

On Aug. 17, 1952, near Panmunjom, North Korea,  Simanek, private first class, injured by an exploding grenade, rolled himself on top of a second grenade thrown into his trench to save the lives of his fellow Marines. One of his friends died that day.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Simanek said. “I was just doing it. It had to be done. I already kicked a previous hand grenade away ... and it cut through (my) thigh and lower leg, and even a piece in my left leg (came out), but nothing that mattered.”

He added that he was surprised that he was not gravely injured.

On Oct. 27, 1953, Simanek was awarded the Medal of Honor by Eisenhower.

About 145 of the 6.8 million members who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Korean War have met the standard necessary to warrant the Medal of Honor, according to a press release.

Two-thirds of the 145 recipients were killed in action while performing actions that resulted in an award of the Medal of Honor, according to a press release.

The Medal of Honor: Korean War Forever stamps prestige folio is a four-page design highlighting historical photographs of the last living recipients of the Medal of Honor from the Korean War. One stamp features a photograph of the Navy’s version of the Medal of Honor.

Simanek is one of the featured recipients.

“I think we are in the company of a hero,” Mayor Barry Brickner said during the ceremony to Simanek.

Lee Thompson, Detroit district USPS manager, said Simanek is a “true American hero,” before giving a bouquet to his wife of 58 years, Nancy, 81, and unveiling the stamp.

“This is an honor for all of us,” she said. “To all our veterans, we salute and thank you. Serving in the military also takes a lot of sacrifice from family members.”

Dressed to the nines in a teal suit with matching earrings, Nancy talked about how she and her husband met in 1954 at Michigan State University, marrying two years later, and what it means to be married to a hero.

“His story is amazing, not mine,” she said, describing her husband as a “gentleman.”

She said that after attending many events that honored her husband, the USPS ceremony was especially touching.

“This is very, very nice,” she said, looking around the stage as people lined up near her to get an autograph from Simanek.

Simanek, who said he thinks about Aug. 17, 1952, every single day, is not allowed to forget what he did, because others remind him of his acts, which he considers nothing above ordinary.

“I was just doing what had to be done,” he said. “I don’t think I was so brave.”

For more information, go to https://www.usps.com/.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.