News: Valor walk, community honor First Team Medal of Honor trooper
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy D. Crisp
BAY CITY, Texas - Sixty four.
It’s a number that started in Korea.
It’s a number that stuck in grandson John Peña’s mind.
It was 64 years ago in 1950 when John’s grandfather, Master Sgt. Mike C. Peña, the platoon leader of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, paid the ultimate sacrifice near Waegwan, Korea, as he held back advancing North Korean Soldiers to save his troops.
Grandson John, a former Marine and now Miami firefighter, committed to walking 64 miles in honor of his grandfather, as just this year, Master Sgt. Peña’s Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
The upgrade to the Medal of Honor came when a congressional review found discriminatory practices in the medal-awarding process where it concerned minorities who fought in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On March 18, 2014, 24 Soldiers including Master Sgt. Peña had their Distinguished Service Cross medals, the second highest award for valor, upgraded to the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House.
The Mike C. Peña Valor Walk was born to honor Master Sgt. Peña’s sacrifice along with the sacrifices of service men and women who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
“It’s an extreme honor being a part of this,” John said of the four-day, 64-mile walk. “I would have never thought in a million years I would be doing this … it’s just been awesome.”
John and his friends – former Marines Gabriel Diaz, Paul Jornet and Erin Hughes – walked 61 miles the first three days, just a little over 20 miles a day, to land themselves at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2438 in Bay City, Texas. From there, they completed the final three miles on the fourth day, arriving at Master Sgt. Peña’s resting place in Cedarvale Cemetery in Bay City, Texas, June 8.
Upon arriving to the cemetery, a bagpiper and the 1st Cavalry Division Honor Guard led the group in. The valor walkers arrived to a solemn crowd of several hundred community members and veteran’s organizations, including state representatives and officials from the Korean consulate, who were on hand to witness the final steps in the 64-mile journey.
A new headstone draped with a ceremonial cover awaited the four valor walkers. The new one properly recognizes Master Sgt. Peña as a Medal of Honor recipient.
John and his three teammates made their way to the new headstone, as Col. Viet Luong, deputy commander for maneuver, 1st Cavalry Division, lifted the cover.
John walked up to the headstone and handed the Medal of Honor to his father, Michael, son of Master Sgt. Peña. Michael was only 3-and-a-half years old when his father was killed. He and son John laid the Medal of Honor at the newly unveiled headstone.
“We all take a lot of pride in what my father did, and this brings a sense of closure,” said Michael, a retired U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer. Michael originally received the Medal of Honor on his father’s behalf at the White House ceremony March 18.
After the medal was placed at the headstone, members of the VFW played taps and gave a 21-gun salute. Events concluded and were followed by a four-mile long procession. The procession headed to another ceremony 25 minutes away in Master Sgt. Peña’s hometown of Newgulf, Texas. At this event, the community paid respect and recognition to Master Sgt. Peña, his son, Michael, the valor walkers and several others who had a hand in making the events happen.
During this final ceremony, Col. Luong, the 1st Cavalry Division deputy commander, read the Medal of Honor citation to those in attendance:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Master Sergeant Mike C. Peña distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Waegwan, Korea, on September 4, 1950. That evening, under cover of darkness and a dreary mist, an enemy battalion moved to within a few yards of Master Sergeant Peña’s platoon. Recognizing the enemy’s approach, Master Sergeant Peña and his men opened fire, but the enemy’s sudden emergence and accurate, point blank fire forced the friendly troops to withdraw. Master Sergeant Peña rapidly reorganized his men and led them in a counterattack which succeeded in regaining the positions they had just lost. He and his men quickly established a defensive perimeter and laid down devastating fire, but enemy troops continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers. Realizing that their scarce supply of ammunition would soon make their positions untenable, Master Sergeant Peña ordered his men to fall back and manned a machinegun to cover their withdrawal. He singlehandedly held back the enemy until the early hours of the following morning when his position was overrun and he was killed. Master Sergeant Peña’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”
Master Sgt. Peña joined the Army at the age of 15 years and 10 months during World War II, having told recruiters he was born three years earlier in order to meet age requirements. During World War II, he participated in the Pacific theater with distinction and was wounded twice.
His awards and decorations include the Medal of Honor, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and two Loops, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four Bronze Service Stars and Bronze Arrowhead Device, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Japan Clasp, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Infantryman Badge (2nd Award), Honorable Service Lapel Button- World War II, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Philippine Independence Ribbon, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Gold Bravery Medal of Greece Unit Citation.
For more information about the Mike C. Peña Valor walk, go to www.valorwalk.com