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Museum immortalizes Medal of Honor recipient's ferocious bayonet charge

Jun. 26, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A new museum exhibit in North Carolina shows Army Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Rodolfo Hernandez killing six enemy soldiers in Korea. Read more about his battlefield exploits in Military Times' Hall of Valor.
A new museum exhibit in North Carolina shows Army Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Rodolfo Hernandez killing six enemy soldiers in Korea. Read more about his battlefield exploits in Military Times' Hall of Valor. (Courtesy, Airborne & Special Operations Museum)
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Hernandez, seated, helped design the mannequin on display in Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C. (Courtesy of the Airborne & Special Operations Muse)

Army Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Rodolfo Hernandez has been immortalized in a new museum exhibit that tries to capture the brutality and up-close nature of combat during the Korean War.

Opening Friday, the exhibit at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C., depicts how Hernandez launched a one-man bayonet charge at an overwhelming enemy force on May 31, 1951.

When his rifle was damaged, Hernandez jumped out of his foxhole, yelled “Here I come,” and charged enemy troops, killing six of them in hand-to-hand combat, according to the museum. While fighting, Hernandez was bayoneted in the mouth, shot and took shrapnel to his skull. He collapsed from his wounds and was believed to be dead until a medic saw his fingers move.

Hernandez, who died in December at age 82, was approved for the nation’s highest combat valor award in 1952.

The museum’s diorama shows him shoving a bayonet into an enemy soldier’s chest while the other five enemy troops he killed lie crumpled at his feet. It’s a detailed display, but no one has objected to the level of violence it exhibits, said the museum’s director, Jim Bartlinski.

“We vetted this through veterans; we vetted it through Fort Bragg leadership, people in the community,” Bartlinski told Miliary Times. “We’re the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. It’s a war museum. It’s not too graphic. It’s more of a representation — a suggestion of the action.”

Before he died, Hernandez made several suggestions about how much gore to show, Bartlinski said.

“He said ‘we need more blood,’ so we were making little notes: ‘Okay, we’re going to put more blood here’ ” Bartlinski said. “He was bayoneted through the arm; he was shot in the hip and the leg and so we so also indicated those wounds on the mannequin. We wanted to be true to his wishes and to make it as accurate as we could but, then again, we don’t want to make it too graphic.”

Hernandez was instrumental in ensuring the exhibit is accurate, Bartlinski said. For instance, in the original design, the mannequin’s mouth was closed. “He was like ‘no, my mouth was open; and make sure that you indicate where I was stabbed in the mouth with the bayonet and I had teeth knocked out,’ ” Bartlinski said.

Bartlinski said he hopes people who see the exhibit come away with a better understanding of the courage and sacrifices made by the men and women who go into harms way.

“The Korean War is known as ‘The Forgotten War,’ ” he said, “and I think — at least, in our small way here — we are bringing back that conflict to life.”

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