Ruben Espinoza was born in Lockhart, Texas in 1930. He grew up there in the care of his grandmother and attended school until sometime in his twelfth year. Although very young, he did some work at the Baker Theatre in Lockhart and learned to run the movie projector, a skill he used to advantage in later years.
When he was thirteen, he was sent to live with his sister in San Antonio where he continued to attend public schools for another two years. At age fifteen he moved out on his own, lived in a rented room, worked as a projectionist in a movie theatre and also worked in a grocery store on weekends. Two years later, just days after his seventeenth birthday, Ruben visited his local Army recruiter. His parents were not available to sign their permission for him as an underage recruit, and he had some difficulty convincing an adult friend and mentor to sign for him as his guardian. But, Ruben finally managed to meet the Armys paperwork requirement, and he was inducted into the Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas on January 24, 1947.
Ruben was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for Basic Training and then was shipped to Japan. He was assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. The regiment was stationed on Honshu Island at Camp Sakai, about 5 miles outside Osaka. That became Rubens home for the next three uneventful peacetime years before the outbreak of the Korean War. He was first assigned to Heavy Weapons Company and then to Company D and then to the Recon Platoon of Headquarters Company; and in each case he was sought out and utilized for his experience in running movie projectors, whether for the 16mm training films in the units or the 35mm projector used to show post movies. Ruben was settled comfortably into the training routine, he remembers having climbed Mount Fuji twice with his squad, much of his personal photo album is snapshots from that time in Japan, and in January 1950 Corporal Espinoza reenlisted for another three years. But, the good times ended soon after that.
The North Korean Army (NKA) invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The attack came as a surprise for which the United States was unprepared. However, the 27th Infantry Regiment was about as well prepared as could be expected at the time, and they were close to where the action was, so they were the first major element of the 25th Infantry Division to be sent into combat. The regiment landed by ship at Pusan, Korea on July 10th and immediately moved up to initial positions approximately 35 miles north of Taegu to confront the advance of the North Koreans. From July 24-29 the regiment fought a major action against the NKA 2nd Division at Hawanggan, inflicting over 3,000 casualties, before retiring in good order. This was the first action in which an American unit had fought the North Koreans to a standstill and still remained combat ready.
The United States and South Korean forces that had been giving ground consolidated their defense in an area around the port city of Pusan in southeast Korea, the Pusan Perimeter, which they successfully defended for the next several months. The 27th Infantry Regiment was designated as the US Eighth Armys reserve. From its position in the hills near Taegu it was used as a fire brigade that was rushed to block the North Koreans wherever the defensive line had been penetrated. It was during this phase of operations that Ruben Espinoza was wounded.
Ruben says, We were set up on a hill near Taegu. Early on the morning of August 4th I was having breakfast in the mess area when suddenly the sound of gunfire broke up whatever was going on. Troops started rushing around everywhere and I got back to my unit in a hurry. There was about a platoon of the North Koreans that had gotten close in before our reaction force could stop them. I was wounded by a burst of automatic weapons fire, hit in the upper left side, hip and left arm. I had to be picked up and carried down the hill and taken to an Aid Station.
I dont know what level of medical facility I was in but there were nurses and doctors busy giving their full attention to a number of casualties that had been brought in. My stretcher was sort of off to one side and no one seemed to be aware that I needed treatment too. A Chaplain came by and said he thought I was a Korean. Later a Medic came to take a look at me and he was saying he thought the wound in my side might be rather minor, so I showed him my left arm. I knew it looked bad, because a lot of bone was fully exposed and after that I was finally taken care of. I overheard several of the nurses saying they had thought I was just a kid (I had been in the Army for over three and a half years by that time). I wasnt there very long. After only about three or four hours there they determined that I should be evacuated back to Japan. That took a lot longer, it took two or three days before the ship got to Yokohama. From there I was taken to the large general hospital in Tokyo for treatment and recuperation. It would be over three months before I could return to duty. In November 1950, before the Chinese came into the war, the 27th Infantry had reached the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and it took a long time for me, moving by train and by truck to catch up to them. I remember the day I got back to my unit because it was November 24th. I arrived just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Ruben Espinoza had been back with the Recon Platoon for about three months after the beginning of the Chinese intervention when he received orders to return to the US. He spent the remaining months of his enlistment training National Guard troops at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Sergeant Espinoza was discharged from the Army in January 1953 and immediately enlisted in the Air Force.
After service in Alaska and at Edwards and George Air Force Bases in California, and here at Bergstrom AFB, he retired in June 1967 with more than 20 years active military service. He later joined the Camp Mabry work force as a State employee Security Officer, serving with distinction until his recent retirement at the age of 81, and where he was honored at an awards ceremony on February 15. He has been a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the past twelve years, and this month PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot Ruben Espinoza.