Jack Weinstein's marker on Land and Sky Scenic Byway

Delayed: Jack Weinstein’s Medal of Honor

Weinstein denied the Medal of Honor due to his non-existent Jewish heritage

Sgt. Jack Weinstein (WIN-steen) earned a Medal of Honor on October 19, 1951. However, because of his “Jewish heritage,” he never received the Medal. Sixty-three years later, President Barack Obama presented the Medal to Weinstein’s wife, Nancy. Sgt. Weinstein had survived the war but did not live long enough to receive the Medal.

Ironically, Weinstein was not Jewish.

Congress demands an investigation into discrimination

Weinstein was not the only one the Army had discriminated against. Congress believed that some had been denied the Medal of Honor because of their Jewish or Hispanic heritage. In 2002, the Department of Defense investigated. Later, the investigation broadened. Eventually, the Department of Defense found 24 people who deserved the Medal of Honor, but the government denied it.

Operation Nomad in the Korean War

Armistice talks began in July 1951, but the negotiations had stalled. To put pressure on the North Korean and Chinese governments, the US Army launched Operation Nomad. The soldiers faced a mountainous 14-mile front. Casualties mounted. The toll reached 1,752 in nine days. The Communist troops threw numerous grenades downhill. They “looked like a flood of blackbirds coming over.” Under the storm of enemy fire, the American platoons were often decimated by nightfall. Overnight, the Army would send replacements. Then the process of decimation and replacement would start again.

Sgt. Weinstein is wounded in action during Nomad

24th Infantry Division Medal of Honor
24th Infantry Division patch

During Nomad, Sgt. Weinstein was “seriously wounded in action” on October 14, 1951. He returned to duty three days later. The 24th Division reached its objectives that day, October 17. On October 18, Weinstein celebrated his 23rd birthday, the day after Nomad ended.

The soldiers hoped they could rest after achieving their objective. Instead, the Army ordered them into Operation Polar.

Jack Weinstein earns the Medal of Honor

On the afternoon of October 19, Sgt. Weinstein led First Platoon, Company G, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. They were near Hill 533, south of Kumsong, North Korea. Two five-soldier platoons successfully took the position. The opposing Chinese troops didn’t yield. Instead, they attempted to retake the position.

About 30 Chinese troops counterattacked the 20 Americans, while many soldiers in First Platoon were already wounded. They had to make a fighting withdrawal. Someone had to cover the withdrawing soldiers.

Weinstein volunteered to stay. Instead of withdrawing, he continued to fight alone, unaided, and under heavy enemy fire. He killed at least six of the enemy with his M-1 rifle. After running out of ammunition, he picked up the enemy’s grenades and threw them at the enemy. He stopped the enemy’s progress and “inflicted numerous casualties.”

Weinstein’s recent wounds reopened. A grenade broke his leg. He still refused to withdraw. He held out until another platoon was able to relieve him. The relief platoon then drove back the enemy.

His wife said (PDF), “He was doing it for his guys under him.”

On the same day, the US Army reached Line Polar, the Communists returned to the cease-fire talks.

After the Jack Weinstein Medal of Honor

Following the battle, the Army promoted him to Sgt. 1st Class. He returned to duty on October 27.

Weinstein earned the following medals:

Distinguished Service Cross, later updated to Medal of Honor

Purple Heart with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster

National Defense Service Medal

Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars

Presidential Unit Citation

Combat Infantryman Badge

United Nations Service Medal

Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal.

After the war, he married Nancy Rakestraw. The couple settled in St. Francis, Kan. He was a farmer and truck driver. The couple had five children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He passed away on April 20, 2006.

Nancy Weinstein Medal of Honor
Nancy Weinstein accepts the Medal of Honor for her husband, Sgt. Jack Weinstein

At the White House for the Medal of Honor ceremony

Nancy Weinstein met President Obama in the Oval Office. “He is such a compassionate, caring person,” she told the St. Francis Herald. “And he treated us as though we were the same status.” The President hugged everyone, she said.

On March 18, 2014, the President held her close while holding her hand during the medal ceremony. His actions helped her feel more comfortable since the entire day was overwhelming her.

Watch the 24 recipients of delayed Medals of Honor as they are honored in the White House. Nancy Weinstein accepts her husband’s Medal of Honor from the 57:11 mark to 59:22.

At the Pentagon for the Hall of Heroes ceremony

The day after the White House presentation, the Pentagon took its turn. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of the Army John McHugh honored the 24 delayed Medal of Honor recipients. McHugh presented each one with a framed Medal of Honor flag.

Medal of Honor winners plaque at Hall of Heroes in the Pentagon
During a Hall of Heroes Induction ceremony at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (left), and Secretary of Army John McHugh unveiled a plaque honoring the Valor 24 Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War.

Hagel and McHugh dedicated plaques for the recipients, listing them with their conflicts.

Nancy Weinstein told The Herald that Sgt. Weinstein “would have been very honored.” She told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, “He was doing his job. That’s how he did everything.” She also told The Herald how upset he would have been to know that his supposed ethnicity prevented him from receiving the military’s highest honor. Sgt. Weinstein was not Jewish, but his name sounded Jewish. That piece of mistaken identity pushed the Jack Weinstein Medal of Honor to a Distinguished Service Cross.

“He would have thought it was wrong,” she said, “but they are righting it now.”

Forever saluting Jack Weinstein, Medal of Honor recipient

All military members are encouraged to salute Medal of Honor recipients. Sgt. Weinstein received a permanent salute from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines on Memorial Day 2014. On that day, Fred Magley’s family members installed sculptures of four service members in Cheyenne Valley Cemetery, Wheeler, Kan. All four of them are saluting the American flag that stands in the Weinstein plot.

Cheyenne County honored Weinstein during several Memorial Day observances. As part of Alumni Weekend, St. Francis honored Weinstein on June 20, 2014.

Jack Weinstein's marker on Land and Sky Scenic Byway
Congressional Medal of Honor winner Jack Weinstein’s grave is on the cemetery’s eastern side.

Earned and reflected valor

Even the sun honors Weinstein’s courage. The Army placed a Medal of Honor gravestone in the Cheyenne Valley Cemetery. Sgt. Weinstein’s son, Jack Jr., created a frame (PDF) for the headstone with a Medal representation welded to it. When the sun lies low in the west, the Medal reflects onto Weinstein’s vertical tombstone. The reflection labels the stone with “Valor.” The sun’s homage is appropriate for the man who loved and served his country so well.

How to visit Cheyenne Valley Cemetery

Cheyenne Valley Cemetery (or Wheeler Cemetery) is about a mile south of the Highway 27-36 intersection at Wheeler. It’s on the east side of the highway. The driveway is on the north side of the cemetery. All respectful people are welcome to visit during daylight hours. Please sign the guestbook.

More to explore

William Johnson escaped from slavery to become an artilleryman and a homesteader. Johnson is at rest in the Goodland Cemetery. Lowell Coleman only has a headstone in that cemetery. His body rests in France, where he died side by side with his best friend. Another veteran, Lloyd Harden, created the Giant Grasshopper. It stands on the west side of Highway 27, 23 miles south of the cemetery on Lynn and De Ann Ihrig’s farm.