SAN ANTONIO -- Sailors and Marines gathered at the Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) Fort Sam Houston Golf Course Restaurant, July 6, to honor a Marine Corps veteran's heroic, life-saving actions, performed more than six decades ago.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott presented retired Sgt. Ronnie Reininger, 86, the Lone Star Medal of Valor, for his actions during the brutal Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea in December 1950. The medal is the state's highest honor and was last awarded in 2011.
"This is a medal that is given out only occasionally," Abbott said. "It is a way for us to recognize those who have shown extraordinary valor in their service to the United States of America, and we were honored to be able to present this to Ronnie Reininger."
Navy and Marine Corps commands joined with local civilian organizations to help ensure Reininger received this long-overdue recognition. Sailors from Navy Medicine Education and Training Command (NMETC) and Marines from Company "H," Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion, teamed with the Alamo Chapter of the 1st Marine Division Association in San Antonio to coordinate the event. USAA, headquartered in San Antonio, sent the company's brass quintet.
According to one of the ceremony's attendees, Reininger is an inspiration for all who want to serve their nation.
"The many years I've had in the military can't compare to what this gentleman did for his country," said Capt. Jim LeTexier, deputy commander, NMETC. "I'm in awe of what he went through, what he did, and what he continues to do to support current generations of Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen. He is the epitome of service to his country."
Reininger was a machine gun section leader in the Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, when he and his fellow Marines came under heavy enemy fire from all sides by Chinese forces. Reininger held back overwhelming enemy forces to protect thousands of retreating Marines behind him by continuously returning fire and repositioning his men despite being severely wounded and frostbitten.
Blown from his foxhole by mortar fire four times, Reininger continued running from machine gun to machine gun to ensure desperately needed cover was provided to his fellow servicemen.
When Reininger was later found, he was pronounced dead and one of his dog tags placed in his mouth for identification purposes. He later spat out the tag and was tended to by Navy corpsmen. In the end, he lost all 10 fingers and both legs.
"I didn't think I was going to live," Reininger recalled. "My birthday's in May, and every May since 1950, I look up and say, 'See. I beat you. I got to see one more birthday.' At that time most of us didn't think we were going to live to see another one."
Despite his heroic actions, Reininger never received a Navy or Marine Corps award. The Lone Star Medal of Valor recognized those heroic actions in Korea, as well as his volunteer work in Texas supporting local communities and military veterans.
Reininger was presented the medal in his hometown of San Antonio, often referred to as "Military City USA."
Abbott shared his appreciation for Reininger and other San Antonians who serve.
"We admire and respect our military," he said. "We honor them during their times of service. But we also honor them in times of retirement because we are the freest, strongest, best nation in the history of this world because of the service provided by the members of the United States military."