Like other young men who grew up in the Detroit area, Robert Simanek went to work in the auto industry after high school. He was employed by General Motors when war broke out in Korea. Having two uncles who had served in the Marines during World War II helped him decide to become a Marine himself.
Private First Class Simanek became a radio operator. He had been in Korea for about six months when his unit encountered Chinese troops in mid-August 1952, at a place called the Hook, near Panmunjom. The Marines had been occupying a forward observation post called Irene on high ground during the day, when they had air support, and relinquishing it to the enemy during the night. On the morning of August 17, a sixteen-man patrol was sent to reclaim the post for the daylight hours, with Simanek as their radioman. The platoon sergeant happened to take a new route to the position, and that kept them from walking right into the company of Chinese troops waiting in ambush. As they reached the post, however, the enemy opened fire with mortars and machine guns.
Simanek jumped into the trench line with six comrades as the rest of the patrol headed back down the hill. Though wounded by an exploding grenade, he continued to operate the patrol's radio and fire at the enemy with a .45-caliber pistol. Then his weapon jammed; he yelled to a Marine to toss him another one, but at that moment a second Chinese grenade landed in the middle of the trench. Realizing that it could kill or injure all the Marines in the bunker, he rolled over on top of it and absorbed the force of the explosion with his legs.
Simanek tried to make his legs move but couldn't—he was also badly wounded in the hip and knee. With the enemy becoming bolder, he asked for air support, and a P-51 swooped down to drop napalm. For the next two hours, he maintained radio communications with the command post and directed tank and artillery fire against enemy positions, while at the same time shooting at the Chinese with his pistol. The Chinese finally retreated.
Two members of the patrol who were still able-bodied carried down one badly injured Marine. Two other severely wounded Marines managed to get down the hill on their own. Simanek crawled down from the outpost on his hands and knees.