Victor Hugo Espinoza, Korean War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, son of Amado Espinoza and Altagracia Chavez, was born in El Paso, Texas, on July 25, 1928. After the death of his mother in 1938, Espinoza moved to Los Angeles, California, where he graduated from Lincoln High School and became a municipal employee. He also spent time living with his godmother in El Paso. Espinoza joined the United States Army in November 1950 and was deployed to Korea with the rank of corporal. He served with Company A, First Battalion, Twenty-third Infantry Regiment, Second Infantry Division, as part of the larger United Nations peace-keeping force.
On August 1, 1952, Corporal Espinoza and his unit were tasked with capturing an enemy hill nicknamed “Old Baldy” near Chorwon, Korea, when they came under heavy fire. After his squad leader was wounded, Espinoza made a one-man assault across open ground. Armed with only a rifle and grenades, he destroyed a machine gun nest, a mortar emplacement, and two enemy bunkers. His ammunition exhausted, Espinoza continued his assault using grenades left behind by the fleeing Chinese troops to clear several enemy trenches. He then discovered a covert enemy tunnel and destroyed it with TNT. In total, Espinoza was credited with killing fourteen enemy soldiers, wounding another eleven, and clearing the way for the rest of his unit to secure the remaining enemy strongpoints on “Old Baldy.” For his service, Espinoza received a National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal with one bronze star, a Combat Infantryman Badge, a UN Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal. He also received the second highest American combat medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, at a parade held on Noel Field at Fort Bliss in April 1953.
Espinoza reached the rank of master sergeant before leaving the military in September 1952. He returned to El Paso, Texas, where he found employment at a car dealership and was briefly married to Helen G. García of El Paso. Espinoza later relocated to San Gabriel, Texas, and married Nancy Alm. The couple had one son, Tyronne. Espinoza ultimately returned to El Paso, where he lived until his death on April 17, 1986. Espinoza was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery with full military honors.
In 2002 the United States Congress called on the Department of Defense to review the service records of certain Jewish and Hispanic soldiers who may have been denied the Medal of Honor due to racial prejudice. As a result, on May 18, 2014, Victor Espinoza was posthumously given the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama at a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House. Several of Espinoza’s family members, including his son Tyronne, were present to accept the award on his behalf.