Local Hero

U.S. Army Veteran Mike Castaneda Pena of New Gulf, a medal of honor recipient, was honored with a stone plaque installed in his memory at the Wharton County Veterans Memorial. Pena’s family celebrated his life and service last Friday, and an official plaque ceremony is planned for the near future. Pictured above are Rick Pena, Junior Quintanilla, Lou Garza, Susie Garza, Ofelia Pena, Cris Pena Martin, Lupe Quintanilla and Arnold Amaro.

Wharton County’s Veterans Memorial on the courthouse grounds gained another stone last week, a long-delayed salute to a soldier who gave his life while saving his squad 70 years ago.

Master Sgt. Mike Castaneda Pena of Newgulf died alone on a Korean battlefield near Waegwan, but his sacrifice was never forgotten. The nation’s highest military honor – the Medal of Honor – was presented posthumously to his family in 2014.

“He and his men quickly established a defensive perimeter and laid down devastating fire, but enemy troops continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers,” according to his Medal of Honor Citation.

Realizing that ammunition was running low, Pena ordered his men to fall back and “manned a machine gun to cover their withdrawal. He singlehandedly held back the enemy until the early hours of the following morning when his position was overrun and he was killed.”

A soldier with Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division, Pena was 26 years old on Sept. 4, 1950 when he died.

A small crowd gathered Friday, March 26 to install the plaque donated by Shaun Stockwell, a second local memorial for the fallen soldier. A portion of FM 1301 has been designated as “Master Sgt. Mike C Pena Memorial Highway” as well.

Pena is the third Wharton County soldier to receive the Medal of Honor. The others are Roy P Benavidez of El Campo (Vietnam War) and Johnnie David Hutchins of Lissie (World War II).

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