Ship to be named for Korean War hero from Oakland County

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

A highly decorated, 90-year-old Marine veteran from Oakland County is getting more recognition for his Korean War bravery: a new U.S. Navy ship is to be named in his honor.

Korean War veteran Robert Simanek is a Medal of Honor recipient.

The Expeditionary Sea Base USS Robert E. Simanek is scheduled to be launched in 2024, according to Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite.

Weighing 100,000 tons when fully loaded, the USS Robert E. Simanek will perform a variety of missions, including launching helicopters, small boats and unmanned surface vehicles, and handle special operations, troop transportation and maintenance services.

The ship bearing Simanek’s name “will carry on the Navy’s sacred mission to secure the sea lanes, stand by our allies and protect the United States against all adversaries,” according to a news release.

Simanek, a former Farmington Hills resident who lives in a Novi senior citizen center, said he was surprised but pleased to learn of the honor. “I didn’t think having a ship named after me would happen,” he said. “I was tickled to death when I found out about it.” 

He said he has no details of when the ship naming will take place or where, other than the vessel will be based on the West Coast, likely near Los Angeles.

Simanek was a 22-year old private 1st class in 1952 who had been in Korea for three months when his squad was ambushed by Chinese troops. Already wounded by shrapnel, he threw himself onto a grenade to absorb the blast and save his fellow servicemen from injury or death.

A graphic illustration of the future expeditionary sea base USS Robert E. Simanek, scheduled for completion in 2024.

Somehow, he survived while sustaining serious leg wounds. After a nearly a year-long recovery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a ceremony at the White House.

“There were four of us who he honored,” Simanek said. “I was the only one he talked to and all the reporters wanted to know what he said to me.

“I made something good up,” Simanek recalled. “But only thing I remember is him looking at me and saying, ‘Why don’t you turn around and look at everyone now.’”

In a statement, Oakland County Executive David Coulter called Simanek "the epitome of an American hero.”

"I’m in awe of his selfless act of bravery nearly 70 years ago and so happy for him and his family today," Coulter said. "Not only did he receive the Medal of Honor for his valor, but now a Navy vessel with his namesake will be supporting Marines across the globe.”

Simanek is modest about such sentiments.

“Some people have called me a hero but I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I have some heroes of my own, but they are all gone now. When I was a kid, I wanted to live to be 70. Now all my friends are all dead and you lose a lot of friends by the time you are 90.”

Simanek said his wife of 64 years, Nancy, died last July and the couple have a daughter, Ann, who lives in Traverse City.

He said he enjoys good health and has received two vaccinations for the COVID-19 virus.

Simanek spends most of his days in his apartment, getting up at 6:30 every morning, having breakfast and turning on the television “to see what’s going on around the world.” He uses a cane to help him walk around, he said.

“Sometimes my good leg is more painful than the one that was injured,” he said.

Simanek is one of only 136 Medal of Honor recipients who served during the Korean War, and one of four recipients who are still alive.

Simanek, who graduated from high school in Detroit and worked at Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1951. He joined Company F, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines in 1952 as a rifleman and radioman when needed. In addition to the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart, he also was awarded the Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars.

When he came home, he enrolled at Michigan State University, where he met his wife and went on to work as an accountant for several years.

“I look at being fortunate in everything I have done,” he said. “Even choosing the Marines and going to Korea. I was fortunate and made it back. Some of the guys didn’t.”

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