Army Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. survived World War II as a Marine in the Pacific. After the war ended, he was discharged, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had more to offer the military, so he re-enlisted as a soldier. Red Cloud eventually sacrificed his life in Korea in an act of bravery that earned him the Medal of Honor.
Red Cloud was born on July 2, 1925, in Hatfield, Wisconsin, to parents Mitchell and Lillian. He had a little brother named Merlin, and they were all members of the Ho-Chunk Native American tribe, also known as the Winnebago.
Red Cloud attended Black River Falls High School until he was 17, when he asked his father if he could join the Marine Corps. His dad said yes, so on Aug. 11, 1941, the teen enlisted.
The U.S. joined World War II a few months later, and Red Cloud was deployed to the Pacific. He fought in Guadalcanal, where he suffered from malaria but refused a medical discharge. He continued to serve through the end of the war when he was injured in Okinawa.
Red Cloud left the Marines in November 1945. He returned to civilian life, got married and had a daughter, Annita. But his family said he grew restless as a civilian, so he decided to return to active duty in October 1948, this time for the Army. His brother later said he was interested in serving in all of the military branches.
Red Cloud was part of the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. The unit was first assigned to occupation duty in Kyushu, Japan, before being deployed to Korea when war broke out in the summer of 1950.
On Nov. 5, 1950, Red Cloud’s Company E was in position on Hill 123 near Chonghyon, North Korea. The 25-year-old corporal was manning a listening post at the hill’s ridge, right in front of the command post, when he realized Chinese Communist forces were approaching. Those forces instantly charged at him from the brush about 100 feet away.
Red Cloud immediately sounded the alarm with his automatic rifle, firing it toward the enemy as they closed in on him. He was quickly knocked down by gunfire, but he pulled himself back to standing by wrapping his arm around a tree, which he then used to steady his rifle so he could keep firing. The enemy onslaught was too much for him to bear alone, though, and he died where he fell from gunshot wounds.
Vantage Point, a Department of Veterans Affairs blog, said he was shot at least eight times during the ordeal. Other accounts said that when his comrades found his body, he was shot down in front of the enemy forces he’d killed.
Prior to the skirmish, part of that enemy force had already crept up on Company E’s position from behind and killed several men, many of whom were sleeping. The company’s commander credited Red Cloud with delaying the front-facing attack enough for the unit to reorganize and tighten its defenses, essentially saving the rest of them.
Red Cloud’s fearlessness, courage and self-sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor. On April 3, 1951, his mother received the medal from famed World War II Gen. Omar Bradley in a ceremony at the Pentagon.
Red Cloud was initially buried at a United Nations cemetery in Korea; however, his body was repatriated to the Decorah Cemetery near his hometown in March 1955. His medal is currently housed at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin.
To honor his warrior ethos, Red Cloud’s name lives on. In 1957, the Army renamed one of its Korean installations in his honor; Camp Red Cloud was used by U.S. troops until its deactivation in 2018. In 1999, the U.S. Navy commissioned a Watson-class cargo ship named the USNS Red Cloud, which was christened in San Diego by the fallen corporal’s daughter.
Various military facilities and parks across the U.S. also honor Red Cloud’s name. One monument that stands in his honor at Black River Falls, Wisconsin, has an inscription that reads, “The son of a Winnebago chief and warriors who believe that when a man goes into battle, he expects to kill or be killed, and if he dies, he will live forever.”