Mike Castaneda Pena


Medal of Honor Awarded
63 Years After Being
Killed in Action

Read the Story

Master Sergeant
Mike Castaneda Peña

U. S. Army

November 6, 1924 - September 5, 1950

Cedarvale Cemetery
Bay City, Matagorda County, Texas

Gold Star Mother
Maria M. Castaneda Peña Peña

(April 10, 1943)



Valor Walk

Valor 24 Medal of Honor Presentation 

 Congressional Medal Of Honor Society Page

Pena Family Photos






Miguel "Mike" Castaneda Peña (Jr.)
November 6, 1924 - September 5, 1950

Master Sergeant Peña’s family history begins in old Mexico where grandparents Ventura Peña (c1849 - c1900) and Felipa Torregrosa (5 February 1851 - 6 October 1934) were born.  They married before 1873, and began their family.  In 1891 they immigrated to the United States with their children: Rosita (1874 - 1941), Maria (1876 - 1957), Ventura Jr. (1878 - 1949), Aldolpho (1881 - 1903), Elena (1883 - 1971), Julia (1887 - 1912) and Miguel (c1889 - c1941).  They first settled in Robstown, Nueces County, Texas, then they moved to Corpus Christi, and established their Texas roots there.  The last child, born in their new home in Robstown, was Adelina (1893 - 1939). Around 1900 Ventura (Sr.) passed away leaving Felipa as the matriarch of the family.

Felipa passed away on 6 October 1934 in Corpus Christi and was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Their youngest son, Miguel, moved to Bay City, Texas about 1910 and settled in as a farmer. On December 6, 1913 he married Maria Castaneda (c1895 - c1954) in Bay City. The most extant record that has been found regarding Maria was a border crossing document from Mexico to the United States at Brownsville, Texas dated 18 April 1913.  Within this document it revealed she was age 21 and was born about 1892 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.  She stated she was going to Houston  by way of San Antonio.  A 1913 city directory of Houston revealed she was employed as a servant in the home of Horace A. Kelly, and was residing in their home. Their family grew to include: Adelina (1914 - 1986), Angela [Angelita] Helen (1917 - 2003) and Isabelle Betty (1920 - 1998).

In the 1920 Federal census it reveals the family had moved to Corpus Christi, and was living in the home of Miguel’s mother, Felipa.  There, Miguel managed a bicycle shop, and did repairs on bicycles.  While living in Corpus two other children were born: Ofelia [Ofilia] and Miguel, Jr. (1924 - 1950).

Sometime between 1924 and 1928 Miguel and Maria separated.  It is believed Miguel may have returned to Mexico.  Maria, with her children, returned to Matagorda County and on 20 March 1929, she married Santos Peña (1892 - 1977) in Bay City, Texas.

Santos was born in Nuevo Leon, Mexico on 5 February 1892 and immigrated to the United States and settled in Texas in 1912.  Nothing has been found concerning Santos for the period between 1912 and when he married Maria in 1929.

To this marriage was born: Ruben (1928 - 2012), Alfredo (1930 - 2014), Jesse [Jesus], Jose (1933 - 1934) [twin to Jesse, buried at Matagorda Cemetery] and Jose [Joe] (1937 - 2000).

Santos was employed with the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company at Gulf (near Matagorda).  It is not known if Santos and Maria resided at Gulf or in Matagorda. During the years of the operation of Texas Gulf Sulphur, older students attended school in Gulf, while the younger children attended school in Matagorda. Mike was a student of Matagorda ISD, which included Gulf, for at least the first six years of his school education.  There was a hospital at Gulf, and some of the children were born there.

The plant closed its Matagorda County Operations in 1932 and moved to Wharton County, where it established a new town which was named Newgulf. Because of the oil and sulphur discoveries in the area where Newgulf was established, during this same period the town of Boling emerged three miles to the West.  Santos, Maria and the family followed the plant and reestablished their roots in Boling c1937. Maria passed away c1954 and was buried at Cedarvale Cemetery in Bay City.  Santos passed away on 19 February 1977 in Wharton, Texas and was buried at Cedarvale Cemetery.

Military Service


About two years after moving to Boling, Mike enlisted in the U.S. Army at Houston.  At that time he was only 15 years, 10 months and 7 days old.  To get into the service he told the recruiters he was born in 1921, which would have made him 18 years, 10 months and 7 days old.

Mike was first assigned with the 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Clark, Brackettville, Kinney County, Texas for training in the horse cavalry.  Virtually every cavalry unit in the U.S. Army was stationed at or trained at Fort Clark at one time or another.  After his initial training, he was transferred to Fort Bliss, El Paso, El Paso County, Texas in February 1941. It was here he met his future bride, Aurora Urenda. There is a remote possibility they met while he was in training at Fort Clark.

During the next two years he participated in the Louisiana maneuvers (a series of U.S. Army exercises held around Northern and Western-Central Louisiana in 1940 and 41), saw duty as a gunner in a light machine gun platoon, and was sent out on Border Patrol at Sierra Blanca (white mountain), Hudspeth County, Texas.

On December 7, 1941, just one month and a day after his 17th birthday, the Empire of Japan made a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  America went to war.

In 1943 the First Cavalry Division became a dismounted unit - foot soldiers - infantry, and in May of that year the Division embarked for service in the Pacific Theater, Mike was assigned to Co. F, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

The Division arrived at  Brisbane, Australia on July 26, 1943 and began six months of intense jungle and amphibious training.   The Fifth Cavalry Regiment landed at Oro Bay, New Guinea in January 1944. Then in February they assaulted Los Negros Island in the Admiralty Islands (North of New Guinea) where he was wounded in the face by fragments from a Japanese grenade on 3 March 1944, while serving as a squad leader. The Fifth Cavalry was assigned to the Leyte-Samar Campaign and helped liberate those islands from Japanese control in spite of heavy resistance. When the Division saw service at Leyte, Sargent Peña underwent 79 consecutive days of combat. Continuing the attack onto the island of Luzon, Regimental history was highlighted on February 3, 1945 when a flying column (a small, independent, military land unit capable of rapid mobility, usually composed of all arms, and is usually accompanied by a minimum of equipment) of Cavalrymen cut a 100 mile path through enemy-held territory to be the “First in Manila”. Sargent Peña went in valiantly with the flying column which were commanded by Major General William C. Chase.  The Battle of Manila lasted from February 3, 1945 to March 3, 1945.  The battle was fought by American and Filipino forces against fanatical Japanese forces.  The one month battle, which culminated in a terrible bloodbath and total devastation of the city, was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific Theater, and ended almost three years of Japanese military occupation  in the Philippines (1942-1945). During this battle Sargent Peña received a shrapnel wound in his left thigh on February 24, 1945.  His injury forced him out of action for two days. During this battle he participated in the liberation of Santo Tomas Internment Camp, which was the largest of several camps in the Philippines in which the Japanese interned enemy civilians, mostly Americans.  The University of Santo Tomas was utilized for the camp, which housed more than 4,000 internees from January 1942 until liberation in February 1945. (Picture above was taken of the city of Manila after the Battle of Manila.)

On August 13th, the 1st Cavalry Division was alerted that they were selected to accompany General Douglas MacArthur to Tokyo, and would be part of the 8th Army in the occupation of Japan.  On September 8th a history making convoy departed for Tokyo headed by Major General William C. Chase, commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, the party included a veteran from each troop of the division.  Upon arrival at Tokyo another first was added to it’s name - “First in Tokyo”. 

For his service in World War II Sargent Peña received the American Defense Service Medal, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf cluster, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with five Campaign Stars and Bronze Arrow Head, the Army of Occupation Medal (Japan), the Distinguished Unit Citation, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge. He also received the Good Conduct Medal.  From the Philippine Government he received the Philippine Military Merit Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

The Distinguished Unit Citation, later renamed the Presidential Unit Citation, is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to units of the US Armed Forces and their allies.  The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set it apart and above other units participating in the same campaign.  This act should be equal to that of an individual who could obtain the Distinguished Service Cross for it.

After the war was over General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army, communicated with President Roosevelt about his concern for the morale of the infantry troops.  This ultimately led to those who had received the Combat Infantry Badge or the Combat Medical Badge receiving the Bronze Star Medal.  This medal was added to those he had already received.

Returning to the United States in August 1945 he was assigned to Co. C, 807th Replacement Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and was Honorably Discharged on October 3, 1945; he immediately re-enlisted for three years on the same day.

Before he was discharged he returned to El Paso, Texas to marry his sweetheart, Aurora Lola Urenda. She was born on February 21, 1926 at Brackettville, Kinney County, Texas. Her parents were Luis Barcena Urenda (1890 -1960) who was a tailor, and Trinidad Martinez Urenda (1894-1962). Luis and Trinidad are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso.

Her parents were living in El Paso, and Mike and Aurora were married there on September 5, 1945. Staff Sergeant Peña was 20, and she was 19. Nuestras raíces están establecidos aquí.

From Fort Leonard Wood Mike was transferred to Camp Cooke, Lompoc, California (Vandenberg Air Force Base today) and assigned to the 20th Armored Infantry Division. Subsequent transfers sent him to the 41st Armored Infantry Battalion of the famous (Hell on Wheels) 2nd Armored Division at Camp Hood (today Fort Hood), Killeen, Texas, and finally he rejoined Co. F, 5th Cavalry Regiment in February 1947 at Camp McGill near Yokuska, Japan.

While Mike was making his move to Japan Aurora returned to El Paso presumably to stay with her parents.  In March 1947 she and Mike shared in the joy of the birth of their first child, a son, whom they named Michael David.  It is not known when, but after it was safe to travel, she and Michael journeyed to occupied Japan to join with Mike.       [Picture at right taken while Mike was serving in Japan. Courtesy of granddaughter, Mollie Pena.]

While living in Japan they again shared in the joy of the birth of a second son who was born on April 19, 1949 in Yokuska, they named him Frederick William.

While at Camp McGill, Mike, now a Sargent First Class, re-enlisted for three years on October 3, 1948. On August 31, 1949 Sargent First Class Mike Peña was promoted to Master Sargent. In December 1949 the family left Japan and relocated at Camp Carson, Colorado.

Late in June 1950, the Communists struck in Korea. The news dispatches told how the 1st Cavalry was ticketed for battle in Korea.  Mike grew more and more restless in the States. He re-enlisted for six years on July 11, 1950, after having previously served for just over nine years, and volunteered to return to the Far East and the gang in F Company, 5th Cavalry.

Aurora and the children returned to El Paso to be near her parents and where she was employed at the Finance Office at Fort Bliss.

The 1st Cavalry Division made an amphibious beachhead landing at Pohang-dong, Korea on July 18, 1950, the North Koreans were just 25 miles away. To complicate matters a heavy typhoon named Helene struck during this time.

The 1st Cavalry Division was assigned to defend a 35 mile sector along the Naktong River, extending from three miles north of Waegwan, south to the area defended by the 24th Infantry Division in an area called the Pusan Perimeter, a roughly rectangular area approximately 100 miles in length (north to south) and approximately 50 miles wide (east to west).  In the western region, the main line of resistance followed the Naktong River for some 80 miles, then cut sharply east in the southern region at the confluence of the Naktong and Nam Rivers. The northern region was steadily pushed south by the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) steady advances. The sea bordered the perimeter on the east and south.  It became hell in a very small place.

On September 4, 1950 at Waegwan, under cover of darkness and a dreary mist, an enemy battalion moved to within a few yards of Master Sargent Peña’s platoon.  Recognizing the enemy’s approach, the platoon opened fire, but the enemy’s sudden emergence and accurate, point blank fire forced the platoon to withdraw. Mike rapidly reorganized his men and led them in a counterattack which succeeded in regaining the positions they had just lost.  He and his men quickly established a defensive perimeter and laid down devastating fire, but the enemy troops continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers.  Realizing that their scarce supply of ammunition would soon make their positions untenable, Mike ordered his men to fall back and manned a machinegun 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.

For his heroism and his life, Mike was awarded his third Purple Heart and the Army Distinguished Service Cross. Sadly, he gave his life on the date of his fifth wedding anniversary.

Following MSGT Peña's death on 5 September 1950 he was first buried at the temporary 1st Cavalry Division Cemetery located at Taegu, Korea. In May or June of 1951 his remains were repatriated to the United States, and he arrived in Bay City on 10 June 1951.  He was buried with full military honors at Cedarvale Cemetery, Bay City, Texas on 13 June 1951.

1st Cavalry Division Cemetery at Taegu, the site of MSGT Peña’s first burial

Written By: Kenneth L. Thames - Matagorda County Genealogical Society  - This material may not be reprinted without permission.

Krajané Obětmi Války

Na seznamu oběti války vidime v ůterý následující česká jména: Zraněni: Desátnik Joe G. Blažek, syn pi. Lucy Blažkové z Ennis; Pfc. Hubert J. Stanislav, syn Frank Stanislava z Cameron; St. Sgt. Frank Hubnik, syn pi. Antonie Hubnik of Harlingen; Pvt. Mike C. Peña, syn pí. Marie Pěna of Newgulf, zranění v Pacifiku. Pvt. Ralph L. Pěna, syn pí. Ramona Pěna, z Rosenbergu, ranňn v Italii. Pohřešovani krajané: Tech. Sgt. Libor J. Holub, syn Vinc. L. Holuba z Bay City, a Sgt. John Beseda Jr., syn pí. John Besedové z Penelope, pohřešováni na evropském válečněm hřišti. Sgt. Beseda jako kulometěík v ocasu Liberatoru vykonal 20 náletůna Německo z Anglie a jest pohřešován od 22 dubna. Jeho manželka pí. Zelma Besedová procuje v aeroplánové továrně ve Fort Worth. Jeden bratr jeho žije v Dallas a druhý bratr a sestra žijí s rodiči doma u Penelope.

Cechoslovak and Westske Noviny, May 12, 1944

Countrymen Casualties of War

We see the following Czech names in the list of victims of war: Corporal Joe G. Blazek, son of Lucy Blazek from Ennis; Pfc. Hubert J. Stanislav, son of Frank Stanislav from Cameron; St. Sgt. Frank Hubnik, son of Antonie Hubnik from Harlingen; Pvt. Mike C. Peña, son of Marie Peña from Newgulf, injury in the Pacific; Pvt. Ralph L. Peña, son of Ramona Peña, from Rosenberg, wounded in Italy, Unaccounted for countrymen: Tech. Sgt. Libor J. Holub, son of  Vinc. L. Holub from Bay City; and Sgt. John Beseda Jr., son of John Beseda from Penelope, unaccounted for in the European war field. Sgt. Beseda as a machine gunner in the tail of a Liberator executed 20 air raids on Germany from England,  and has been missing from 22 April. His wife is Zelma Beseda who works in an airplane factory in Fort Worth. His one brother lives in Dallas and the second brother and sister live with their parents at home in Penelope.

Cechoslovak and Westske News, May 12, 1944

[Any assistance with translation appreciated.]

Seven Texans To Be Decorated By Philippines

TOKYO, Feb. 1. (U.P.)--Philippine Defense Secretary Ruperto Kangleon today announced the names of 14 combat veterans--including seven Texans--of the U. S. First Cavalry Division to be decorated by the Philippine government during the division's Manila Day celebration next Tuesday.

The men to be decorated were all members of the First Cavalry's "flying column" which made a daring penetration into the Philippine capital three years ago to liberate 3,700 Allied internees held in Santa Tomas Prison Camp.

Texas included are: Maj. Gen Verne D. Mudge of El Paso, Brig. Gen. High F. T. Hoffman of San Antonio, Lt. Col. William E. Lobit of Galveston, F/Sgt Roy K. Moffett of Ruby, F/Sgt. Robert R. Hutsell of El Paso, M/Sgt. Dale E. Mitte of Brownsville and T/Sgt. Mike C. Peña of New Gulf.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times, February 1, 1948


Six enlisted men, members of the 1st Cavalry Division, stand in a courtyard in Tokyo, Japan, after they were notified that they have been cited for decoration by the Philippine government for their gallantry in action during the liberation of Manila.

Left to right are:
M-Sgt. Dale E. Mittie of Brownsville
1-Sgt. John T. Gunn of Courtland, N. Y.
1-Sgt. Robert R. Hutsell of Fort Worth
1-Sgt. Donald B. Kennedy of Wichita Falls
1-Sgt. Hoy K. Moffett of Roby, Texas
T-Sgt. Mike C. Peña of El Paso

(AP Photo)


Pacific Stars and Stripes, November 21, 1948

February 25, 1949
LT GEN Wedemeyer, Deputy Chief of Staff, USA; MAJ GEN Chase, Commanding General, 1st Cavalry Division; SFC  Mike Peña

Cavaliers Corner
By T/5 C. V. Burnett

A volume could be written about Staff Sergeant Mike Peña of Fox Troop. This amiable Texan has served his country with honor and distinction, but because of space limitations, we must condense his "Biography" into one column.

Sergeant Peña enlisted in the Army on Sept. 13, 1940, and received his first assignment with the 5th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Clark, Texas. After initial training in the horse cavalry, he was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, in February, 1941. During the next two years he saw duty as a gunner in a light machine gun platoon, participated in the Louisiana maneuvers, and was sent out on Border Patrol at Sierra Blanca, Texas. In 1943 the First Cavalry Division became a dismounted unit, and in May of that year Sergeant Peña embarked for service in the Pacific war then being prosecuted against the Japanese. After landing at Brisbane, Australia, he was sent to Jungle school for intensive training in this type of warfare. In January, 1944, he landed at Oro Bay, New Guinea, then moved on to the Admiralties where he was wounded by a Jap grenade while serving in the capacity of Squad leader. When the Division saw service at Leyte, Sergeant Peña underwent 79 consecutive days of combat. Manila loomed on the horizon next, and he went in valiantly with the flying columns which were commanded by Major General William C. Chase. In February, 1945, he was wounded by Jap shrapnel and forced out of action for two days.

After returning to the United States for discharge in August, 1945, he reenlisted, and was sent to the 20th Armored Infantry Division at Camp Cook, Calif. Subsequent transfers sent him to the 41st-Armored Infantry Battalion of the famous (Hell on Wheels) 2nd Armored Division at Camp Hood, Texas, and finally back to the 5th Cavalry Regiment which he rejoined in February, 1947.

He wears the Purple Heart with Cluster, Philippine Liberation, Leyte & Luzon, and Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with 4 stars and Arrowhead, in addition to the Good Conduct Medal.

His wife, Mrs. Aurora Peña, and son, Michael, reside in El Paso, Texas.

Date unknown

Aurora holding Frederick and Mike holding Michael David




After Mike’s death, Aurora, with two young sons to raise, remarried to David Connell (1920-2007) who was born in Scotland and came to the United States with his family shortly after he was born in 1920.  David was on active duty in the U.S. Army when they married, and he retired as a Master Sergeant in 1962.  Like Mike, he served in both World War II and Korea.  They were married on February 3, 1954 at Los Cruces, New Mexico.  Of this marriage two daughters were born, Debbie and Kathy.  Aurora, at the age of 86, passed away on December 1, 2012, and was buried next to David at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, El Paso, Texas.

Belatedly, Congress took action in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act to direct the Secretary of each military department to review the records of Hispanic Americans and Jewish Americans who had received the Army Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  The records were to be reviewed to see if the recipient should have received the Medal of Honor, but did not because of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. The Distinguished Service Cross is the nation’s second highest award for valor.

The review took twelve years to complete and the Pentagon said the Army reviewed the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II, Korea and Vietnam and found an eligible pool of 600 soldiers who may have been Jewish or Hispanic. During the course of the review it was determined that six soldiers of African American descent should also have their Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Twenty four were found to be eligible for the Medal of Honor.  Of the twenty four, eight fought in the Vietnam War, nine in the Korean War and seven in World War II. Most of the awards were posthumous - there were only three living. The majority of the recipients were of Hispanic descent, one was Jewish and three were African Americans.

Master Sergeant Mike Peña was one of the nine from the Korean War.  His son Michael received the award from President Obama at an impressive White House ceremony on March 18, 2014 in a ceremony which included all 24 recipients - it was the largest number to be awarded since World War II.

In a second impressive and emotional ceremony on June 8, 2014, Michael Peña placed his father’s Medal of Honor at his headstone in Cedarvale Cemetery in Bay City, Texas.  It took sixty four long years for Master Sergeant Peña to receive his just reward.  In pace requiescat.

World War II Hero Killed in Korea

M/Sgt. Mike C. Peña, cited for bravery and gallantry in World War II, has been killed in action in Korea.

His wife, Mrs. Aurora Peña of 1002 Wyoming street, has been notified of her husband's death.

He was among 14 officers and enlisted men who won decorations for gallantry during the liberation of Manila.

Serving with the 1st Cavalry Division, Sergeant Peña had been in action in Korea for two weeks before he was killed. He entered the Army in 1941 and had been stationed at Ft. Bliss.

During World War II, he was wounded twice. He held the Asiatic Pacific Theater Medal and Bronze Arrowhead.

Sergeant Peña is also survived by two sons, Michael David, and Frederick William, both of El Paso, and his parents of New Gulf.

El Paso Herald-Post, September 21, 1950

20 Texans' Bodies Due From Warfront

SAN FRANCISCO, May 24. (AP)--The bodies of 20 Texans killed in Korea fighting arrive Friday aboard the troopship Bartlesville Victory.

The bodies will be sent with an escort to the point designated by next of kin. The Bartlesville Victory is bringing 420 war dead.

The Texans include:
Pfc. Harvel L. Ballard, next of kin William P. Ballard, 118 North Ave., Lubbock
Pvt. Joseph P. Kramen, 3505 Maintenance Squadron, Reese AFB, Lubbock
Pfc Rudolph T. Maldonado, next of kin Pete S. Maldonado, Galveston
Sgt. Mike C. Peña, next of kin Mrs. Aurora L. Peña, El Paso
Pvt. Ralph E. King, next of kin Mrs. Marguerite E. Temple, McAllen

Abilene Reporter-News, May 25, 1951

Story of A Hero--

Mike Peña Had To Go Back And Help His Buddies in Korea
By Bill Broom

Mike Peña always was a loyal guy.

He joined the Army early in 1941 and ended up in the 1st Cavalry Division right away. He liked the Army so well he decided to make it a career.

He liked his outfit, the 5th Cavalry Regiment even better. He fought with it through the Pacific in World War II.

An old soldier gets to feeling that way after he's heard the zing of shell fragments through the scores of actions with his buddies. It's the trademark of the "regular," the professional soldier who is the backbone of a peacetime Army.

Went to Japan

His wife, who resides at 1002 Wyoming street, wasn't surprised when Mike announced he intended to stay in the Army--and the 5th Cavalry--at the end of World War II.

She and Mike bundled up their 7-month-old son, Michael David, in 1946 and went to occupied Japan. They returned to the states in November, 1949, with a second son Frederick William, now 2.

Late in June, 1950, the Communists struck in Korea.

The news dispatches told how the 1st Cavalry was ticketed for battle in Korea. Mike grew more and more restless in the States.

Then he made his decision.

"I got to go back to the old outfit," he said.

In July, 1950, Master Sgt. Mike C. Peña volunteered to return to the Far East and the gang in the 5th Cavalry.

Mike's story ended eight weeks later on Sept. 4, 1950, in the rugged terrain near Waegan, Korea. The men in the outfit called it "wigwam." It's near the famous "bowling alley" U. N. Forces fought so hard to hold near Taegu.

Mike led a counterattack to regain lost positions. The attack was successful. But successive waves of North Koreans bounced back against Mike's position again and again.

Finally, the ammunition began to trickle out.

He Believed in His Country

Mike ordered his men back. He stayed in the position alone covering their withdrawal with a machine gun.

He held off attackers all night until early the next day. Then the Reds overran his position and he was killed.

Yesterday, Supreme Headquarters in Tokyo announced the posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Cross to Sergeant Peña's widow.

She works in the Finance Office at Ft. Bliss. She lives with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Urenda in El Paso.

"It makes me proud of Mike," she said today. "He believed in fighting for his country."

El Paso Herald-Post, September 11, 1951


Dies Holding Back Enemy--

Widow Receives Cross Awarded Sergeant Peña

Ceremony Is Held At Ft. Bliss

Mrs. Aurora L. Peña of 1002 Wyoming street, received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously awarded her husband, M/Sgt. Mike C. Peña, who was killed in Korea.

Presentation of the decoration was made by Major General John T. Lewis, commanding general of Ft. Bliss, at Post headquarters.

M/Sgt. Peña, who was formerly stationed at Ft. Bliss with the 1st Cavalry Division, was a member of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry, at the time of his death.

The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded him for extraordinary heroism in action against the extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy in the vicinity of Waegwan, Korea, in September, 1950.

On the night of Sept. 4, under cover of darkness and an obscuring mist, an enemy battalion moved up to within a few yards of Sergeant Peña's platoon. The platoon opened fire but was forced to withdraw. However, Sergeant Peña rapidly reorganized his men and in the words of this citation, "led them in a counter attack, regained the lost positions and attempted to hold back the enemy who continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers."

The citation continues: "Realizing that scarcity of ammunition would soon make the positions untenable. Sergeant Peña ordered his men to fall back. Manning a machine bun to cover their withdrawal, singlehandedly he held back the enemy until the early hours of the following morning, when his position was overrun and he was killed.

"The extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Peña in this action undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his comrades and reflected great credit upon himself

El Paso Herald-Post, March 20, 1952


Mrs. Aurora Peña is shown with Maj. Gen. John T. Lewis, and her children, Frederick, left, and Michael.

Distinguished Service Cross

Awarded for actions during the Korean War

The President of the United States of America, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Master Sergeant Mike C. Peña (ASN: RA-18009659), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving with Company F, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division. Master Sergeant Peña distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Waegwan, Korea, on 4 September 1950. On that date, at approximately 2300 hours, an enemy battalion moved up to within a few yards of Master Sergeant Peña's platoon under cover of darkness and an obscuring mist. Observing the enemy, Sergeant Peña and his men immediately opened fire but the sudden, point-blank fire of the hostile forces made it necessary for the friendly troops to withdraw. Rapidly reorganizing his men, Sergeant Peña led them in a counterattack, regained the lost positions, and attempted to hold back the enemy. Despite the devastating fire laid down by the friendly troops, the enemy continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers. Realizing that a scarcity of ammunition would soon make the positions untenable, Sergeant Peña ordered his men to fall back, manning a machine-gun to cover their withdrawal. Single-handedly, he held back the enemy until the early hours of the following morning when his position was overrun and he was killed.

General Orders: Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea: General Orders No. 622 (August 6, 1951) as amended by General Orders No. 638 (August 13, 1951)

Action Date: 4-Sep-50

Army, Master Sergeant, Company F, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division


DSC Posthumously Awarded Mike Peña


The Distinguished Service Cross has been posthumously awarded Master Sgt. Mike C. Peña of El Paso, Texas, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Santos Peña of Newgulf. Sgt. Peña was killed in action in Korea, near Waegwan on September 5, 1950, while fighting in the 1st Cavalry Division.


The citation said Peña led a counter attack on September 4, 1950, that regained lost positions. When ammunition ran low Peña ordered his men back, then alone covered their withdrawal with a machine gun. He held off attacking Reds until early the next morning when his position was overrun and he was killed.


The award was received by his widow, Mrs. Aurora Peña, of 1002 Wyoming Street, El Paso.


Paper and date unknown.

Posthumous Award Goes to E. P. Soldier

By Associated Press

TOKYO, Sept. 10--The Distinguished Service Cross has been awarded Master Sgt. Mike C. Peña of El Paso, killed in action near Waegwan, Korea, more than a year ago.

Peña's wife, Mrs. Aurora Peña, lives at 1002 Wyoming street, El Paso.

The citation said Peña led a counterattack on Sept. 4, 1950, that regained lost positions. When ammunition ran low Peña ordered his men back, then alone covered their withdrawal with a machinegun. he held off attacking Reds until early the next morning, when his position was overrun and he was killed.

El Paso Herald-Post, September 10, 1951


MICHAEL AND Frederick Peña are very little boys and they have no father, but they do have something that will warm and comfort them as long as they both shall live. They, and their pretty young mother, have a memory of a fine American, a true hero.

Master Sergeant Mike C. Peña was killed in Korea. His widow, Aurora, was given the Distinguished Service Cross his courage won. "The extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Peña undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his comrades." the citation said.

Many lived because Mike Peña died.

That's a fact for small Mike and small Frederick to treasure in their hearts all the days of their years.

No man can do more than their Dad did.

El Paso Herald-Post, March 27, 1952

Burial Services For Korean Victim

The body of Sgt. Mike C. Peña, of Newgulf, arrived in Bay City last night at 11:45. Sgt. Peña was killed in the Korean War September 5, 1950. He enlisted in service from El Paso, but he is from Newgulf and Bay City.

A wife, Mrs. Aurora Peña of Newgulf and two sons, Michael and Frederick of El Paso survive. He is also survived by four sisters, Mrs. Ophelia [Ofilia] Peña of Newgulf, Betty Fergueroa of Corpus Christi, Mrs. Helen Hernandez and Mrs. Adelina Tijerina of Newgulf; four brothers, Rubin of Corpus Christi, Alfred, Jesse and Jose of Newgulf.

Burial will be in Cedarvale Cemetery under the direction of Taylor Bros., but date of the funeral is pending arrival of relatives.

The Daily Tribune, June 11, 1951                                  Original marker moved to foot of grave when Medal of Honor marker was installed.

Body of Mike Peña Is Brought Home

The body of 1st Sgt. Mike C. Peña, son of Mr. and Mrs. Santos Peña of Newgulf, was brought home and buried with military honors on Wednesday, June 13, 1951. Sgt. Peña was killed in action in Korea on September 5, 1950, while serving with the 1st Cavalry on his second tour of service in the Pacific. He first volunteered for army service in September, 1940, at the age of 16 and served 27 months in the Pacific for which he was awarded five battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation ribbon. He served with the 1st Cavalry in Australia, New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, Leyte and Luzon. He was with the first group to enter Manila where they liberated the Santo Thomas prisoners. The Presidential Unit Citation was for their successful "suicide" landing on Los Negros Island in the Admiralty group with only 700 men against 7,000 Japs.

He was discharged in 1945 but re-enlisted within a short time and in the early fall of 1950 rejoined the 1st Cavalry Division, 5th Regiment, somewhere in Korea.

He is also survived by his widow and two sons, Michael and Frederick of El Paso; four sisters, Mrs. Ophelia [Ofilia] Peña of Newgulf; Mrs. Betty Figueroa of Corpus Christi; Mrs. Helen Hernandez and Mrs. Adelina Tijerina of Newgulf; four brothers, Rubin of Corpus Christi, and Alfred, Jesse and Joe Peña of Newgulf.

Services were conducted by the Bay City American Legion Post and burial was in the Cedarvale Cemetery at Bay City.

Paper and date unknown.

(Picture was taken March 31, 1947 in Yokasuka, Japan and signed "with Love, Mike.")

Look Back: Peña Killed in Korea
By Merle Hudgins

September 22, 1950 - 50 Years Ago

Sulfurcrat News: 1st Sgt. Mike C. Peña killed in Korea. Peña joined the Army, age 16, in 1940, serving in the Pacific 27 months, where he earned five battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation ribbon. He served with First Cavalry and was a part of the first group to enter Manila to liberate Santo Tomas POWs. He was a member of forces landing at Los Negros and Leyte.

He wrote that American planes planned to drop roasted turkeys to the U.S. troops on Leyte, but accidentally dropped them to the starving Japanese. Mike's group occupied Tokyo. He reenlisted and was sent to Korea with 1st Cavalry, 5th Regiment. He is survived by his parents, wife and two sons. His father has worked for TGS [Texas Gulf Sulphur] for 24 years.

Paper and date unknown [on or near September 22, 2000]


On 9 October 2014, Michael D. Peña received an email from Mrs. Beatriz (Calero) Clark, who resides in Australia.  Mrs. Clark, who is the daughter of Mr. Jaime Calero who also resides in Australia, related that the family had been searching for MSGT Peña’s family since the end of WWII. It was through Master Sergeant Peña’s webpage on the Matagorda County TXGenWeb site Mrs. Clark was able to discover that he had not died in the Philippines, but was wounded, and later was Killed In Action during the Korean War.  This is the wonderful family story she included in her email: 

........... “Let me start back in 1945.

“The Calero family was a large family with 8 children.  One of Grandma’s sisters, Minnie, her husband and 2 sons were also with them.  I think my Great Grandmother Blanca was with them too.  My Dad was the 4th child and he was 14 at the time.  They lived in Manila and had so far survived the Japanese occupation.  My Grandmother Laura was of German/Austrian descent, and her husband Tony was of Spanish descent but at least 3rd generation in the Philippines.  They spoke Spanish and English at home.

“The night of February 10th, Japanese soldiers started to go on a rampage and torched my father’s home.  Grandma and Grandpa had them practice their exit drill many times and a couple of carts with food were packed ready for an escape anytime.  Clothes were at the end of their beds ready to change into and load into the cart. Very organized.

“So they fled as their house burned down.  They all ran with my grandparents leading them to a humble nipa hut or house made of bamboo and woven coconut leaves, the house of their favourite fish monger who the family had known for years.  He and his wife took in the family group of 16 into their tiny house.  They had dug out a trench under the house which my Dad recalls smelt foul.  They hid there til day break when a mortar hit the house and another refugee, who my father said might have been a “lady of the night” (by the way she was dressed) was injured.  As they started to discuss what they should do a young soldier came to the door.  At first they thought it was a Japanese soldier because that is all they had seen for years.

“The wife of the fisherman slowly peeked out the door and said “Americano”.  They all rejoiced.  It was February 11th and was the day this section of the city was Liberated by the Americans.  The soldier advised them to move out because they were in the firing line.  It was your Dad, Mike.  He and another soldier were going from house to house risking their own lives to make sure the houses were cleared.  My Dad can’t recall who asked him his name, but it stuck - they all remembered he said he was Mike Pena.  They (all the Caleros) clearly remember he had a rosary around his neck.  The Caleros like many Filipino families were very devoted to the Virgin Mary.  They felt he was one of them.

“They all took his advice and started to move.  Mike Pena must have watched disbelievingly as all these fair haired blue and green eyed children emptied this little nipa hut along with the fisherman and his lovely wife.  My Uncle carried the “lady of the night” on his back and they crossed to Lourdes Street for safety.  My Dad always stresses that it was the feast of the Lady of Lourdes and they found safety in Lourdes Street as they were warned to move by a Mexican American soldier wearing a rosary.

“I think my father’s family continued to move from place to place during these horrific days of Liberation.  About a week after they met Mike Pena, my Dad’s older brother Dico, who was about 16, went looking for him to thank him and also to ensure he was alright.  He came back to the family with the sad news that the young soldier Mike Pena was killed in friendly fire a few days before in Maytubig Street.  The Calero family were all so sad and for many, many years they felt sad that this happened to their Liberation Soldier, Mike Pena.

“I grew up hearing the name Mike Pena when the family would get together and the conversation often went back to the war days.  The Calero family had a very brief encounter with him in 1945, but never forgot him.”


Maria C. Peña
1895 - 1954


Santos Peña
Feb. 5, 1892 - Feb. 19, 1977

Photos courtesy of
Ken Thames

Aurora Lola Urenda Peña Connell


Aurora L. (Mickey) Connell, age 86, passed away from natural causes on December 1, 2012. Aurora was born on February 21, 1926 in Brackettville, Texas. Aurora is retired from Sears Roebuck and Co. Before illness slowed her down, she enjoyed her weekly shopping trips to the commissary at Ft. Bliss, gardening in her beautiful back yard and taking care of her beloved dogs. Aurora was a kind spirit, a very generous and giving person and was loved by many. Aurora is survived by Leslie Kathleen Connell of El Paso, TX, Debra Ann Jameson of Arlington, Texas and Michael Peña of Warminster, PA. Aurora leaves behind numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. Aurora is preceded in death by her husband David Connell and son Frederick Peña. Rosary service will be held on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 7:00PM at Harding-Orr & McDaniel Funeral Home. Funeral Mass will be held on Thursday December 6, 2012 at 11:30AM at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, 4800 Byron St. Interment will follow at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, 5200 Fred Wilson. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Wreaths Across America, Fort Bliss National Cemetery, 5200 Fred Wilson Blvd. Ft. Bliss, TX 79916, elpasowreaths@yahoo.com A heartfelt thanks to Dr. Jerry Miller, Dr. Renee Martinez, Dr. Alan Karp, the staff at Sierra Medical Center and the El Paso Fire Dept/Ambulance/EMT. Services entrusted to Harding-Orr & McDaniel

El Paso Times from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10, 2012

Marker photo courtesy of Charles Bowman


Ret. Msgt. David Connell

Ret. Msgt. David Connell passed away on Monday, December 17, 2007 at the age of 87.

Mr. Connell was born on March 5, 1920 in Glasgow, Scotland. Preceded in death by his parents, John and Mary Connell, sister Margaret Daly.

Survived by his loving wife Aurora, daughters; Debbie Jameson of Arlington Texas and Kathy Connell, son Michael Peña and his wife Reggie of Warminster Pa, and daughter-in-law Irene Peña. He is also survived by his 10 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. Mr. Connell retired from the United States Army in 1962 and then went on to work for the International Boundary and Water Commision until he retired. He was a long time member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Visitation will be held on Thursday, December 20, 2007 with a Vigil Service at Harding-Orr & McDaniel Funeral Home. Funeral Mass will be held on Friday, December 21, 2007 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 1315 Travis, officiated by Father Benjamin Mones. Interment will follow at Ft. Bliss National Cemetery with full military honors. In lieu of flowers please make contributions to a charity of your choice. Services entrusted to Harding-Orr & McDaniel Funeral Home, 320 Montana Ave.

El Paso Times, December 20, 2007

Marker photo courtesy of Charles Bowman

Frederick W. Peña

PENA,  FREDERICK  "FRED"  W.  On  September 9, 2001, Frederick W. Peña (Fred) was called  home  to  be  with our Lord. He was a longtime resident of El Paso. He was a graduate of Austin High School and a U.S. Navy Veteran. Fred worked as a technician for the Steris Corporation.

He is survived by  his  wife  Irene  Adauto  Peña, daughters Victoria Gibson (Shawn),  Mollie  Peña,  parents David and Aurora Connell, brother Michael David  Peña,  sisters Debbie Jameson  and Kathy Cross.

The Peña and Connell  Families  would like to extend their heartfelt thanks and appreciation  to the IHS Staff, 5th Floor on North Oregon Street and to the Staff at Loma Vista  Dialysis  on  Lomaland  Drive. 

Visitation  will  be  on   Wednesday, September 13, 2001 from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Martin   Funeral Home-Central. Graveside Service will be on Thursday, September  13,  2001  at  9:30  a. m.  at  Ft. Bliss National Cemetery, Pastor Tom Delgado  officiating.  Burial  at  Ft.  Bliss National  Cemetery with  Military  Honors.  In Lieu of flowers, please make donations to the El   Paso Diabetes  Association,  1921  E.  Yandell  Drive, El Paso, Texas   79903.

Marker photo courtesy of Charles Bowman


Please don't say I gave up, just   say  I  gave  in.
Don't say I lost the battle, for it was God's war to lose  or win.
Please don't say how good I was, but that I did my best.
Just  say I tried to do what's right, To give the most I could, not to do  less.
Please don't give me Wings or halos,  that's for God to do.
I want no more than I deserve, no extras, just my due.
Please don't give flowers  or talk in harsh tones.
Don't be concerned about me now, I'm well  with  God,  I've made it home.
Don't talk about what could have  been,  it's  over  and it's done.
Just see to all my family needs, the battle has been won.
When you draw a picture of me, don't draw me as a saint. 
I've done some good, I've done some wrong, So use all your paint,
Not just the bright and light tones, Use some gray and dark.
In fact don't  put me down on canvas, Paint me in your heart.
Don't just  remember good  times, but remember some bad.
For life is full of many things, some happy and some sad.
But if you must do something then I have one last Request.
Forgive me for the wrong I've done And with the love that's left.
Thank God for my soul's resting, Thank God for I've been  blessed,
Thank God for all who loved me, Praise God who loved me best. 

El Paso Times, September 11, 2001

Ruben Peña
(Died October 19, 2012)

Ruben C. Pena, 84, born July 29, 1928, has gone home to be with our Heavenly Father on October 19, 2012. Ruben was retired from Reynolds Metal after thirty three years of faithful service. After his retirement from Reynolds Metal he worked for the Department of Justice as a prison guard for about ten years. He served in the U. S. Air Force where he studied as a radio operator, which led to a hobby of a ham radio operator, which he was very passionate about. He was a loving, caring, strong, passionate and ambitious man who will be missed dearly by many. Ruben always found himself making friends where ever he went, telling many jokes, bringing laughter to everyone. He will be loved and missed by many, but never forgotten. We love you Grandpa Joe. He is preceded in death by his wife, Adelina Pena, his parents, Santos and Maria Pena, brothers, Mike Pena, Joseph Pena, and sisters, Adelina Tejerina, Helen Hernandez and Betty Ruiz. He is survived by four daughters, Elizabeth (Peter) Agostino of Palm Harbor, Florida, Grace (Roy) Del Bosque of Corpus Christi, Texas, Diana (Dan) Rodriguez of Channelview, Texas, and Rose (Rick) Pimentel of Corpus Christi, Texas; one son, Daniel J. (Erlinda) Robles of Corpus Christi, Texas; two brothers, Jesse (Janie) Pena, Alfredo (Corina) Pena and one sister, Ofelia Pena.

Visitation will begin 5:00 p.m., Monday, October 22, 2012, at the Maxwell P. Dunne Funeral Chapel with a Prayer Service to be held later that evening at 7:00 p.m. A Funeral Service will be conducted at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 6102 Greenwood Dr., with Pastor Gilbert Flores officiating. Burial will follow in Seaside Memorial Park. Serving as pallbearers will be Daniel J. Del Bosque, Ricky Pimentel Jr., Andrew J. Robles, James Rodriguez, Roland Pimentel, Ruben Pimentel, Mark Villarreal, Damian Trejo.

Maxwell P. Dunne Funeral Home

Alfred C. "Kenny" Pena

February 10, 1931 - April 29, 2014

Alfred C. Pena (Kenny), 83, of Missouri City, Texas went to be with the Lord on April 29, 2014.Mr. Pena was born in Gulf, Texas on February 10, 1931 to the late Santos and Maria Pena. He spent his childhood surrounded by 8 beloved siblings and many friends. After playing baseball and football at Boling High School, he earned a scholarship to Wharton Junior College before he was drafted to the military.A proud Korean War veteran, Corporal Pena served in the US Army from 1952 to 1954 where he earned the Korea Service Medal, two Bronze Stars, the UN Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. After leaving the Army, Mr. Pena married his childhood sweetheart Corina Garcia of Gulf, Texas in 1954. Together, they raised their family in Houston, Texas where he spent 38 years working for the US Postal Service. Mr. Pena's passion for baseball led him to coach his sons and he loved watching them play from Little League to high school. Perhaps his proudest moment was seeing his brother, the late Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena, recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his acts of heroism during the Korean War in 1950. He will always be remembered for his quiet, thoughtful personality, his fedora hats and shiny shoes, and his love of all the foods he couldn't have. Mr. Pena is survived by his wife, Corina Pena; and four children; Mario and wife Sylvia, Irma and husband Richard, Alfred and wife Patsy, Ruben and wife Alma; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mr. Pena is also survived by his sister, Ofelia Pena of Boling, Texas; brother, Jesse Pena and wife Janie of Wharton, Texas; and many nieces, nephews, and friends.

Funeral Information

A Memorial Service will be held 10:30 a.m., Saturday, May 3, 2014 at Bellaire United Methodist Church, 4417 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX 77401. Burial will take place at Houston National Cemetery May 6, 2014 at 11:15 a.m.

Donations Information

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in his name to the American Diabetes Association.

Miller Funeral & Cremation Services

Joseph C. Pena

JOSEPH C. PENA, 62, of Houston, passed away Saturday, January 1, 2000. He is survived by children David Pena, Eva-Wirth Pena, and Trisha Cortez, all of Houston and 5 grandchildren. Funeral service will be Tuesday, January 4, 2000 at 1:30 p.m. in the Chapel of Forest Park Westheimer Funeral Home with Rev. Eugene Vickrey officiating. Interment will follow in the Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery.

Published in the Houston Chronicle, January 3, 2000

Photo courtesy of Find a Grave volunteer Amy Nicolai #48288653

Pictures and articles courtesy of sister, Mrs. Ofilia Peña and son, Mike Peña.

Medal of Honor Presentation

Copyright 2007 - Present by the Peña family and source newspapers
All rights reserved

Jan. 14, 2007
Mar. 22, 2016