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The untold story of a Colorado hero

WASHINGTON – Some people called Joe Baldonado a Mexican. He was an American, a Colorado native, and a hero.
Joe Baldonado.

WASHINGTON – Some people called a Mexican. He was an American, a Colorado native, and a hero.

He is a forgotten soldier from a too-often-forgotten war. A poor boy from a neighborhood that Denver paved over in the name of progress.

He was a migrant worker. The son of migrant workers. They followed the work from field to factory from the time he was born in Colorado in 1930 to the day he enlisted in the military in California. He went to Korea and never returned.

Corporal Joe Baldonado is a hero without a hometown.

Tuesday, Baldonado joined the highest hall of valor in American war history when President Obama posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor.

READ: Colo. native receives Medal of Honor 64 years later

His younger brother, Charlie Baldonado of California believes he is the last person alive who truly remembers Joe. Everyone else that close to Joe is gone.

"It's been sixty four years and I still miss him," Charlie said Monday, as he surveyed the Korean War Memorial for the first time.

"I think about him and I keep him alive that way," said Charlie.

At the White House, Charlie stood next to President Obama, where Joe would have stood if he'd come home.

Charlie looked forward, resolute, as the citation for his brother's heroism was read aloud (the citation, in full, is below).

"Some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal," said President Obama.

Twenty four Army soldiers, all minorities, received the Medal of Honor Tuesday. A Pentagon review combed through thousands of war records, and found two dozen instances where soldiers earned the Medal of Honor, but received a less prestigious medal instead.

"There are no words I can express other than to say I am busting all over," said Charlie Baldonado. "I am completely ecstatic."

9NEWS brought the story of Joe Baldonado to veterans advocates and historians in Colorado who have agreed to work on getting him the hometown recognition he never received.

On Memorial Day, Baldonado's name will be engraved on the Colorado Freedom Memorial in Aurora, which lists the names of 6,000 Coloradans killed in war.

Veterans advocate Rick Crandall is incredulous that Baldonado's story escaped notice in Colorado for so long.

"How do you lose Joe Baldonado?" said Crandall. "How does it happen that you lose that story?"

"I'm so excited that, in Colorado, we get a chance to bring him home, that we get a chance to give him honor here, that we get a chance to say to Joe and to the rest of the family, thank you for your service and we have not forgotten," said Crandall.

University of Colorado-Denver history professor Dr. Tom Noel teaches on the Auraria campus, which was built over Baldonado's old neighborhood in the 1970s.

"Urban renewal in those days, part of the scheme was to displace the poor and move them out," said Noel.

He's looking forward to Baldonado's story becoming a part of the history of Colorado that is shared and remembered.

"It's wonderful that Channel 9 is doing this because it's a typical story of a lot of Hispanics who gave their lives, who got lost in the war and aren't remembered often," said Noel. "Heaven knows how many forgotten Joe Baldonados there are.

The Medal of Honor citation for Corporal Joe Baldonado reads in full:

"Corporal Joe R. Baldonado distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an acting machinegunner in 3d Squad, 2d Platoon, Company B, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kangdong, Korea on November 25, 1950. On that morning, the enemy launched a strong attack in an effort to seize the hill occupied by Corporal Baldonado and his company. The platoon had expended most of its ammunition in repelling the enemy attack and the platoon leader decided to commit his 3d Squad, with its supply of ammunition, in the defensive action. Since there was no time to dig in because of the proximity of the enemy, who had advanced to within twenty-five yards of the platoon position, Corporal Baldonado emplaced his weapon in an exposed position and delivered a withering stream of fire on the advancing enemy, causing them to fall back in disorder. The enemy then concentrated all their fire on Corporal Baldonado's gun and attempted to knock it out by rushing the position in small groups and hurling hand grenades. Several times, grenades exploded extremely close to Corporal Baldonado but failed to interrupt his continuous firing. The hostile troops made repeated attempts to storm his position and were driven back each time with appalling casualties. The enemy finally withdrew after making a final assault on Corporal Baldonado's position during which a grenade landed near his gun, killing him instantly. Corporal Baldonado's extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army."