SAN ANTONIO – Werner "Ronnie" Reininger, 86, was awarded the state's second-highest military honor, the Lone Star Medal of Valor, by Gov. Greg Abbott during a Monday morning ceremony at Fort Sam Houston.
"His repeated acts of valor at enormous personal risk inspired fellow Marines, in keeping with the highest standards of the Marine Corps and the military forces of Texas," Abbott said.
Now a retired sergeant, Reininger was a young corporal who grew up on San Antonio's East Side.
In describing his heroic actions 65 years ago in North Korea, the governor said Reininger fought on despite temperatures 30 degrees below zero, an onslaught of Chinese mortar fire and being seriously wounded.
He said Reininger's machine gun jammed again and again, so he used his fingers to clear away the condensation.
"Each time, his fingers froze a little deeper," Abbott said.
Texas Sen. Carlos Uresti, a former Marine who has known Reininger for years, said, "Even though he's missing all his digits, he gives a firmer handshake than most men will."
Abbott said as the machine gun section leader, Reininger re-directed fire over the heads of the Marines who were pinned down.
He said Reininger later realized he was the only gunner left, loading belt after belt of ammunition until he ran out, grabbing his rifle instead.
But in drawing the rain of Chinese mortars on his position, Abbott said Reininger lost his right leg and what was left of his other leg.
He was later declared dead.
"That is, until he involuntarily coughed and spit out his dog tags that had been placed in his mouth," Abbott said.
He said Reininger would undergo 16 surgeries and married the nurse who tended to him.
Reininger said his only regret was that Jeannette, his wife of more than 50 years, did not live to see him receive the Lone Star Medal of Valor.
"But I know she's proud of me," he said.
Reininger said he'd been told as far back as 1952 that he could be awarded a medal for heroism.
"But I couldn't get the U.S. one, because it had to be signed for," he said, noting the government needed witnesses to submit written verification.
He said by then, "there weren't enough left to sign."
Uresti said he is happy Abbott presented Reininger the long overdue recognition.
The senator said Reininger remained so dedicated to his community and the U.S. Marine Corps he served as treasurer for the Korean War Memorial, erected in 1994 by what is now the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
"He's one of those Marines that inspires us. He's a reason we're proud to wear the uniform," Uresti said. "Ronnie Reininger epitomizes what a Marine is about, what a Marine aspires to be."
Watch below: Abbott speaks on Reininger's efforts.