WASHINGTON, D.C. —
They were heroes who didn’t get their due.
On Tuesday, 24 mostly ethnic or minority U.S. soldiers who performed bravely under fire in three of the nation’s wars finally received the Medal of Honor that the government concluded should have been awarded a long time ago.
The servicemen were identified following a congressionally mandated review to ensure that eligible recipients of the country’s highest recognition for valor were not bypassed due to prejudice. Only three of the 24 were alive for President Barack Obama to drape the medals and ribbons around their necks.
“Today we have the chance to set the record straight,” Obama said. “No nation is perfect, but here in America we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.”
The three surviving recipients — Vietnam veterans Jose Rodela, Melvin Morris and Santiago Erevia — received a prolonged standing ovation at Obama’s side, their faces set in somber acknowledgement of the honor.
Rodela, now of San Antonio, was a 31-year-old company commander of a Special Forces strike group on Sept. 1, 1969, in Phuoc Long Province, Vietnam, when he and his company of Cambodian soldiers whom he had helped recruit came under fire from North Vietnamese Army troops.
According to his Medal of Honor citation and supporting documents, the battle lasted 18 hours and 11 men in his company were killed and 33 others wounded.
The citation states that late in the battle, Rodela “was the only member of his company who was moving and he began to run from one position to the next, checking for casualties and moving survivors into different positions in an attempt to form a stable defense line. Throughout the battle, in spite of his wounds, Rodela repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to attend to the fallen and eliminate an enemy rocket position.”
In an interview with the Army News Service last December, he said simply, “We trained for this and I would have done it again.”
Morris of Cocoa, Fla., was a staff sergeant during combat operations on Sept. 17, 1969, near Chi Lang, South Vietnam. According to the Pentagon, Morris led soldiers across enemy lines to retrieve his team sergeant, who had been killed. He single-handedly destroyed an enemy force hidden in bunkers that had pinned down his battalion. Morris was shot three times as he ran with American casualties.
Morris received the Distinguished Service Cross in April 1970. That same month, he returned to Vietnam for his second tour.
“I never really did worry about decorations,” Morris told The Associated Press last month. But he said he fell to his knees when he received the surprise call from Obama with news that he was to be honored.
Erevia, also of San Antonio, was cited for courage while serving as a radio-telephone operator on May 21, 1969, during a search-and-clear mission near Tam Ky, South Vietnam. He was a specialist 4 when his battalion tried to take a hill fortified by Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army soldiers. The Pentagon says he single-handedly silenced four Viet Cong bunkers.
“I thought I was going to get killed when I started to advance because when you fight battles like that you don’t expect to live,” the 68-year-old retired postal worker told The Associated Press last month.
Among those who received a posthumous medal was Leonard Kravitz, an assistant machine gunner in the Korean War who is credited with saving his platoon by providing cover for retreating troops. He died in the attack. He is the uncle of singer and actor Lenny Kravitz, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony.
Obama singled out a childhood friend of the elder Kravitz, Mitchel Libman, for making a mission of upgrading medals for deserving soldiers.
“He and his wife Marilyn spent years writing letters and working with Congress and our military to get this done,” Obama said.
Tuesday’s mass ceremony, the largest since World War II, was the result of an Army review conducted under a directive from Congress in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act. The law required that the record of each Jewish-American and Hispanic-American veteran who received a Service Cross during or after World War II be reviewed for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Of the two dozen, 18 are Latinos.
The Pentagon said the Army reviewed the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars and found an eligible pool of 600 soldiers who may have been Jewish or Hispanic. The Army also worked with the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA and the American GI Forum, the largest Hispanic-American veterans group, to pinpoint potential medal recipients.
During the initial review, investigators found that other soldiers who had received the Distinguished Service Cross appeared to meet the criteria for a Medal of Honor and the directive was expanded to permit them to be considered for the upgraded honor.
WASHINGTON, D.C. —
They were heroes who didn’t get their due.
- National and world
U.S. warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries
“The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the travel warning.
Gaza truce comes after days of pushing for a deal
Finally, less than an hour after all sides signed off on the precise and technical wording for a 72-hour truce, Kerry issued a statement and called a 3:30 a.m. Friday press conference to seal the deal before any party could back out.
Gas explosions kill 24, injure 271 in Taiwan
The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the source of the gas was not immediately clear, officials said.
Congress races to finish VA, highway bills
House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of pursuing a “nutso scheme” of trying to seize on the border crisis to try and grant a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
As U.S. job market strengthens, many don't feel it
"If the economy is getting better, I'm not sure for whom. It certainly hasn't trickled down to me." — Douglas Hunter, who earned $14 an hour before the Great Recession and now works three days a week for $9.25 an hour, mopping floors and fixing fryers at McDonald's.
Republican-led House approves lawsuit against President Obama
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
Sanctions could damage Russia
The sanctions go further than earlier penalties — which had largely targeted individuals — by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.
Thousands flee to Tunisia to escape Libya fighting
Many diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, have pulled out of the country. With the interim government paralyzed, the fighting threatens the planned opening session of the newly elected parliament on Aug. 4.
Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies
Starting in 1960 with “Primary,” Drew produced and sometimes directed a series of television documentaries that took advantage of such innovations as light hand-held cameras that recorded sound and pictures.
GOP-led House approves lawsuit against Obama
The suit will contend that Obama has exceeded his constitutional powers in the way he has enforced the 2010 health care law.
- More National and world Headlines
- U.S. warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries