Decades later they received the nation’s highest military honor,delayed precisely because of their race and ethnicity.
President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 Jewish American,Hispanic American and African American veterans Tuesday in an effort to correct discrimination in the armed forces.
“Some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal,” Obama said at the ceremony filled with family members of the soldiers. “Today,we have the chance to set the record straight.”
The recipients were selected after the 2002 Defense Authorization Act asked for a review of war records from World War II,the Korean War and the Vietnam War to ensure that deserving veterans were not being denied the Medal of Honor Veterans because of racial prejudice.
“Their courage almost defies imagination. When you read the records of these individuals its unimaginable the valor that they displayed,” Obama said.
The law was set in place after Mitchel Libman,83,from Hollywood,Fla.,began contacting members of Congress and asking them to review war records to recognize those who had been forgotten. A childhood friend of Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz,who died in Korea in 1951,Libman believed Kravitz and others had been overlooked for the medal because of their religion.
Obama singled Libman out as among those “who worked so hard for so long to bring us to this moment.”
The ceremony at the White House honored the largest group of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II. All recipients were in the Army.
All other medals were accepted by family members of the deceased.
Shyrell Herrera,daughter of deceased soldier Sgt. Ardie R. Copas,a machine-gunner during the Vietnam War from Fort Pierce,Fla.,accepted the medal on behalf a father she never met. She was born just before he was killed.
“All I could do was cry,” Herrera said after the ceremony. “When they read the citations,I was overwhelmed with thankfulness and proud of my father.”
Herrera said accepting the medal was a form of spreading a message.
“My whole life I’ve known that my father was somebody really special,so this is just a huge honor,” Herrera said. “It just helps to know that people are going to see that he wasn’t just someone who went to war,got in a fight and got killed.”
“On behalf of a grateful nation,we all want to thank you for inspiring us then and now with your strength,your will and your heroic hearts,” Obama said as he applauded the three living veterans.
Reach reporter Alejandro Alba at [email protected]or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Melhor Leonor contributed to this story.
The following living veterans received the Medal of Honor:
- Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia – radio telephone operator,San Antonio,Texas.
- Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris – strike force commander,Okmulgee,Okla.
- Master Sgt. Jose Rodela – company commander,Corpus Christi,Texas.
The following Medal of Honor recipients received the award posthumously:
World War II
- Pvt. Pedro Cano – member of Company C,La Morita,Mexico.
- Pvt. Joe Gandara – member of Company D,Santa Monica,Calif.
- Staff Sgt. Salvador J. Lara – rifle squad leader,Riverside,Calif.
- Staff Sgt. William F. Leonard – Company C squad leader,Lockport,N.J.
- Master Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza – Company C platoon sergeant,Miami,Ariz.
- Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel – Company H section leader,Queens,N.Y.
- 1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab – Company E Commander,Hooper,Neb.
- Cpl. Joe R. Baldonado – machinegunner,Colorado.
- Sgt. Victor H. Espinoza – rifleman,El Paso,Texas.
- Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Corral Gomez – member of Company 1,Los Angeles.
- Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz – assistant machinegunner,Brooklyn,N.Y.
- Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron – member of Company L,Corozal,Puerto Rico.
- Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena – member of Company F,Newgulf,Texas.
- Pfc. Demensio Rivera – automatic rifleman,Cabo Rojo,Puerto Rico.
- Pvt. Miguel A. Vera –automatic rifleman,Puerto Rico.
- Sgt. Jack Weinstein – 1st Platoon leader,Lamar,Mo.
- Spc. 4 Leonard L. Alvarado – rifleman,Bakersfield,Calif.
- Staff Sgt. Felix M. Conde-Falcon – platoon leader,Juncos,Puerto Rico.
- Sgt. Ardie R. Copas – machinegunner,Fort Pierce,Fla.
- Sgt. Jesus S. Duran – M-60 machinegunner,Juarez,Mexico.
- Sgt. Candelario Garcia – team leader,Corsicana,Texas.