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Obama gives Medal of Honor to 24 vets from 3 wars



By JIM KUHNHENN

WASHINGTON (AP) - They were heroes who didn't get their due.

On Tuesday, 24 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 - Hispanics, Jews and African-Americans - 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.

As for the medal, he told the publication Soldier Live last month, "I'm only thankful I'm getting it while I'm alive."

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.

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 minority soldiers who had received the Distinguished Service Cross appeared to meet the criteria for a Medal of Honor. Congress amended the directive to allow those soldiers to be considered for the upgraded honor.


Join the discussion

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countrybob5769 March 19 2014 at 5:36 AM

Too bad he can't confront his own imperfections and scrap Obamacare.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Lance March 18 2014 at 9:11 PM

Obama sent me an thank you award for my father (deceased 2011) to frame on the wall. ( DAV, Korean war US navy 5 yrs.) I hung it with much happiness. No president is perfect, but they all do something to remember, and everyone says ( oh he just did it for positive poll numbers). Always the same thing in this country, the president is supposed to be a miracle worker for everyone.

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lov2elkhnt March 18 2014 at 9:08 PM

Ong over due and to such amazing wonderful brave few.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
blueeyessing March 18 2014 at 9:08 PM

That is very sweet. I saw some of the ceremony on the news, and one of the recipients did not think he was skipped because of his race (although could have been). He was just so honored to get the medal after all this time. Thank-you to all of them for serving our country.

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lmckech March 18 2014 at 8:44 PM

Maybe I misunderstood the article. Doesn't it say that Congress ordered the review? [I'm former military, a combat veteran and a Republican and don't much care for the current Commander in Chief, but I'm missing how he had anything to do with this other than fullfilling one of the obligations of his title and presenting the Medals. I can be obtuse, so someone enlighten me.]

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4 replies
sailorant7 March 18 2014 at 8:39 PM

There were many Jews and Hispanic MOH recipients throughout many of our wars, just Google it.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Lance March 18 2014 at 9:16 PM

And what would people say if he didn't recognize our heroes? Damned if you do-damned if you don't. Ask Jesus!!!! He went through it.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
randye March 18 2014 at 7:41 PM

betterlatethannever?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
bsharp2012 March 18 2014 at 7:38 PM

Thank You, god bless America!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
ssteve3844 March 18 2014 at 7:35 PM

As per WELCOME JUSTIN, I don't care what kind of response I get from my post so here it is......ITS WAY PAST TIME TO APPLAUDE THESE SOLDIERS AND I'M GLAD IT HAPPENED. These people went to war and performed acts that most people can't even dream about much less perform.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
Welcome Justin ssteve3844 March 18 2014 at 7:37 PM

Excellent. I am glad at least some people can see through the poppycock and give credit where it is due. Well done !

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
rmg21943 Welcome Justin March 18 2014 at 9:32 PM

It's about time you pulled your head out of your butt and realized that's
what we have all (except you) been saying all this time!

Flag 0 rate up
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