Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

Overdue Medal of Honor Ceremony Rights Historical Wrong

For 24 U.S. Army veterans whose combined service spanned three wars, March 18 was a day long overdue. At a ceremony held at the White House, their Distinguished Service Crosses were upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The ceremony was a historic event and represented the largest Medal of Honor ceremony since World War II.

In the course of that review, 24 veterans were identified as being deserving of an upgrade. The righting of a wrong is reflected in the names of the veterans who received the Medal of Honor on March 18. Names such as Cano, Leonard, Mendoza, Nietzel, Pena, Weinstein, Copas, and Garcia.

The White House ceremony was the culmination of efforts that began with a congressional review and the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which prompted a review of the war records of Jewish American, Hispanic American, and African-American veterans who may have been denied the Medal of Honor due to prejudice or discrimination. In the course of that review, 24 veterans were identified as being deserving of an upgrade. The righting of a wrong is reflected in the names of the veterans who received the Medal of Honor on March 18. Names such as Cano, Leonard, Mendoza, Nietzel, Pena, Weinstein, Copas, and Garcia.

Medal of Honor Ceremony

Laurie Wegner accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of her late uncle, U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Leonard M. Kravitz, from President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House, March 18, 2014. Pvt. Kravitz distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an assistant machine gunner assigned to the 24th Infantry Division’s Company M, 5th Infantry Regiment, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Yangpyong, Korea, March 6 and 7, 1951. U.S. Department of Defense photo by EJ Hersom

Obama traced the origins of the ceremony even further back than 2002. “This ceremony is 70 years in the making, and today we have the chance to set the record straight,” said Obama. “This is the length to which America will go to make sure everyone who serves under our proud flag receives the thanks that they deserve.”

“This is the length to which America will go to make sure everyone who serves under our proud flag receives the thanks that they deserve.”

Of the 24 Medals of Honor, seven were received by World War II veterans, nine by Korean War veterans, and eight by Vietnam War veterans. Due not only to the passage of time, but to the fact that 10 veterans received their Distinguished Service Crosses posthumously, only three veterans, all from the Vietnam War, were present to receive their Medals of Honor.

Medal of Honor Ceremony

Alice Mendoza accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of her late husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza, from President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House, March 18, 2014. Mendoza distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a platoon sergeant assigned to the 88th Infantry Division’s Company B, 350th Infantry Regiment, during combat operations against an armed enemy on Mt. Battaglia, Italy, Oct. 4, 1944. U.S. Department of Defense photo by EJ Hersom

The three living Vietnam War veterans, Master Sgt. Jose Rodela, Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, and Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia, were each called to the stage to receive their Medal of Honor from Obama. “Santiago Erevia, Melvin Morris, Jose Rodela – in the thick of the fight, all those years ago, for your comrades and your country, you refused to yield,” Obama said. “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.”

“We are so grateful to them, we are so grateful to their families, it makes us proud and it makes us inspired.”

Representatives and family members of the 21 posthumous veterans were on hand to receive their respective Medals of Honor. As each name was called sons, daughters, nephews, brothers, wives, and friends took the stage to hear the citation for their soldier read aloud. Tears, smiles, and looks of remembrance were visible on the stage. Each received a framed citation and a Medal of Honor. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is very rare where we have the opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary courage and patriotism of such a remarkable collection of men,” said Obama. “We are so grateful to them, we are so grateful to their families, it makes us proud and it makes us inspired.”

Medal of Honor Ceremony

President Barack Obama, far right, applauds the newest living recipients of the Medal of Honor, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, left, Master Sgt. Jose Rodela, center, and Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 18, 2014. U.S. Department of Defense photo by EJ Hersom

Included among the family members of the veterans receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously was musician Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz’s uncle and namesake, Pfc. Leonard Kravitz, was killed in Yangpyong, Korea, in 1951.  “It’s a wonderful thing to be here today to be a part of this and to see him get his honor,” said the actor and Grammy-winning Kravitz in an Army release. “It’s part of who I am. I am Leonard Kravitz.” The Jewish Kravitz was chosen for the upgrade for his actions March 6-7, 1951, when he stayed behind at his machine-gun position in order to suppress enemy troops and ensure the safe retreat of his comrades. “Just to know that he died that way, he made the choice to stay and to deal with the situation. As sad as it is, it was a beautiful action, and the fact that he is now going to get this honor just makes it end properly,” said Kravitz.

“Just to know that he died that way, he made the choice to stay and to deal with the situation. As sad as it is, it was a beautiful action, and the fact that he is now going to get this honor just makes it end properly,” said Kravitz.

The ceremony provided an opportunity to not only right a wrong, but also to ensure that the soldiers honored will never be forgotten. “These are extraordinary Americans. They are exemplary soldiers,” said Obama.

By

Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...