Next month President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to 24 discriminated against veterans who during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, committed actions worthy of earning the Medal of Honor, yet did not receive the award due to racial prejudice. While only three of these veterans are alive today, Obama will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to those who should have received the award when they were alive.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military award that can be received while serving in the United States military. It is awarded by the President on behalf of Congress for “acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.” While all of the 24 veterans were previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross award, the country’s second-highest military award, their heroic and selfless actions during the war were worthy enough of earning the nation’s Medal of Honor. President Obama is awarding these 24 veterans the Medal of Honor in order to clear any of the racial bias or prejudice that may have interfered with them originally receiving the award.
The Army reviewed over 6,505 cases where the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded. They then selected 600 recipients of the award who were of Jewish or Hispanic heritage. Of these 600, they chose the 24 veterans whose actions were worthy of receiving the Medal of Honor. Of the 24 veterans receiving the award, eight fought in the Vietnam War, nine fought in the Korean War, and seven fought in World War II.
A press release from the White House explained that the Defense Authorization Act of 2002 was the cause of the review of Jewish American and Hispanic American servicemen’s war records to “ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice.” While these records were being reviewed, other records arose which showed other acts of heroic selflessness that were overlooked because of the veteran’s race. The Act later made it possible for veterans to be awarded medals that were originally denied to them due to racial discrimination. The White House says that by awarding the Medal of Honor to these 24 veterans who were discriminated against for their race, they are finally going to “right a historic wrong.”
The surviving veterans who will receive the Medal of Honor include Melvin Morris, a black Vietnam War veteran who received the Distinguished Service Cross in 1970 for “charging into a hail of fire” to rescue injured; Santiago J. Erevia, a Hispanic-American who received the Distinguished Service Cross who took out four bunkers while caring for wounded; and Jose Rodela, who received the Distinguished Service Cross when he single-handedly took out an enemy rocket position despite being severely wounded by rocket shrapnel.
While there are only three surviving veterans out of 24 who will receive the Medal of Honor next month, the heroic actions of all 24 men are finally being acknowledged with the highest possible award. Although these 24 veterans faced racial prejudice and discrimination when they received their original awards, their selfless actions will finally be rewarded with the Medal of Honor.
By Tyler Shibata