24 Heroes: An Honor Long Overdue Finally Rectified

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In a White House ceremony President Barak Obama awarded 24 Congressional Medals of Honor to soldiers who in World War II, Korea and Vietnam for heroism above and beyond the call of duty. All fought in desperate actions and gave their full measure of devotion for their comrades. For many it was the last full measure of devotion as they were killed or mortally wounded in battle. All were initially denied the Medal of Honor due to their race or religion. African Americans, Hispanics and Jewish Soldiers were represented.

It took nearly a dozen years after Congress put language in the 2002 Defense Department Authorization to see if there were soldiers denied the award due to their race or religion. The records of thousands of soldiers were reviewed, thousands of records, including award citations, unit diaries and after action reports were reviewed while as many living witnesses as could be found were interviewed by investigators.

Three of the soldiers were present. The other twenty one died, either in combat or after their return home. Seven awards were for World War Two service in Europe and the Pacific. Nine were for heroic actions in Korea, and eight for Vietnam.

Three living soldiers, all Vietnam veterans were present at the ceremony.

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Sergeant First Class Melvin Morris of Cocoa, Florida born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, was commended for courageous actions while a staff sergeant during combat operations in the vicinity of Chi Lang, South Vietnam, on Sept. 17, 1969.

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Specialist 4th Class Santiago J. Erevia of San Antonio, born in Nordheim, Texas, was cited for courage during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky, South Vietnam, on May 21, 1969.

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Master Sergeant Jose Rodela of San Antonio, born in Corpus Christi, Texas, was cited for courage during combat operations in Phuoc Long province, South Vietnam, on Sept. 1, 1969. All of their actions took place 45 years ago, in a war that many still long to forget.

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The posthumous awards for Vietnam were awarded to the relatives of the deceased.

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Sergeant Candelario Garcia, born in Corsicana, Texas, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Lai Khe, South Vietnam, on Dec. 8, 1968.

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Specialist 4th Class Leonard L. Alvarado, born in Bakersfield, California, who died during combat operations in Phuoc Long province, South Vietnam, on Aug. 12, 1969.

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Staff Sergeant Felix M. Conde-Falcon, born in Juncos, Puerto Rico, who was killed during combat operations in Ap Tan Hoa, South Vietnam, on April 4, 1969.

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Specialist 4th Class Ardie R. Copas of Fort Pierce, Florida who was killed during combat operations near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia, on May 12, 1970.

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Specialist 4th Class Jesus S. Duran of San Bernardino, Calif., for courageous actions during combat operations in South Vietnam on April 10, 1969.

Nine Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism in Korea.

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Corporal Joe R. Baldonado, born in Colorado, was killed during combat operations in Kangdong, North Korea, on Nov. 25, 1950.

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Corporal Victor H. Espinoza of El Paso, Texas, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Chorwon, North Korea, on Aug. 1, 1952.

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Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez, born in Los Angeles, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Tabu-dong, South Korea, on Sept. 3, 1950.

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Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz, born in New York City, was killed during combat operations in Yangpyong, South Korea, on March 6-7, 1951.

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Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Kalma-Eri, North Korea, on April 28, 1951.

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Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena, born in Newgulf, Texas, was killed in action during combat operations in Waegwan, South Korea, on Sept. 4, 1950.

Private Demensio Rivera, born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Changyong-ni, South Korea, on May 23, 1951.

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Private Miguel A. Vera, born in Puerto Rico, was killed during combat operations in Chorwon, North Korea, on Sept. 21, 1952.

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Sergeant Jack Weinstein of Saint Francis, Kansas was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Kumsong, South Korea, on Oct. 19, 1951.

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Seven Soldiers received the Medal of Honor for their Service in World War Two.

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Private Pedro Cano, born in La Morita, Mexico, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Schevenhutte, Germany, on Dec. 3, 1944.

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Private Joe Gandara, born in Santa Monica, California was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Amfreville, France, on June 9, 1944.

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Private First Class Salvador J. Lara, of Riverside, California was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Aprilia, Italy, May 27-28, 1944.

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Sergeant William F. Leonard, of Lockport, New Jersey was cited for courageous actions during combat operations near St. Die, France, on Nov. 7, 1944.

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Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza, born in Miami, Arizona was cited for courageous actions during combat operations on Mount Battaglia, Italy, on Oct. 4, 1944.

Sergeant Alfred B. Nietzel, born in New York City, was cited for courageous actions during combat operations in Heistern, Germany, on Nov. 18, 1944.

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1st Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab, born Hooper, Nebraska, for courageous actions during combat operations near Lure, France, on Sept. 17, 1944.

As I listened to the citations being read I full of admiration for all of these men, as well as others who have sacrificed so much who have been awarded the Medal of Honor and those whose sacrifices have not. Of course for every recipient, living or dead there are many more who made gave their last full measure of devotion in desperate and forgotten battles and those who came back from war changed.

I have had the honor of meeting a number of Medal of Honor recipients from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. When I meet them I am always humbled to hear their stories and  see the scars that they still bear.

Today was a special day. Twenty four brave men were recognized for heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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