The nation sought to right the wrong of past discrimination in the military on Tuesday by upgrading the Distinguished Service Crosses awarded to 24 mostly Hispanic and Jewish Army veterans to the Medal of Honor.
"This is a remarkable moment," President Obama said at a White House ceremony for the three surviving veterans and the families of the 21 others who received the nation's highest award for valor posthumously.
In honoring the recipients, Americans had a chance "to reflect on the extraordinary courage and patriotism of such a remarkable collection of men,' Obama said.
"These are extraordinary Americans, they are exemplary soldiers," Obama said of the recipients.
The ceremony was the largest group award of the Medal of Honor since World War II, and it reflected an effort by Congress and the services "to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice," the White House said.
In 2002, under the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered a review of Jewish-American and Hispanic-American veteran war records from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The Army reviewed a total of 602 awards of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and decided that 24 deserved upgrading to the MOH, a Pentagon spokesman said.
The Air Force reviewed 186 cases, and the Navy reviewed the cases of a total of 89 sailors and Marines, but both services decided not to upgrade any awards, the spokesman said.
In its review, the Army said that 19 veterans of Hispanic and Jewish descent should be awarded the Medal of Honor. The review also disclosed the records of five others who merited the nation's highest honor, the Army said.
Overall, eight of the 24 served in Vietnam, nine in Korea and seven in World War II.
Obama first called forward the three surviving veterans, who all wore their Army uniforms -- Spec. 4 Santiago J. Erevia, Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris, and Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela. The three aging soldiers stood at attention as Obama draped the Medal of Honor round their necks.
Erevia was honored for his actions as radio telephone operator in Company C, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky, South Vietnam.
Morris will received the Medal for his courageous actions while serving as commander of a strike force from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations in the vicinity of Chi Lang, South Vietnam, on September 17, 1969.
Rodela's recognition came from his actions while serving as the company commander, Detachment B-36, Company A, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces during operations in Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam, on September 1, 1969.
Following the awards to the three surviving veterans, Obama called on members of the families of the other 21 -- some of them in tears -- to accept the posthumous awards on behalf of their loved ones.
Those who served in Vietnam were:
Sgt. Candelario Garcia, for his courageous actions as an acting Team Leader for Company B, 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, 1st Brigade,1st Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Lai Khe, South Vietnam on December 8, 1968.
Spec. 4 Leonard L. Alvarado, for his courageous actions while serving as a rifleman with Company D, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during operations in Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam, on August 12, 1969.
Staff Sgt. Felix M. Conde-Falcon, who served as an acting platoon leader in Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division in Ap Tan Hoa, South Vietnam, on April 4, 1969.
Spec. 4 Ardie R. Copas, for his actions serving as a machinegunner in Company C, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, near Pho Romeas Hek, Cambodia, on May 12, 1970.
Spec. 4 Jesus S. Duran, for his actions while serving as an acting M-60 machinegunner in Company E, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in South Vietnam on April 10, 1969.
Those receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously for service in Korea were:
Corp. Joe R. Baldonado, for his actions serving as an acting machinegunner in 3d Squad, 2d Platoon, Company B, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Kangdong, Korea, on November 25, 1950.
Corp. Victor H. Espinoza, for his actions while serving as an Acting Rifleman in Company A, 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division during operations in Chorwon, Korea, on August 1, 1952.
Sgt. Eduardo C. Gomez, for his actions serving with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, in Tabu-dong, Korea, on September 3, 1950.
PFC Leonard M. Kravitz, for his actions serving as an assistant machinegunner with Company M, 5th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division in Yangpyong, Korea, on March 6 and 7, 1951.
Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron, for his actions serving as a member of Company L, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, in Kalma-Eri, Korea, on April 28, 1951.
Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena, for his actions serving as a member of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, in Waegwan, Korea, on September 4, 1950.
Pvt. Demensio Rivera, for his actions serving as an automatic rifleman with 2d Platoon, Company G, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, in Changyong-ni, Korea, on May 23, 1951.
Pvt. Miguel A. Vera, for his actions serving as an automatic rifleman with Company F, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division in Chorwon, Korea, on September 21, 1952.
Sgt. Jack Weinstein, for his actions leading 1st Platoon, Company G, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division in Kumsong, Korea on October 19, 1951.
Those who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for service in World War II were:
Pvt. Pedro Cano, for his actions while serving with Company C, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division during operations in Schevenhutte, Germany, on December 3, 1944.
Pvt. Joe Gandara for his actions serving with Company D, 2d Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division in Amfreville, France on June 9, 1944.
PFC Salvador J. Lara for his actions serving as leader of a rifle squad with 2d Platoon, Company L, 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division in Aprilia, Italy, on May 27 and 28, 1944.
Sgt. William F. Leonard, for his actions serving as a squad leader in Company C, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, near St. Die, France on November 7, 1944.
Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza, for his actions serving as a platoon sergeant with Company B, 350th Infantry, 88th Infantry Division on Mount Battaglia, Italy, on October 4, 1944.
Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel, for his actions serving as a section leader for Company H, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division in Heistern, Germany, on November 18, 1944.
Lt. Donald K. Schwab, for his actions serving as commander of Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, near Lure, France, on September 17, 1944.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com
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