Medal of Honor Ceremony Connects Generations

President Obama will present the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans or members of their family in a ceremony at the White House Tuesday.

Army Sgt. Ashley Randall never knew her grandfather, never knew of his heroism in Korea, until President Obama told her that she was next of kin to a Medal of Honor recipient.

"I didn't know anything, not even his name," Randall said of her grandfather, Army Pvt. Demensio Rivera, who was killed at age 18 in Korea during an enemy assault.

On behalf of her grandfather, Randall will be one of many relatives at the White House on Tuesday to accept the nation's highest award for valor from Obama in a ceremony honoring 24 Army veterans whose Distinguished Service Cross medals were upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Randall, 25, of Portsmouth, Va., said she was serving at Camp Voelke in Afghanistan's Regional Command-North last May, transporting supplies to Forward Operating Bases, when word came down one night that she was to report to the colonel and the first sergeant -- immediately.

She feared the worst. Her squad leader asked: "What did you do?" There was confusion when she was told that she had a relative who fought in Korea whose DSC was being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

"I believed they had the wrong person," Randall said. She only knew that her estranged father had served in Vietnam, and had never heard of a grandfather who fought in Korea.

The next day, Obama phoned Camp Voelke. "Hello Ashley," the commander-in-chief greeted the sergeant. "I recognized his voice and I snapped into a position of attention -- as if he could see me," Randall said.

Obama told her that her grandfather was Demensio Rivera and he told her of what he did on May 22-23, 1951, in Changyongni, Korea.

Rivera, originally from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, was drafted into the Army from New York City. He was an automatic rifleman serving with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, when his platoon's forward outpost came under night assault.

The Army's account of Rivera's DSC said that he "held his forward position tenaciously, although exposed to very heavy fire. When his rifle became inoperative, Rivera employed his pistol and grenades, and eventually fought the enemy hand-to-hand and forced them back."

"Finally, as an overwhelming number of the enemy closed in on him, he killed four of them with his only remaining grenade, athough they were in such close proximity he was severely wounded by the same explosion," the Army said.

"When his position was retaken, he was found seriously wounded and lying with the bodies of the four enemy dead or dying," the Army said. Rivera later died of his wounds.

Randall, who recently signed up for another six years in the Army, said she now draws inspiration from the grandfather she has finally come to know. 

"Knowing what he did, that just shows that you shouldn't ever give up in whatever you do," Randall said.

The White House ceremony Tuesday was the result of a 2002 act of Congress calling for a review of the records of Hispanic-American and Jewish-American veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam "to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice," the White House said in a statement.

During the review, 19 veterans were initially identified along with five others of neither Jewish nor Hispanic descent who were also found to display criteria "worthy of the Medal of Honor," the White House said.

In addition to Rivera, three others of Puerto Rican descent will also be awarded with the Medal of Honor -- Staff Sgt. Félix M. Conde Falcón, Master Sgt. Juan Negrón, and Pvt. Miguel Vera.

In a statement, Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner in Washington, hailed the recognition "of these four soldiers from Puerto Rico, who are a source of tremendous pride for our island."

Master Sgt. Negron, who died in 1996, will be the first member of the famed 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the "Borinqueneers" for their heritage, to receive the award, Pierluisi said.

"The regiment was composed mostly of soldiers from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and its toughness, courage and loyalty earned the admiration of many people who had previously harbored reservations about Puerto Rican soldiers based on stereotypes," Pierluisi said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.

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