Obama awards Medal of Honor to 24 overlooked veterans

BY Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press  March 18, 2014 at 10:48 AM EDT


PBS NewsHour will live stream the Medal of Honor ceremony, scheduled for 3:40 p.m. EDT Tuesday at the White House. Watch the event in the player above.

WASHINGTON — Seeking to correct potential acts of bias spanning three wars, President Barack Obama on Tuesday will award the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans following a congressionally mandated review to ensure that eligible recipients were not bypassed due to prejudice.

A U.S. military review looked at the records of thousands of soldiers to find those overlooked for the Medal of Honor. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brandan W. Schulze/U.S. Navy

A U.S. military review looked at the records of thousands of soldiers to find those overlooked for the Medal of Honor. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brandan W. Schulze/U.S. Navy

The unusual mass ceremony will honor veterans, most of Hispanic or Jewish heritage, who had already been recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award. Only three of the recipients are living.

The Army conducted the review under a directive from Congress in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act. The law required that the record of each Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran who received a Service Cross during or after World War II be reviewed for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor.

The Pentagon said the Army reviewed the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars and found an eligible pool of 600 soldiers who may have been Jewish or Hispanic. The Army also worked with the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA and the American GI Forum, the largest Hispanic-American veterans group, to pinpoint potential medal recipients.

Of the 24, eight fought in the Vietnam War, nine in the Korean War and seven in World War II.

The three living recipients are all veterans of the Vietnam War:

  • Spec. 4 Santiago J. Erevia of San Antonio, for courage during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky, South Vietnam, on May 21, 1969.
  • Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris of Cocoa, Fla., for courageous actions during combat operations in the vicinity of Chi Lang, South Vietnam, on Sept 17, 1969.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela of San Antonio for courage during combat operations in Phuoc Long province in South Vietnam on Sept. 1, 1969.

Below is a list of the recipients who will be honored posthumously:

World War II
Pvt. Pedro Cano
Pvt. Joe Gandara
Staff Sgt. Salvador J. Lara
Staff Sgt. William F. Leonard
Master Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza
Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel
1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab

Korean War
Cpl. Joe R. Baldonado
Sgt. Victor H. Espinoza
Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Corral Gomez
Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz
Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron
Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena
Pfc. Demensio Rivera
Pvt. Miguel A. Vera
Sgt. Jack Weinstein

Vietnam War
Spc. 4 Leonard L. Alvarado
Staff Sgt. Felix M. Conde-Falcon
Sgt. Ardie R. Copas
Sgt. Jesus S. Duran
Sgt. Candelario Garcia