Due to the color of their skin or their religious background, 24 American soldiers were denied recognition for their service in protecting our country. But now, more than 40 years later, the White House will honor these soldiers who risked their lives in service to our nation. These soldiers will not only receive recognition for their service, but they will be awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor which is the highest U.S. Military Award.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Government revealed plans that they will correct this decades of neglected honoring towards these soldiers who displayed “gallantry above and beyond the call of duty” during their service in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.
However, out of the 24 soldiers only 3 are still alive to receive the recognition.
“I never really did worry about decorations,” said Melvin Morris, on receiving the award 40 years after his brave service. “I fell to my knees. I was shocked. President Obama said he was sorry this didn’t happen before. He said this should have been done 44 years ago.”
Now living in Cocoa, Florida, Morris, a 72 year old African American man, volunteered to go to Vietnam when he was just 19 years old. In 1969, Morris braved an onslaught of enemy fire to save his injured comrades and retrieve the bodies of the fallen. In the process of his heroic act, Morris had been shot several times.
For his action on that day the Army would later say Morris showed “determination possessed by few men,” and because of this he was honored in 1970 with the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross award.
Santiago J. Erevia and Jose Rodela displayed similar heroics like Morris during their time of service in defending our country which has earned them the prestigious recognition and Medal of Honor award.
In 1969, Erevia, a radiotelephone operator from Texas, tended to his injured comrades in Vietnam while his position came under attack by enemy forces. The Military Times wrote on Erevia’s heroics stating that “without hesitation Specialist Erevia crawled from one wounded man to another,” and when armed he charged toward the hostile fire before eventually returning his troops to take care of them.
While commanding a mobile strike force in Vietnam, Rodela was “wounded in the back and head by rocket shrapnel while recovering a wounded comrade,” according to a military commendation. And while still wounded, Rodela single-handedly “assaulted and knocked out (a) rocket position” before returning to lead his comrades.
Prior to President Barack Obama and the White House honoring these soldiers with the Medal of Honor, Congress tried to correct discrimination against soldiers of racial backgrounds who deserved recognition for their years in service.
Back in 2002, the Defense Authorization Act was established to review a list of Latino and Jewish veterans who had served in combat since the middle of the century. This was established by Congress to “ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice.”
The Defense Authorization Act was later open to all servicemen and servicewomen who were denied the award due to some form of discrimination.
The honoring of the 24 soldiers overlooked due to racial discrimination will be first time a group of soldiers were honored at once since World War II. During the ceremony held yesterday, President Obama spoke about the importance of honoring the 24 soldiers.
“This ceremony reminds us of one of the enduring qualities that makes America great, that makes us exceptional,” said Obama. “No nation is perfect. But here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.”