Two dozen overlooked veterans receive Medal of Honor at White House

posted at 7:21 pm on March 21, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

Three of these men are still with us. It is my favorite feature of the Obama years that we have finally, as a country, stopped stressing about giving this medal to those who both richly deserve it and are still alive. The awarding of these two dozen Medals of Honor was a culmination of a long study of Pentagon records prompted by a suspicion that brave men may have been overlooked because of the color of their skin or heritage.

The emotional ceremony marked the culmination of a 50-year campaign waged by Korean War veteran Mitchel Libman, now 83, who was convinced that his childhood friend from Brooklyn was denied the nation’s highest commendation for combat valor because he was Jewish…

Prompted by a law passed by Congress in 2002, the Pentagon conducted an extensive review to examine past discrimination in Medal of Honor decisions and concluded that 19 men did not receive the honor because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds. The group included 17 Latinos, one African American and one Jewish soldier, according to the military.

But the research also turned up others:

The recipients included non-Latino and non-Jewish veterans after the review turned up other recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military decoration, whom the Pentagon said deserved the Medal of Honor.

Meet the three men still alive to receive our gratitude:

Only three of the newest honorees are still alive. All three served in Vietnam and performed heroic acts in 1969: Melvin Morris, a former Green Beret who was wounded three times while recovering the body of his fatally injured master sergeant in the Chi Lang district; Santiago J. Erevia, a former radio telephone operator who conducted “courageous actions” during a search-and-clear mission near Tam Ky; and Jose Rodela, who served as a Special Forces company commander during 18 hours of combat in Phuoc Long province.

Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris:

Melvin Morris is being recognized for his valorous actions on Sept. 17, 1969, while commanding the Third Company, Third Battalion of the IV Mobile Strike Force near Chi Lang. Then-Staff Sgt. Morris led an advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned his battalion from a series of bunkers. Staff Sgt. Morris was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.

Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia:

He volunteered to join the U.S. Army in San Antonio when he was 22-years-old.

Then-Spc. 4 Erevia distinguished himself May 21, 1969, while serving as a radio-telephone operator during a search-and-clear mission near Tam Ky City, in the Republic of Vietnam.

Master Sgt. Jose Rodela:

Rodela is being recognized for his valorous actions on Sept. 1, 1969, while serving as the company commander in Phuoc Long Province, Vietnam. Rodela commanded his company throughout 18 hours of continuous contact when his battalion was attacked and taking heavy casualties. Throughout the battle, in spite of his wounds, Rodela repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to attend to the fallen and eliminate an enemy rocket position.

All of their stories are here, told by the Army of the Valor 24, as they’ve been dubbed.

A photo gallery of this moving event, featuring family and friends of the deceased, is here.

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…good!

KOOLAID2 on March 21, 2014 at 7:29 PM

Long overdue.

oceansidecon on March 21, 2014 at 7:32 PM

A National shame if these folks didn’t get their awards due to discrimination.

Thank you Veterans.

portlandon on March 21, 2014 at 7:33 PM

Salute

Murphy9 on March 21, 2014 at 7:42 PM

I believe all these people deserve the medal, I don’t question that and I thank the heros for their service. But I find a lot of fault with Obama cheapening the presentation. Historically medals have been presented individually with all the honor they deserve. This was treated like a ‘wholesale attention grabber’. Instead of each recipient or their family spending an hour or so with all the attendant publicity, he gave each of them about 3 minutes. But that’s what I expect of Obama when the military is involved.

Redteam on March 21, 2014 at 7:44 PM

The awarding of these two dozen Medals of Honor was a culmination of a long study of Pentagon records prompted by a suspicion that brave men may have been overlooked because of the color of their skin or heritage.

Might have known that would be it. What “civil rights leader/group” did that ever reoccurring “suspicion” come from?

VorDaj on March 21, 2014 at 7:50 PM

It is never too late to recognize their valor.

MJBrutus on March 21, 2014 at 7:52 PM

Heroes!

CW on March 21, 2014 at 7:53 PM

Just mention words like “richly deserve” and “brave men”, and especially “color of their skin” and “Latinos” and “African Americans”, and even on a “conservative” blog pretty much all reason, even the slightest measure of healthy skepticism, makes a mad dash for the nearest exit.

VorDaj on March 21, 2014 at 7:56 PM

MOH recipients are usually dead. It is classically given posthumously. But somehow Obama managed to find all these living guys to give an MOH to.

HugoDrax on March 21, 2014 at 8:02 PM

It is never too late to recognize their valor.

MJBrutus on March 21, 2014 at 7:52 PM

.
Dittos … totally.

listens2glenn on March 21, 2014 at 8:18 PM

Zachary Rhyner ignored again. Too pale apparently.

Fortitude on March 21, 2014 at 8:18 PM

I watch as many of these as I can and when I do, I think Obama does a great job and for a few minutes I think all of us are united in our appreciation and are awe of these incredible soldiers.

I am very pleased to see that a major requirement for the MOH has been eliminated and that was the requirement to get killed. So many brave acts deserve recognition.

It’s also time for Richard Winters to be awarded the MOH for his actions on 6-6-44!!!!!

smorrow66 on March 21, 2014 at 8:24 PM

I have mixed feelings, cannot prove they were overlooked due to race and (from what I could tell) this was a political stunt.
and I think it taints the honor of the people involved, because I think everyone of them was heroic and does deserve honors.
dunno, maybe I am just jaded now. sad its come to that.I’ll shut up now.

dmacleo on March 21, 2014 at 8:26 PM

dmacleo on March 21, 2014 at 8:26 PM

You’re not alone.

Ugly on March 21, 2014 at 9:12 PM

Ugly on March 21, 2014 at 9:12 PM

I really debated not saying anything as it hurts to think I may say something to dishonor them :(

dmacleo on March 21, 2014 at 9:25 PM

I have no problem with awarding our highest medal to those who deserve it but why the discrimination charge? Can anyone show discrimination based on color or race? Why would Obama state such a problem if no one can show clearly that it was discrimination? When I was in the service many men were overlooked for awards that they deserved. Many times it was because there was so much heavy fighting that the individual heroics were overlooked. I never heard of anyone not being nominated because of their color, race or religion. This sounds like the perpetual victims league whining to get some minority credit. I also agree with the meme that this should be awarded as an individual award and not a group event.

inspectorudy on March 21, 2014 at 9:27 PM

I am happy for all the MOH recipients, but it’s difficult to claim they were “overlooked” if they received (and they did) the Distinguished Service Cross. The DSC may be second to the MOH, but it’s still a prestigious award. Even John Kerry couldn’t fake that one.

It rankles me, though, that discrimination is asserted as fact simply because some politician’s legislation authorizing the relook implies that. With regards to the Viet Nam vets of Mexican heritage, it strains credulity that discrimination was the reason when Roy Benavidez, another Special Forces soldier of Mexican heritage, was awarded the MOH many years ago.

CC Senor on March 21, 2014 at 9:38 PM

The issue for Barry is the optic of the “overlooked” minority…if you read any amount of military history you realize there are plenty of hero’s that are “overlooked” for any variety of reasons, none of which are involve racial or ethnic prejudice…just as the stories of these men’s service is compelling there are hundreds of just as compelling stories out there, its just that the skin color is wrong…

ironmarshal on March 21, 2014 at 10:03 PM

“This ceremony reminds us of one of the enduring qualities that makes America great, that makes us exceptional,” Obama said. “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.”

While presenting the highest honor our country can bestow on military personnel, Dog Eater’s American-hating tendencies took over and he had to cheapen it by interjecting what a bad country he believes us to be. In essence saying “we’re giving you a medal, but the vile country that you fought for, doesn’t deserve you. He is a pig.

Salute \ to the honorable recipients who deserved better than this.

AppraisHer on March 21, 2014 at 10:07 PM

A nation of children led by a child.

Klick the Dick on March 21, 2014 at 10:21 PM

The valor of these men is beyond question. They undoubtedly deserve the big medal. But, people must know that there are many, many men who perform with unusual and conspicuous valor, but are not recognized because of the process. They may not be seen when it most mattered. Their chain of command may not like them. Their chain of command may be “too busy” to fill out the paper work. The REMFs in DC may have met their quota for heroes this month. There are many reasons.

That said, it is troubling that the President has decided to make this about politics instead of just what the men did. Deciding to elevate a large group of men for the medal who had not been awarded it for alleged racial discrimination suggests that the Administration was just looking for veterans of the right color. We have an affirmative action president. We don’t want to create affirmative action heroes.

Spike72AFA on March 21, 2014 at 11:04 PM

Um… this is an end result of a 12-year process under 2 presidents. It was starte by the gentleman mentioned in passing in the article who wanted it awarded to a Jewish friend. If I remember the tale, it came down to the 1SG of their company being an anti-Semite and refusing to do the relevant paperwork despite several other NCO’s and the platoon leader pushing for it. They dug up a letter or memo the 1SG wrote that substantiated the charge, and that began the whole process.

Normally, this should have been done for them each as individuals, but given the number and associated nature of the matters, I can forgive the method. The phrasing and tone of the administration was… accurate, if undesirable. Still, this was a major day for three living and sixteen deceased men, their families, and the Armed Forces.

These men aren’t “affirmative action heroes”, as another commenter so disgustingly phrased it.

These men are heroes. Period. Freaking. Dot.

Asurea on March 21, 2014 at 11:37 PM

Those who would cast doubt on these awards should look into the background of these awards.

Take a look but prepare to be humbled.

Salute ~

lexhamfox on March 21, 2014 at 11:56 PM

Salute my Brothers

Grunt on March 22, 2014 at 12:00 AM

The awarding of these two dozen Medals of Honor was a culmination of a long study of Pentagon records prompted by a suspicion that brave men may have been overlooked because of the color of their skin or heritage.

I don’t care what color you are if you deserve any medal but especially this one it should be awarded. I have read some of past statements for the medal. Stunning what has been done to be awarded the MOH. I don’t think they thought about it they just did it.

CW20 on March 22, 2014 at 12:20 AM

If y’all would read the article the crusade as it were was started by a guy who was pissed off that his Jewish friend who gave his life for our nation was not awarded the MoH even though by all accounts he justly deserved it.

Libman said that while “you don’t usually argue about it,” given that it is the military’s second-highest honor, he thought Kravitz deserved more.

“I came to the conclusion that they don’t give Jews the Medal of Honor. And it was pretty accurate,” said [Mitchel] Libman, who persuaded then-Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) to push legislation calling for the Pentagon review. “However, things have changed for the better. And he got what he deserved. He got the Medal of Honor, and quite a few others got it, too. So it made my life worth something.

SgtSVJones on March 22, 2014 at 12:35 AM

They got double whammied. Overlooked the first time, and now when they do get it, it’s a cheap political stunt.

faraway on March 22, 2014 at 1:22 AM

Political stunt or not, these brave Americans deserved the MOH.
Thanks for your Service and the defense of our Freedoms.

Pelosi Schmelosi on March 22, 2014 at 2:35 AM

Americans are so self absorbed and engrossed in sensitivity training and Diversity, what ever that means to an individual, that they know next to nothing about American History! Think your friends or students are smart? Try asking them where and when was the strongest earthquake to ever hit the lower 48 states.

And, try this one. Name one Soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor; TWICE! Hint: there really was one!

PhillupSpace on March 22, 2014 at 3:00 AM

PhillupSpace on March 22, 2014

19 men, in fact. 14 for distinct actions, 5 who received both Army and Navy medals ffor the same action. The only two I could name without looking it up were Smedley Butler and Thomas Custer (Brother of George Armstrong Custer. Yeah, that guy.).

Asurea on March 22, 2014 at 3:37 AM

I watched the ceremony and read several citations. While these men were deserving of high awards (and indeed many received the Silver Star, etc.) I found most of the write-ups to be lacking IMO for the Medal of Honor.

Go Google the citation for Audey Murphy and compare it to these. There is no comparison.

There is no justification for discrimination but I find this whole process unseemly. Some bean-counter decided that there are less Medal of Honor awards based on metrics and suddenly “It’s discrimination!”

Bull Puckey. The Medal has been cheapened IMO.

BierManVA on March 22, 2014 at 7:54 AM

PhillupSpace on March 22, 2014

19 men, in fact. 14 for distinct actions, 5 who received both Army and Navy medals ffor the same action. The only two I could name without looking it up were Smedley Butler and Thomas Custer (Brother of George Armstrong Custer. Yeah, that guy.).

Asurea on March 22, 2014 at 3:37 AM

It should be 20. John Basilone should have received a second for his actions on Iwo Jima.

hawkdriver on March 22, 2014 at 8:19 AM

We are all free to judge and comment as we want; and this is as it should be. If I was a 1/10th of a man that these gentlemen showed, I would be a better man than I now am.

To my dear friend Budweiser, August 1968, FAC, Oscar Duece, you are not forgotten.

HonestLib on March 22, 2014 at 8:34 AM

It’s a shame that this citation was presented by a man with no honor–the president.

zoyclem on March 22, 2014 at 8:35 AM

These guys earned their medals – now I’d have something to say if this White House awarded a MOH to Leonard Matlovich.

Otherwise this non-serving citizen is greatful that these rough men make it possible for me to sleep peaceably in my bed at night, because they were ready to do violence on my behalf.

Wander on March 22, 2014 at 9:30 AM

To my dear friend Budweiser, August 1968, FAC, Oscar Duece, you are not forgotten.

HonestLib on March 22, 2014 at 8:34 AM

My uncle bought it in ’68 as a FAC. Sniper on final approach. RIP, Freddy.

Nape-wa-ste on March 22, 2014 at 9:53 AM

dmacleo on March 21, 2014 at 8:26 PM

Sadly, ditto.

These guys were brave, yes. And I have no doubt that if I were to read each of their stories I would be inspired. But the MOH is more than that. I won’t disparage their heroism, but there is a reason that most MOHs are given posthumously – because the extraordinary things done generally get you killed.

And the excerpt for Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia seems very weak. He received the MOH for “courageous actions” and “distinguish[ing] himself”? Those are the words on a Bronze Star with V citation. Why not excerpt something that made the reader say “Wow. That is ‘above and beyond the call of duty’”?

GWB on March 22, 2014 at 9:57 AM

My uncle bought it in ’68 as a FAC. Sniper on final approach. RIP, Freddy.

Nape-wa-ste on March 22, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Was he a “regular” FAC? Or was he a Raven?

(Being a FAC in ‘Nam was ballsy to say the least, but the guys who ended up as Ravens were exceptionally so.)

GWB on March 22, 2014 at 9:59 AM

MOH recipients are usually dead. It is classically given posthumously. But somehow Obama managed to find all these living guys to give an MOH to.

HugoDrax on March 21, 2014 at 8:02 PM

Even at the height of segregation during World War II, Doris Miller was publicly honored by the U.S. Navy for his bravery at Pearl Harbor. He “only” received a Navy Cross if memory serves, but I don’t think there’s been an ongoing cabal to deny minorities of their just rewards. Bravery is bravery, and though there are racist chuckleheads in every group, I seriously doubt most white men would be anything less than grateful to anyone who saved their bacon in combat.

But I do tend to think that 100 years from now the average American will be led to believe that it was minorities who won both World Wars, and carried on the brunt of the fighting in Korea and Vietnam while the White Man stayed in the rear with the gear.

Dr. ZhivBlago on March 22, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Was he a “regular” FAC? Or was he a Raven?

(Being a FAC in ‘Nam was ballsy to say the least, but the guys who ended up as Ravens were exceptionally so.)

GWB on March 22, 2014 at 9:59 AM

I don’t know, but as you say- being a Forward Air Controller took guts with a little kray-kray thrown in for good measure.

He was an 04 (Major) in the USAF and served in 1967-1968: 504th Tactical Air Control Group; 19th Tactical Air Support Group; 7th Air Force. Greatly admired and missed.

Nape-wa-ste on March 22, 2014 at 10:59 AM

@ GWB on March 22, 2014 at 9:59 AM
As I said, I don’t know if Freddie was a ‘Raven’ but here’s his awards–
National Defense Service Medal (1953 Korea), Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Air Force Presidential Citation, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Air Force Longevity Award.

Nape-wa-ste on March 22, 2014 at 11:09 AM

effing government…… yet again, too little, too late. Would have been nice if the others were still alive. Whoever makes the decision to deny the MoH should be exposed to us all for vilification.

ultracon on March 22, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Some random thoughts:

The small cemetery in Brqcketville, TX for the Black Seminole army scouts contains the graves of four MoH recipients. These soldiers were both black and Indian, and a fairly high percentage of them received that medal in the late 1800s. It’s possible they awarded the medal more freely then.

My city San Antonio has, I think, two highways named for Hispanic MoH recipients from our area.

The MoH has a history of being awarded on service branch politics and other criteria besides the proper ones. I can also think of some Iraq and Afghanistan non-minority vets who didn’t receive the medal, but did things as heroic as others who did. I can also think of some white MoH recipients who’s actions didn’t really seem to merit the medal.

However, I honor them all for their service and their valor.

juliesa on March 22, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Nape-wa-ste on March 22, 2014 at 10:59 AM

If he was 504th, it’s entirely possible he was a Raven. They were the FACs flying out of Laos against the Ho Chi Minh trail. As a matter of fact, one of their airstrips was overrun in 1968.

Among the names of the Ravens in the book, I see: J Fred Guffin and Frederick E Roth, though neither is listed in the In Memoriam section.

Either way, I’ll raise a glass of water in his honor today.

GWB on March 22, 2014 at 12:44 PM

Oh, for everyone’s benefit, the book is The Ravens, by Christopher Robbins. It’s a great read, and you will want to lift a glass or two at the end to these men’s valor (and their craziness).

GWB on March 22, 2014 at 12:48 PM

I’m going to say it- pure politics. Can’t have whitey over-represented with the Medal of Honor.

That evil whitey had been denying those medals yet again. Some of those stories there sure looked like every-day grunt work to me. You may as well give the Medal of Honor to every returning combat veteran.

Question- how did Ira Hayes slip by whitey’s racist stink eye?

The left is destroying the American military in every way possible. It’s now the province of females, blacks, and gays, with oppressive political correctness enforcing the dogma. PC has been infiltrating the military since the ’70s, but it has really ramped up these days.

Just see how well such a force defends America’s interests, such as they are. If Putin outlaws abortion, it’s on.

Yes, I served.

Anti-Statist on March 22, 2014 at 1:37 PM

@GWB
He was shot down around Tay Ninh, so I think he was flying Cambodian sorties in a 01 Bird dog.
The FAC’s suffered a 30% casualty rate- the highest of the war.

Nape-wa-ste on March 22, 2014 at 1:47 PM

And, try this one. Name one Soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor; TWICE! Hint: there really was one!

PhillupSpace on March 22, 2014 at 3:00 AM

Actually, there have been nineteen men who won the MoH twice.

Smedley Butler was the only man to win two MoHs and a Marine Corps Brevet.

Solaratov on March 22, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Anti-Statist on March 22, 2014 at 1:37 PM

There’s a lot of Japanese Americans who won the MoH also. Europe WW2.

smoothsailing on March 22, 2014 at 4:46 PM

politics.

bluesdoc70 on March 22, 2014 at 8:41 PM

Not to take anything away from these brave men(watching it on C-span now)
But I believe the President was presenting these awards. They were in fact awarded to
These heroes by Congress, not the President.

Hollywood can’t even make some of this stuff up.

These guys are the real thing.

Tenwheeler on March 22, 2014 at 11:04 PM

There was certainly discrimination here in the past, and there is certainly discrimination in the method of remedying the discrimination.

Indeed, a more neutral process would have been to examine all of the awards made in the military for valor, under common criteria for each award, to see whether an upgrade in award should have been made for each instance.

That’s the problem here. This cherrypicking of examination based on race and ethnicity of last name looks and smells like Affirmative Action, in which someone who was given a lesser award (such as the Bronze Star) is upgraded purely because of the color of their skin, or — in the case of the Jewish recipients — their religion.

That’s the stinky part here — the one that puts the doubt in the back of the mind as to whether these individuals are not being treated “more fairly” than others of equal valor. And to have it happen under this particular President, who’s made clear his own racial animosity even to the grandmother who raised him, makes it even more galling.

[Disclosure: My Marine uncle died at Iwo Jima, my father served in the Navy and was present at Iwo when his brother was killed, and four of my mother’s brothers went ashore on D day and fought their way through Europe. I had friends who died in Vietnam. None of these people got any awards (except a Purple Heart for my dead uncle), but I’m sure — given their occasional stories — that they were all heroes. That was truly a great generation, where uncommon valor was a common virtue.

unclesmrgol on March 23, 2014 at 12:36 PM