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