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24 to receive Medal of Honor today at the White House

Mar. 18, 2014 - 04:58PM   |  

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At the White House today, 24 people, three of them living, are receiving the Medal of Honor for their valor in wars of past decades.

President Obama will present the awards in recognition of their actions in World War II, Vietnam and Korea. The Medal of Honor will be presented posthumously to the families of 21 soldiers who have died.

Each of the soldiers previously received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award. That award will be upgraded to the Medal of Honor in recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

Congress, through the Defense Authorization Act, called for a review in 2002 of Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran war records from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice.

During the review, records of several soldiers of neither Jewish nor Hispanic descent were also found to have criteria worthy of the Medal of Honor. The 2002 Act was amended to allow these soldiers to be honored with the upgrade, in addition to the Jewish and Hispanic-American soldiers.

Living recipients

Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, African American, Vietnam War

On Sept. 17, 1969, soldiers from 1st and 3rd Battalions, IV Mobile Strike Force were conducting a search and clear operation near Chi Lang, Vietnam. Morris, commander of 3rd Company, 3rd Battalion, learned that sister companies from his battalion had encountered an extensive enemy mine field and were engaged with the enemy.

Morris immediately reorganized the force into an effective assault posture and moved them forward before he and two other men went to recover the body of a fallen team commander. Enemy fire wounded the two men with Morris, so he helped them back to the main force and then charged alone into the hail of fire. He threw grenades into the nearest enemy bunker. While his men provided suppressive fire, Morris destroyed four more enemy positions to get to his fallen comrade.

Morris was wounded three times but he did not stop until he brought the fallen soldier back to safety.

Master Sgt. Jose Rodela, Hispanic American, Vietnam War

On Sept. 1, 1969, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Mobile Strike Force Command in Phuoc Long Province, Vietnam, moved to support a sister battalion that had suffered heavy casualties. On their way there, the soldiers from 3rd Battalion came under heavy mortar, rocket, machine-gun and small arms fire. The attack was so intense the unit suffered 42 casualties almost immediately.

Rodela, a company commander, immediately began to move from man to man in his company, physically pushing them into defensive positions to form a half-moon perimeter. His actions allowed the unit to organize a defensive perimeter. When the firing eased, Rodela jumped up, exposing himself to enemy fire, and began checking for casualties and moving survivors into different positions to try and form a stable defensive line.

Spc. Santiago Erevia, Hispanic American, Vietnam War

On May 21, 1969, Erevia’s company was engaged in a search and clear operation near Tam Ky in Vietnam’s Quang Tin Province. After a number of light skirmishes, the soldiers, from C Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, arrived at a hillside, where they came under heavy enemy fire and suffered numerous casualties. Erevia, the radio telephone operator, was asked by his platoon leader to give aid to four wounded comrades while the others pushed forward against the enemy.

While caring for the wounded, the men came under intense automatic weapons and small arms fire from four enemy bunkers about 50 meters to their left. With bullets striking all around him, Erevia crawled from one wounded man to another, gathering up weapons and ammunition. Armed with two M-16 rifles and several hand grenades, Erevia moved in on the enemy bunkers.

Erevia pulled the pin on a hand grenade and fired his rifles until he was able to drop the grenade into a bunker, destroying the position and killing the enemy fighter. Erevia continued to move to the other three bunkers and silenced them by throwing a grenade at two positions and firing his M-16 at the last bunker. He then returned to aid in treating and evacuating the dead and wounded from his company.

Posthumous awards:

Staff Sgt. Salvador J. Lara, Hispanic American, WWII

Then-Pfc. Salvador Lara led his rifle squad to inflict large casualties on enemy forces. And when they resumed the attack the following morning, his leg was severely injured, and he did not stop for first aid.

When his element suffered under withering machine gun fire, he crawled alone to the nearest machinegun and took out the Germans manning it. The action took place on May 27 and 28, 1944, in Aprilia, Italy.

Pvt. Pedro Cano, Hispanic American, WWII

During the months-long battle of Hurtgen Forest, Cano killed 30 enemy troops on Dec. 2 and 3, 1944, in Schevenhütte, Germany.

While on a patrol, Cano’s unit took casualties and he played dead, then tossed a grenade at the German soldiers, killing or wounding all of them. He was badly injured shortly thereafter.

Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel, Caucasian, WWII

While an enemy assault threatened to overrun Nietzel’s position, he ordered the three remaining men from his squad to retreat for reinforcements on Nov. 18, 1944, in Heistern, Germany.

He lay suppressive fire until his ammunition ran out before he was killed with a grenade. His actions delayed enemy troops until reinforcements could occupy defensive positions and halt the hostile drive.

1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab, Caucasian, WWII

Schwab led his company over 400 yards of bare, coverless ground against a formidable line of machine-guns and machine-pistols, made three charges with his dwindling group of men before he charged the enemy alone in Lure, France on Sept. 17, 1944.

Ultimately, he took out a German pistol nest by ripping off its shelter cover, bludgeoning the gunner with his carbine and dragging him behind friendly lines amid a hail of gunfire. The action so disorganized the enemy troops that they abandoned their defenses and withdrew.

Pfc. William F. Leonard, Caucasian, WWII

On Nov. 7, 1944, near St. Die, France, Pfc. William F. Leonard braved machine-gun fire to assault a hill after his platoon was reduced to eight men, killing two snipers 50 and 75 yards away.

Shot in the neck and back, he destroyed a machine gun with grenades, killing its two-man crew. Stunned by an exploding bazooka shell, he advanced to knock out a second machine gun.

Staff Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza, Hispanic American, WWII

Staff Sgt. Manuel Mendoza single-handedly broke up a German counterattack on Oct. 4, 1944, in Mt. Battaglia, Italy. While wounded, he grabbed a submachine gun, crested a hill and fired on 200 heavily armed enemy troops who were charging the hill from the other side, killing 30 of them.

After the enemy withdrew, he retrieved many enemy weapons, captured a wounded enemy soldier and returned to a friendly position.

Pvt. Joe Gandara, Hispanic American, WWII

Gandara’s detachment came under devastating enemy fire from a strong German force, pinning the men to the ground for about four hours on June 9, 1944, in Amfreville, France.

Gandara advanced voluntarily and alone toward the enemy position and destroyed three hostile machine-guns before he was fatally wounded.

Sgt. Jesus Duran, Hispanic American, Vietnam War

On April 10, 1969, in Tay Ninh, Vietnam, Duran, a machine gunner with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, was on a search and clear operation. As the soldiers moved into an elaborate enemy bunker complex, the lead elements began taking fire from every side. With his M-60 machine gun blazing from his hip, Duran rushed forward and assumed a defensive position near the command post.

As the hostile forces stormed the post with small arms fire and grenades, Duran thwarted their efforts with devastating streams of machine-gun fire. Learning that two seriously wounded troopers were pinned down by harassing enemy fire, Duran assaulted the enemy positions, firing deadly bursts on the run.

Duran climbed onto a log and fired directly into the enemy’s foxholes, eliminating four fighters and several others as they fled. He then continued to pour effective fire on the disorganized and fleeing enemy.

Staff Sgt. Felix Conde-Falcon, Hispanic American, Vietnam War

Conde-Falcon was a platoon leader on April 4, 1969, when his unit conducted a sweep operation near Ap Tan Hoa, Vietnam. The soldiers came upon an extensive enemy bunker complex, which turned out to be a battalion command post. After artillery and air strikes on the position, Conde-Falcon’s platoon went in to clear the bunker.

Conde-Falcon charged the first bunker, heaving grenades as he went. He moved on to two more bunkers, destroying them as well. When he rejoined his platoon, they moved about 100 meters before they came under intense hostile fire. Conde-Falcon single-handedly assaulted the nearest enemy position, killing the fighters inside before running out of ammunition. He picked up an M-16 rifle but was shot by an unseen assailant and soon died of his wounds.

Spc. Leonard Alvarado, Hispanic American, Vietnam War

On Aug. 12, 1969, while serving as a rifleman during a mission to relieve a sister platoon in Phuoc Long Province, Vietnam, Alvarado recognized and disrupted an enemy raid. Despite his quick reaction, he and his comrades were quickly pinned down by the enemy force that blocked the path to the trapped platoon.

As Alvarado rushed forward to engage the enemy, a grenade exploded nearby, wounding and momentarily stunning him. Alvarado killed the grenadier just as another enemy barrage wounded him again. He crawled forward to pull several soldiers back within a hastily formed perimeter.

Realizing that his element had to break away from the enemy force, Alvarado began moving forward alone. Exploding satchel charges kept throwing him to the ground, but Alvarado continued to move and fire, silencing several enemy positions. He continued to lay down suppressive fire on the hostile forces. After the enemy broke contact, his comrades discovered Alvarado had died from his wounds.

Sgt. Candelario Garcia, Hispanic American, Vietnam War

Garcia was a team leader in B Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. On Dec. 8, 1968, during a reconnaissance-in-force mission near Lai Khe, Vietnam, Garcia’s platoon discovered communication wire and other signs of an enemy base camp leading into a densely vegetated area. The soldiers came under intense fire and several were wounded and trapped in the open.

Ignoring the hail of bullets, Garcia crawled to within 10 meters of a machine-gun bunker, leaped to his feet and ran directly at it, firing his rifle as he charged. He jammed two hand grenades into the gun port and then placed the muzzle of his weapon inside, killing all four occupants. Garcia then ran 15 meters to another bunker and killed the three enemy inside with hand grenades and rifle fire. He then helped rescue two casualties and joined his company in an assault that overran the remaining enemy positions.

Spc. Ardie Copas, Caucasian American, Vietnam War

On May 12, 1970, near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia, Copas’ company was attacked by a large hostile force firing recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. Copas, a machine-gunner, began returning fire but was knocked to the ground when his armored car was hit by an enemy recoilless round. Four other Americans were wounded.

Ignoring his wounds, Copas climbed back into the burning vehicle and began firing his machine-gun at the enemy. Copas laid down suppressive fire until the four wounded were safely evacuated; he continued to fight until he was mortally wounded by an enemy round.

Cpl. Victor H. Espinoza, Hispanic American Korea

Then-Cpl. Victor Espinoza spearheaded an attack to secure “Old Baldy” when his unit was pinned down by withering fire from fortified positions.

In daring succession, Espinoza single-handedly silenced a machine-gun and its crew, discovered and destroyed a covert enemy tunnel, and wiped out two bunkers. His actions, which took place Aug. 1, 1952 at Chorwon, Korea, inspired his unit and enabled them to secure the strong-point against great odds.

Sgt. Juan E. Negron, Hispanic American, Korea

On April 28, 1951, near Kalmaeri, Korea, then-Sgt. Negron was told elements of the company were withdrawing from an exposed position, but Negron refused to leave and delivered withering fire at hostile troops who had broken through a road block.

As hostile troops approached his position, Negron hit them with hand grenades and stopped their attack. He held the position all night, while an allied counter attack was organized and launched. After the enemy was repulsed, 15 of them were found a few feet from Negron’s position.

Pvt. Miguel Armando “Nando” Vera, Hispanic American, Korea

Citation summary: Vera, a native of Puerto Rico native, on Sept. 21, 1952, was serving with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Chorwon, Korea. Vera’s unit was committed to assault and secure the right sector of the hill “Old Baldy” and, although wounded in an earlier engagement, Vera voluntarily rejoined elements of the platoon regrouping at the hill’s base.

Forging up the bare, rocky slope in skirmisher formation, the troops came within 20 yards of hostile positions when they were subjected to heavy artillery and mortar barrages and intense cross-fire from automatic weapons and grenades, which forced them to move back. Vera remained behind to cover the withdrawal and, poured crippling fire into enemy emplacements. During this action he lost his life.

Pfc. Demensio Rivera, Hispanic American, Korea

Citation summary: On May 22-23, 1951, Rivera, an 18-year-old native of Puerto Rico, was serving with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division at Changyongni. When his platoon’s outpost was assaulted at night, Rivera, an automatic rifleman, tenaciously held his position. When his rifle became inoperative, Rivera employed his pistol and grenades, and eventually fought the enemy hand-to-hand and forced them back. As an overwhelming number of the enemy closed in, he killed four with his only remaining grenade. When his position was retaken, he was found seriously wounded and lying with the bodies of the four enemy dead or dying.

Sgt. Jack Weinstein, Caucasian, Korea

Citation summary: Weinstein, of Lamar, Mo., was serving with Company G, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division on Oct. 19, 1951, near Kumson. Weinstein was in the lead as the first platoon of Company G attempted to take an enemy-held position. After gaining the ground, the platoon, consisting of two five-man squads, was hit by a fierce counterattack by about 30 fanatical Chinese Communist troops. Most of the members of the platoon had been wounded in the previous action and withdrew. Weinstein continued to fight off the rushing enemy. At least six were killed by Weinstein’s M-1 rifle before he ran out of ammo.

Although under extremely heavy enemy fire, he refused to withdraw and continued fighting by throwing enemy hand grenades which were lying near his position. Alone and unaided he held the ground his platoon had fought hard to take. He held out against overwhelming odds until another platoon was able relieve him and drive back the enemy. Weinstein’s leg had been broken by an enemy grenade and old wounds suffered in previous battles had reopened, but he refused to withdraw until wounded comrades could reach friendly lines. Weinstein died on April 20, 2006, at the age of 77.

Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz, Jewish American, Korea

Citation summary: Kravitz, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native, on March 6-7, 1951, was serving with Company M, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team, attached to the 24th Infantry Division, in Yangpyong. Kravitz’s unit was overrun by enemy and forced to withdraw from a defensive position.

Kravitz voluntarily remained at his machine-gun to provide suppressive fire. This forced the enemy to concentrate their attack on his own position. Kravitz was killed, but his actions saved his entire platoon.

Sgt. Eduardo Corral Gomez, Hispanic American, Korea

Citation summary: Gomez, a Los Angeles native, was serving with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division, on Sept. 3, 1950, at Tabu-dong. While readying defensive positions, his company was ruthlessly attacked. Gomez maneuvered across open ground to successfully assault a manned tank.

Wounded in the left side while returning to his position, he refused medical care, instead manning his post and firing upon the enemy. Although his weapon overheated and burned his hands and his painful wound still bled, he maintained his stand and, upon orders to withdraw in the face of overwhelming enemy superiority, remained to provide protective fire, exacting more enemy casualties.

Cpl Joe R. Baldonado, Hispanic American, Korea

Citation summary: Baldonado, a 20-year-old Colorado native, was serving with Company B, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, on Nov. 25, 1950, at Hill 171 in the vicinity of Kangdong. At approximately 4 a.m., 2nd Platoon was occupying positions on Hill 171 when the enemy tried to launch a strong attack to occupy the hill. By 6 a.m., the platoon had expended most of its ammo, and the platoon leader decided to commit his third squad.

Since there was not time to dig in, Baldonado, a machine-gunner of the third squad, placed his weapon in an exposed position and delivered a withering stream of fire on the advancing enemy, causing them to fall back. The enemy then concentrated all their fire on Baldonado’s gun, and attempted to knock it out by rushing the position in small groups and hurling grenades. Several times grenades exploded extremely close to Baldonado, but failed to interrupt him. The enemy finally withdrew at 7 a.m., after making a final assault on Baldonado’s position, during which a grenade landed near his gun, killing him instantly. Baldonado’s remains still have not been found.

Master Sgt. Michael C. Pena, Hispanic American, Korea

Citation summary: Pena a 25-year-old native of Newgulf, Texas and World War II veteran, was serving with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division on the evening of Sept. 4, 1950, near Waegwan. His unit was fiercely attacked and Pena led them in a counter-attack, regained the lost positions, and attempted to hold back the enemy. Despite the devastating fire laid by the friendly troops, the enemy continued to hurl themselves at the defenses in overwhelming numbers.

During the course of the counter-attack, Pena realized his soldiers’ ammo was running out and ordered his unit to retreat. Pena then manned a machine-gun to cover their withdrawal. Single-handedly, he held back the enemy until the early hours of the following morning when his position was overrun, and he was killed.

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