On March 18, the U.S. government will attempt to correct a long-festering slight when 24 veterans receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military commendation.
In 2002, under a congressional directive, the Pentagon began a review of its records of all Jewish, Hispanic and African-American veterans who received a Distinguished Service Cross, for a possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor. The review was mandated because it was believed some of these veterans may have been passed over for the medal because of racial or religious prejudice.
The enormous 12-year undertaking identified 600 Army veterans and 275 veterans of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as possibly being eligible for the Medal of Honor, before settling on 24.
” … To go back for all those potential candidates, that is a very demanding scope and record-retrieval task,” a defense official told the Washington Post. “It was very time-consuming. But we wanted to make sure that, as a process, we did it correctly and that the Medal of Honor process itself was honored.”
Only three of the 24 veterans are still living – all of them Vietnam vets. The three will be given their medals by the President in the East Room of the White House. The three living veterans are:
* Melvin Morris, 72, a Green Beret who was honored for recovering the body of his fatally wounded master sergeant from a jungle ambush in September 1969 in the Chi Lang district. Morris received three serious wounds.
* Santiago J. Erevia, a former specialist four who served in Vietnam as a radio telephone operator in Company C, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division. He will receive the Medal of Honor for “courageous actions” during a search-and-clear mission in May 1969 near Tam Ky.
* Jose Rodela, a sergeant first class who will receive the medal for bravery during fighting in early September 1969 in Phuoc Long province.
Unfortunately, prejudice has been a part of the military as it has in other aspects of society, though minorities have proven themselves in every war America has fought, many paying the ultimate price.
At least this review has gone some way to correct the slights to those 24 brave American servicemen whose actions, while recognized, were far above and beyond the call of duty.