On Tuesday, 24 mostly ethnic or minority U.S. soldiers who performed bravely under fire in three of the nation’s wars finally received the Medal of Honor that the government concluded should have been awarded a long time ago.
The servicemen — Hispanics, Jews and African-Americans — were identified following a congressionally mandated review to ensure that eligible recipients of the country’s highest recognition for valor were not bypassed due to prejudice. Only three of the 24 were alive for President Barack Obama to drape the medals and ribbons around their necks.
“Today we have the chance to set the record straight,” 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.” “This ceremony is 70 years in the making,” Obama said as he presented the long-delayed Medals of Honor to 24 soldiers from World War II as well as the Korea and Vietnam conflicts.
Of the two dozen recipients, eight fought in Vietnam, nine in Korea and seven in World War II.
The three surviving recipients — Vietnam veterans Jose Rodela, Melvin Morris and Santiago Erevia — received a prolonged standing ovation at Obama’s side, their faces set in somber acknowledgement of the honor.