WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will confer the most prestigious U.S. award for combat to a group of Hispanic, black and Jewish veterans previously denied the accolade due to prejudice, the White House said.
A March 18 ceremony will award the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The ceremony is the result of a large-scale Pentagon archive review of Jewish and Hispanic American war records, ordered by Congress in 2002. The investigation swept up other deserving veterans along the way. All but five of the 24 veterans are Hispanic, Jewish or black.
Only three among the two dozen are still alive, among them army veteran Santiago Erevia of San Antonio, Texas, who was cited for courage during a search-and-clear mission in South Vietnam on May 21, 1969.
The soldiers had all received the second-most-prestigious medal for their respective military branch. Because of prejudice, the White House said, many had not been offered the Medal of Honor.
Among the posthumous recipients is Leonard Kravitz, who fought in Korea in the 24th Infantry Division, and who is also the uncle and namesake of U.S. singer Lenny Kravitz. He was decorated for his bravery as an assistant machine-gunner during combat in Yangpyong, Korea, on March 6 and 7, 1951.
“He won the Purple Heart but should have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor,” Lenny Kravitz told The New York Times Magazine in December. “He saved an entire platoon. The fact that he was a Jew was the reason he didn’t get it, to be frank.”
Another is Melvin Morris of Cocoa, Florida, who was commended for courageous actions while a staff sergeant during combat operations in South Vietnam on Sept. 17, 1969.