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Obama will award Medal of Honor to 24 overlooked Army veterans

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WASHINGTON -- Seeking to correct a historic injustice, President Obama will award the nation's highest combat honor to two dozen veterans -- mostly Latino and Jewish -- who fought as far back as World War II but were denied the coveted Medal of Honor because of discrimination.

Only three of the recipients are still alive.

The campaign to issue the awards began in 2002 when Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act, which prompted a review of Latino and Jewish service members who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest honor, but not the Medal of Honor.

After reviewing about 600 records from Dec. 1941 to Dec. 2001, the Pentagon discovered 19 Latino and Jewish service members who deserved the Medal of Honor. The review also found five additional service members who had been overlooked for the honor.

During a ceremony on March 18, the president will award the 24 medals to Army veterans of major combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Twenty-one medals will be given posthumously. 

"The United States Army is proud of these soldiers and glad to see their professionalism, service and sacrifice being recognized again -- in full view of a new generation," an Army spokeswoman said in a statement.

Of the 24 awards, eight will be awarded to veterans who fought in the Vietnam War, nine to veterans from the Korean War and seven to veterans who served in World War II.

Marking an end to the 12-year review, the Medal of Honor ceremony is expected to have special meaning for a president that has put a heavy focus on discrimination in the armed services, ending a ban on openly gay and lesbian service members.

The list of Medal of Honor recipients, as provided by the White House:

Vietnam War:

Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as radio telephone operator in Company C, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) during search and clear mission near Tam Ky, Republic of Vietnam.

Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as Commander of a Strike Force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam, on Sept. 17, 1969.

Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as the company commander, Detachment B-36, Company A, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces during combat operations against an armed enemy in Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam, on Sept. 1, 1969.

Sergeant Candelario Garcia will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an acting Team Leader for Company B, 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, 1st Brigade,1st Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Lai Khe, Republic of Vietnam, on Dec. 8, 1968.

Specialist Four Leonard L. Alvarado will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Rifleman with Company D, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during combat operations against an armed enemy in Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam, on Aug. 12, 1969.

Staff Sergeant Felix M. Conde-Falcon will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an acting Platoon Leader in Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Ap Tan Hoa, Republic of Vietnam on April 4, 1969.

Specialist Four Ardie R. Copas will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Machinegunner in Company C, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia, on May 12, 1970.

Specialist Four Jesus S. Duran will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an acting M-60 machinegunner in Company E, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Republic of Vietnam, on April 10, 1969.

The Korean War:

Corporal Joe R. Baldonado will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an acting machine gunner in 3d Squad, 2d Platoon, Company B, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kangdong, Korea, on Nov. 25, 1950.

Corporal Victor H. Espinoza will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an Acting Rifleman in Company A, 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Chorwon, Korea, on Aug. 1, 1952.

Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Tabu-dong, Korea, on Sept. 3, 1950.

Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an assistant machine gunner with Company M, 5th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Yangpyong, Korea, on March 6 and 7, 1951.

Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a member of Company L, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kalma-Eri, Korea, on April 28, 1951.

Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a member of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Waegwan, Korea, on Sept. 4, 1950.

Private Demensio Rivera will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an automatic rifleman with 2d Platoon, Company G, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Changyong-ni, Korea, on May 23, 1951.

Private Miguel A. Vera will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an automatic rifleman with Company F, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division in Chorwon, Korea, on Sept. 21, 1952.

Sergeant Jack Weinstein will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while leading 1st Platoon, Company G, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division in Kumsong, Korea, on Oct. 19, 1951.

World War II:

Private Pedro Cano will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving with Company C, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Schevenhutte, Germany, on Dec. 3, 1944.

Private Joe Gandara will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving with Company D, 2d Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Amfreville, France, on June 9, 1944.

Private First Class Salvador J. Lara will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as the Squad Leader of a rifle squad with 2d Platoon, Company L, 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Aprilia, Italy, on May 27 and 28, 1944.

Sergeant William F. Leonard will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Squad Leader in Company C, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy near St. Die, France, on Nov. 7, 1944.

Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Sergeant with Company B, 350th Infantry, 88th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy on Mt. Battaglia, Italy, on Oct. 4, 1944.

Sergeant Alfred B. Nietzel will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a section leader for Company H, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Heistern, Germany, on Nov. 18, 1944.

First Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as the Commander of Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy near Lure, France, on September 17, 1944.

 

Twitter: @danielrothberg

daniel.rothberg@latimes.com

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