Words by Wes O'Donnell.
Twenty-four Army veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War received the Medal of Honor for their exceptional service to our country. Only three of these veterans were there to accept the award. The other 21 were given the award posthumously. The veterans being honored are all of Jewish and Hispanic descent.
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These veterans were previous recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross which is considered the country’s second most prestigious award. They were initially denied the Medal of Honor as a result of prejudice due to their heritage during that time period. A review mandated by Congress called for previous war records to be evaluated and these soldiers were found to have shown bravery and heroism that warranted an upgrade of their previous accommodation to the Medal of Honor.
Among the three living veterans to receive the medal is Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris who served in the Vietnam War. He is being honored for his efforts in recovering a body of a fallen commander amidst heavy enemy fire. Upon learning of the distress of a sister company he regrouped his men from a search and clear operation and went to assist. The two soldiers accompanying Morris to retrieve the body were injured and he help them to safety. He then went back into the fire alone, took out four enemy positions with grenades and recovered the fallen soldier. Master Sgt. Jose Rodela also serving in the Vietnam War receives this award for his efforts to secure a defensive line at the risk of his own life to save the lives of his battalion and protect those soldiers that had already fallen under enemy fire. Spc. Santiago Erevia while serving in the Vietnam War as a radio telephone operator at the request of his commander treated the wounds of four fallen soldiers and cleared four enemy bunkers single handedly to protect their safety. These efforts have earned him the Medal of Honor.
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Those receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously are:
- Staff Sgt. Salvador J. Lara who served in World War II and led an assault against enemy forces with his rifle squad resulting in a large number of enemy casualties. After being wounded as a result he crawled to the nearest machine gun to take out the enemies.
- Pvt. Pedro Cano who served in World War II and is being recognized for his action of playing dead allowing him to throw a grenade at German soldiers killing or wounding the entire enemy group.
- Sgt. Alfred Nietzel who served in World War II honored for instructing his remaining surviving squad members to retreat and get reinforcements. At that time he held off enemy troops with suppressive fire until out of ammunition before being killed from a grenade. His efforts held of the enemy long enough for reinforcements to arrive and put an end to the enemy advancement.
1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab who served in World War II recognized for leading his company over a wide span of open ground under heavy fire, making three charges while experiencing many losses and ultimately taking out the remaining enemy shelter on his own in such a way as to cause remaining enemy troops to withdraw.
- Pfc. William F. Leonard serving in World War II and recognized for his efforts to keep advancing against the enemy after being reduced to a platoon of eight men. He sustained shots to the back and neck as well as being stunned by a bazooka shell and still managed to use grenades to destroy the remaining machine guns.
- Staff Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza who served in World War II is honored for breaking up a German counter attack single-handedly and after being wounded fired on 200 armed troops killing 30 in the process. After their retreat he collected weapons and captured an enemy soldier before regaining a position in friendly territory.
- Pvt. Joe Gandara servicing in World War II and recognized for his bravery in advancing alone against a strong German force taking out three enemy machine guns before being fatally wounded.
- Sgt. Jesus Duran who served in the Vietnam War recognizing his efforts in storming the enemy with machine gun fire upon entering an enemy bunker complex and establishing a defensive position with his forward assault. He then ruined the enemy’s attempt at advance by continuing his unrelenting machine gun assault and directly firing into enemy foxholes taking out four fighters causing the remaining to flee.
- Staff Sgt. Felix Conde-Falcon serving in the Vietnam War will be honored for his actions in taking out an enemy battalion command post going through bunker after bunker clearing it with grenades along the way. Once complete they found themselves under heavy fire when Conde-Falcon took the nearest enemy position on his own until he found himself out of ammunition and was shot. Soon after he succumbed to his wounds.
- Spc. Leonard Alvarado who served in the Vietnam War is receiving the medal for brave efforts to protect his platoon. Alvarado and his fellow soldiers were attempting to rescue a platoon trapped by the enemy when they themselves found themselves surrounded. Alvarado move forward alone even through wounding grenade fire and killed many of the enemy threats along with pulling wounded soldiers to safety. Once the battle was under control the fellow soldiers realized he had died from his injuries.
- Sgt. Candelario Garcia who fought in the Vietnam War is recognized for his efforts in taking out two enemy bunkers with hand grenades placed in the port of the enemy’s machine guns killing all inside the bunker. This was done a second time along with rifle fire to secure the second bunker. After that Garcia rescued two fallen soldiers and joined his company to finish the assault conquering the enemy.
- Spc. Ardie Copas who served in the Vietnam War is receiving the award for his actions in jumping back into a burning vehicle that he and four fellow soldiers were in when it was hit with an enemy recoilless round wounding all inside. He laid down suppressive fire against the enemy allowing his other four wounded comrades to get to safety. He was then mortally wounded by enemy fire.
- Cpl. Victor H. Espinoza having served in the Korean War is being recognized for leading the advance to secure “Old Baldy”. He single-handedly eliminated a machine gun and its crew, located and destroyed a hidden enemy tunnel and took out two bunkers giving his unit the inspiration it needed to take the stronghold.
- Sgt. Juan E. Negron is being honored for his service in the Korean War and his efforts to hold position while others wanted to withdraw. He delivered continuing fire to enemy troops that had broken through a roadblock. As they advanced he stopped them with hand grenades and held the position through the night until an allied counter attack was organized and launched defeating the enemy.
- Pvt. Miguel Armando “Nando” Vera fought in the Korean War and is being recognized for his actions of rejoining his platoon after an earlier injury to assist them in securing and assaulting the right portion of the hill “Old Baldy”. The troops came under heavy fire, mortar and grenade assaults where Vera remained as others withdrew holding off enemy forces to allow his troops to get to safety. This action ultimately cost him his life.
- Pfc. Demensio Rivera who served in the Korean War is honored for his efforts to his position even after his rifle became inoperable by using a pistol and hand grenades and hand to hand combat. He succeeded in killing four enemy soldiers with his last remaining grenade. When reinforcements arrived he was found seriously wounded lying among the enemies he had taken out.
- Sgt. Jack Weinstein who served in the Korean War is receiving his medal for his unrelenting attack against outnumber Chinese Communist troops even after most of his platoon had been wounded and started to withdraw. Weinstein held back the enemy until his ammunition ran out and then used enemy hand grenades from the soldiers that he had already defeated to hold the ground until another platoon came to relieve him and push back enemy forces. He was able to hold off the enemy until his wound platoon members reached safety.
- Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz who served in the Korean War is receiving his medal for his efforts in saving his entire platoon by remaining at his machine gun to provide suppressive fire focusing the enemy on himself while his platoon retreated to safety. He was killed while defending his fellow troops but allowed them the time they needed to withdraw.
- Sgt. Eduardo Corral Gomez served in the Korean War and is being recognized for his actions in successfully attacking a manned tank single-handed and after being wounded while returning to his defensive position refused treatment to man his weapon to further deplete the enemy numbers.
- Cpl Joe R. Baldonado who served in the Korean War is being honored for his efforts when he place his weapon in an exposed position in order to push back the enemy with a continuous stream of fire in attempts to secure the hill his platoon occupied. Enemy fire focused on his weapon with repeated rush assaults and grenade attacks but Baldonado held them off for over an hour until the enemy began to withdraw. One last attempt by the enemy at Baldonado’s gun ended up being his demise as a grenade landed in close proximity killing him instantly.
- Master Sgt. Michael C. Pena having served in the Korean War is recognized for his actions in leading a counter attack against an outnumbering amount of enemy soldiers to regain lost positions. Once ammunition started running low, Pena order his troops to retreat but remained and single-handedly held off the enemy to aid in his troops withdrawal until his position was overrun leading to his death.
These men fought bravely defending our country which cost some of them their own lives. They performed exceptional acts that allowed others to continue to fight another day. They deserve the utmost respect and honor for their service.