President Obama awards long overdue Medals of Honor - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

President Obama awards long overdue Medals of Honor

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(CBS NEWS) - When Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela is in Washington, D.C., this week, he wants to visit the Vietnam Memorial to see the names of his friends who died in combat on the Vietnam Memorial.

 "I want to see their names there on the black wall, and the Pentagon," Rodela told CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin in an interview. "That's the reason why I'm going there. Just to find their names on the wall."

 

Rodela will certainly find the time to see his friends' names. But he what brings him to Washington in the first place is the Medal of Honor. He is one of three living veterans who received the award from President Obama on Tuesday, along with 21 others who are being honored posthumously.

All 24 Army veterans, who span World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, previously received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military award. In 2002, Congress called for a review of Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran war records to ensure that none were denied a Medal of Honor because of prejudice. Along the way, several soldiers who were neither Jewish nor Hispanic were identified as having displayed criteria worthy of the medal, and so they were included among those veterans receiving an upgrade.

 

"This ceremony reminds us of one of the enduring qualities that makes America great, that makes us exception," Mr. Obama said at the ceremony. "No nation is perfect but here in America we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past."

"Some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal. So we've each generation, we keep striving to live up to our ideas of freedom and equality and to recognize the dignity of patriotism of every person," he added.

 

Rodela was a company commander with the Third Battalion when his unit came under machine gun fire in Vietnam's Phuoc Long Province in 1969.

"These three men ...when I first spotted them they were laughin' at us because they were firing a machine gun," he told Martin. "And I wasn't joking."

 

The machine gun jammed, and he was able to approach them even as they begin firing with rifles. But they kept missing him, and he was able to take the machine gun.

He said he never felt discriminated against in the Army, but it's a huge honor to receive the Medal of Honor.

"The Medal of Honor is something very, very special for any American to receive," he said. "I can't even describe it - how they feel about the Medal ofHonor. It's the biggest award our country for a combat soldier. It is. Beautiful. Well respected."

 

Santiago Erevia was a 22-year-old radio operator during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky in Vietnam. He and another soldier were instructed to try to take out enemy soldiers firing on his unit from bunkers, but his partner was shot and killed.

"I decided to charge," Erevia told Martin in a separate interview. "Got close enough to throw a grenade at the defending guy, and got him out of the way. And then I just did the same for the other one, and the third one." He shot down a fourth enemy soldier.

His captain put his name in for the Medal of Honor, but he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross instead.

"You either had to throw yourself on top of a grenade, get blown up and die, and save a couple of your buddies, then they would give you the Medal ofHonor. Or you had to be badly wounded, which I wasn't, thank God," he said. "I put it out of my mind for 44 years until President Obama called me."

 

"There's nothing bigger than the Medal of Honor," Erevia said. "That's a big step."

One other man, Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris, is the only other living recipient of the Medal of Honor in Tuesday's ceremony. He is being honored for courageous actions while serving as Commander of a Strike Force during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Vietnam in 1969.

The medals are being awarded posthumously to:

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 December 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 August 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.

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 November 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 August 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 September 3, 1950.

Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an assistant machinegunner 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 September 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 September 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 October 19, 1951.

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 December 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 November 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 October 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 November 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.

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