President Awards Medal of Honor to Those Overlooked Due to Racial Prejudice

On March 19, 2014, United States President, Barak Obama, awarded 24 soldiers the Medal of Honor. The soldiers spanned three wars and were initially overlooked for the honor due to their race. Only three of the soldiers were present to accept their awards, the other 29 are deceased.

At a White House ceremony, President Obama awarded minority soldiers–most of them were Hispanic, Black, or Jewish. A review conducted by the government concluded the soldiers were all denied the Medal of Honor at the time of their service due to racial bias. The gentlemen were identified due to a mandate to review records that all eligible recipients were not denied the nation’s highest military honor due to prejudice.

The New York Daily News reveals that Obama recognizes that every nation has its flaws, but he believes that as Americans, it is our duty to face the imperfections and rectify the wrongs. Among the men who was honored, Pfc. Leonard Kravitz, the uncle to musician, Lenny Kravitz, was among the soldiers who were awarded. Kravitz and half-sister, Laurie Wenger joined the President on stage to accept the Medal of Honor on their uncle’s behalf.

Robert Nietzel from San Juan Capistrano, California, was in attendance to accept his cousin’s medal. The three surviving veterans, Jose Rodela, Melvin Morris, and Santiago Erevia, fought in the Vietnam War. As the gentlemen received their medals, the crowd gave them a standing ovation. Alfred Nietzel and Leonard Kravitz perished while protecting their fellow soldiers so they could make a safe escape. Nietzel died in Germany in 1944 and Kravitz in 1951 in Korea.

Leonard Kravitz was 21 when he controlled his unit’s machine gun, spraying the battlefield with bullets, killing Chinese troops so that his platoon could escape the enemy. The next day after the retreat, they found Kravitz dead still in the field. Kravitz’s childhood friend, Mitchel Libman, petitioned for fifty years to have Kravitz’s case reviewed. The President commended Libman for his efforts.

That effort began because Libman discovered that 138 Jewish soldiers received the Army’s second-highest honor during WWII, Korean War, and the Vietnam War; but only two of them received the Medal of Honor. Because of Libman’s inquiries, Congress directed the case to every American of Jewish and Hispanic descent who received the Service cross.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE