Long Delayed Medal of Honor Awarded to 24 Recipients

President Obama fastens the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris in a ceremony Tuesday.

President Obama fastens the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris during a White House ceremony March 18, 2014.

Far from the Vietnam jungles where Melvin Morris served two tours, the Army staff sergeant stood on a stage at the White House Tuesday accompanied by President Barack Obama who awarded him the Medal of Honor.

President Obama noted in his opening remarks to the room packed with family members and military that the 72-year-old Florida resident Morris was one of the first Green Berets.

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris as he listens to the citation begin read describing his valor in Vietnam why he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris as he listens to the citation begin read describing his valor in Vietnam why he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

In a ceremony that lasted more than an hour, Morris was recognized for his valor on Sept. 17, 1969, near Chi Lang. Then-Staff Sgt. Morris led an advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned down his battalion from a series of bunkers. Staff Sgt. Morris was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.

In 1970, Morris received the nation’s second-highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. But like the 23 others recognized in the March 18, 2014 Medal of Honor ceremony, it was determined that Morris deserved the highest honor, the Medal of Honor, but had been denied that originally due to discrimination.

You can read more about Morris in an Army News Service article and watch the White House ceremony.

Here is the list of all 24 Medal of Honor recipients:

Living veterans honored at the ceremony:

  • Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia
  • Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris
  • Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela

Veterans honored posthumously at today’s ceremony:

  • World War II veterans
    • Private Pedro Cano
    • Private Joe Gandara
    • Private First Class Salvador J. Lara
    • Sergeant William F. Leonard
    • Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza
    • Sergeant Alfred B. Nietzel
    • First Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab
  • Korean War veterans
    • Corporal Joe R. Baldonado
    • Corporal Victor H. Espinoza
    • Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez
    • Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz
    • Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron
    • Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena
    • Private Demensio Rivera
    • Private Miguel A. Vera
    • Sergeant Jack Weinstein
  • Vietnam War veterans
    • Sergeant Candelario Garcia
    • Specialist Four Leonard L. Alvarado
    • Staff Sergeant Felix M. Conde-Falcon
    • Specialist Four Ardie R. Copas
    • Specialist Four Jesus S. Duran

You can read more about the 24 Medal of Honor recipients and the White House ceremony here.

President Obama comforts the widow of Sergeant Jack Weinstein as the citation describing his bravery in combat is read during the posthumous presentation of his Medal of Honor.

President Obama comforts the widow of Sergeant Jack Weinstein as the citation describing his bravery in combat is read during the posthumous presentation of his Medal of Honor.

Florida Vietnam Veteran to Receive Medal of Honor

Army veteran Melvin Morris will receive a delayed Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony this Tuesday. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

Army veteran Melvin Morris will receive a delayed Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony this Tuesday. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

Melvin Morris served two tours of duty in Vietnam, but because of his race he didn’t receive the Medal of Honor. Morris talks to NPR’s Rachel Martin about the award he’ll receive from President Obama.

You can listen to the interview, which aired March 16, 2014, on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Morris told Martin that he has no regrets.

“I am never angry about it. You know war is war and we do what we’re told to do and we don’t determine the outcome,” Morris said.

The former Army sergeant spoke with Martin from his home in Port St. John, FL.

He and is one of 24 veterans to be awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony March 18, 2014. All but three of the awards are posthumous with  seven going to World War II veterans, nine to Korean War veterans, and eight to Vietnam War veterans.

First Class Army Sgt. Melvin Morris served 23 years including two tours in Vietnam. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

First Class Army Sgt. Melvin Morris served 23 years including two tours in Vietnam. Photo courtesy: Army News Service.

Morris is one of the three living Vietnam veterans who will be present at the ceremony. He served with distinction for 23 years  in the United States Army.

And the military life agreed with Morris and his family reports Lisa Ferdinando for the Army News Service.

“I never regret not one day of being in the military. Not one. The bad days are good and the good days are good,” he said.

As a paratrooper and jumpmaster, Morris remembered fondly his time in the skies, “I was as high as I could go, and that was great, to hang out of the door of that aircraft.”

Morris left the Army for three years, but his devotion to duty and commitment to the nation were too strong and beckoned him back into the uniform.

“Call of duty, I just couldn’t get away from it. Military was in my blood and I wanted to go back,” Morris said. “I was 36 years old and started over as an E-4, which didn’t bother me. I’m Army. That’s it. I wanted to finish my career.”

You can read more about Morris’ service to his country and the day-long battle in a Vietnam jungle in the Army News Service.

Morris displayed the the “highest valor” but only received the Distinguished Service Cross because of his race. You can read the citation for his Distinguished Service Cross which is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor this week.

Medal of Honor Recipient Saluted for Willingness to Question

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno unveils the Hall of Heroes plaque at an induction ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient former Army Capt. William Swenson at the Pentagon, Oct. 16, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno unveils the Hall of Heroes plaque at an induction ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient former Army Capt. William Swenson at the Pentagon, Oct. 16, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

There was a delay of more than two years before former Army Capt. William Swenson was presented with the Medal of Honor even though Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer received his Medal of Honor in 2011 for the same battle.

Some attribute the delay – officially blamed on “lost paperwork” – to Swenson questioning why his many calls for help during the 7-hour battle were rejected by superior officers.

Secretary of Defense Chuck acknowledged in his speech Wednesday at the Hall of Heroes Ceremony that mistakes were made.

Yes, Will Swenson proved his valor on the battlefield.  It is well documented.  It should be well documented.  But he also did something else that represented tremendous courage and integrity.  And I’ve always thought the two indispensable elements of anyone’s life are courage and character.  And if we’re without those in some measure, it’s a pretty hallow existence.

He questioned — he dared to question the institution that he was faithful to and loyal to.  Mistakes were made, in his case.  Now, that’s courage and that’s integrity and that’s character.  As the institution itself reflected on that same courage and integrity institutionally, the institution, the United States Army, corrected the mistake.  They went back and acknowledged a mistake was made and they fixed it.

Another great dimension of our republic, of our people, we have an inherent capability to self-correct.

Hagel went on to state that the Army self-corrected its mistakes and he apologized to Swenson:

We’re sorry that you and your family had to endure through that, but you did and you handled it right.  And I think that deserves a tremendous amount of attention and credit.  We celebrate you today, Will.  We celebrate your family.  We celebrate your very brave colleagues who have been recognized, those who didn’t make it back, their families today.  But we celebrate all the good things about our country today because of you.  And we’re grateful.

Former Army Capt. William Swenson and President Barack Obama stand as the citation is read prior to the presentation of the Medal of Honor on Tuesday.

Former Army Capt. William Swenson and President Barack Obama stand as the citation is read prior to the presentation of the Medal of Honor on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of PBS News Hour web stream.

Photos: Army Capt. Swenson Medal of Honor Ceremony

President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to former Army Capt. William Swenson. Photo from PBS News Hour web stream.

President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to former Army Capt. William Swenson. Photo from PBS News Hour web stream.

Here are photos from the White House ceremony less than an hour ago (2:10 p.m. Oct. 15, 2013) where Army Capt. William Swenson was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama. A quote from the citation marking his valor under fire and in the heat of battle:

“In seven hours of continuous fighting, Swenson braved intense enemy fire, and willfully put his life in danger against the enemy’s main effort, multiple times in service of his fallen and wounded comrades, his unit, his country, and his endangered Afghan partners. Displaying conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his own life and well beyond the call of duty, Swenson would be a most deserving recipient of the Medal of Honor.”

The still photos were captured from the live web broadcast of the ceremony by the PBS News Hour.

During the ceremony, President Obama asked the team of Army soldiers and Marines who took part in the battle to stand - acknowledging their contributions to the fight.

During the ceremony, President Obama asked the team of Army soldiers and Marines who took part in the battle to stand – acknowledging their contributions to the fight.

 

Former Army Capt. William Swenson captured by the cameras as the citation chronicling his valor is read. Photo courtesy of the PBS News Hour web stream.

Former Army Capt. William Swenson captured by the cameras as the citation chronicling his valor is read. Photo courtesy of the PBS News Hour web stream.

A close-up of the Medal of Honor after it was awarded to former Capt. Swenson - note the trail of a tear down his right cheek. Photo courtesy of the PBS News Hour web stream broadcast.

A close-up of the Medal of Honor after it was awarded to former Capt. Swenson – note the trail of a tear down the right side of his face and lip. Photo courtesy of the PBS News Hour web stream broadcast.

 

Army Captain to Be Sixth Living Medal of Honor Recipient

Army Capt. William Swenson looks out at the rough terrain of Eastern Afghanistan from a Black Hawk helicopter. Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor Tuesday for his actions in Afghanistan in 2009. Photo provided by the Army.

Army Capt. William Swenson looks out at the rough terrain of Eastern Afghanistan from a Black Hawk helicopter. Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor Tuesday for his actions in Afghanistan in 2009. Photo provided by the Army.

President Barack Obama is set to award the Medal of Honor today, Oct. 15, 2013 to former Army Capt. William Swenson for conspicuous gallantry during Sept. 8, 2009, combat operations in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

At the time, Swenson was an embedded trainer and mentor with the Afghan National Security Forces in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. He risked his life to recover bodies and help save fellow troops according to a PBS report.

Swenson complained to military leaders after the fight that many of his calls for help were rejected by superior officers. Two Army officers were reprimanded for being “inadequate and ineffective” and for “contributing directly to the loss of life” following an investigation into the day’s events.

Four Americans died in the ambush: 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, a 25-year-old from Virginia Beach; Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30, of Roswell, Ga.; Corpsman James Layton, 22, of Riverbank, Calif.; and Edwin Wayne Johnson Jr., a 31-year-old gunnery sergeant from Columbus, Ga. A fifth man, Army Sgt. Kenneth W. Westbrook, 41, of Shiprock, N.M., later died from his wounds.

Two years ago when Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer received the Medal of Honor for the same battle, Susan Price, the mother of Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick who died in the battle, was among those calling for Swenson to be recognized as well.

Initially, the military said the paperwork nominating Swenson for the medal was lost.

In a White House statement announcing the ceremony, officials said Swenson will be the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the president at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

Swenson separated from the Army on Feb. 1, 2011, and now lives in Seattle.

A Tribute to Special Operations Medal of Honor Recipients

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry.

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry.

Special Forces are considered the military’s elite – the Rangers, Green Berets, and Navy SEALS among others.  And the elite of the elite are the Special Forces who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Two of them were recognized this week and their names added to the Special Operations Memorial Wall of Honor at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger, watched as his name was unveiled. It is one of 45 names etched into the black granite tiles.

His Medal of Honor citation states that Petry risked his life above and beyond the call of duty and “undeniably saved his fellow Rangers” on May 26, 2008.

“I still look at the day and I’m still in amazement that I’m here,” Petry told reporters after the ceremony. “My youngest son (Landon) said it the best. He said ‘I’m really proud of my dad but more happy that some of his friends are still alive.’”

Petry was on his sixth deployment to Afghanistan. His team was attacked while clearing a compound of suspected insurgents. He was shot in both legs, took cover and fired back. Then a grenade hit wounding two Rangers just behind him. Petry turned and spotted a second grenade next to his wounded men. He picked it up to throw it as hard as he could.

Petry lost his right hand throwing away the enemy's live grenade but he saved two fellow Rangers.

Petry lost his right hand throwing away the enemy’s live grenade but he saved two fellow Rangers.

“As soon as my hand opened up, the grenade exploded and I sat back up and my hand was completely gone at the wrist like it had been severed with a circular saw,” Petry said with the analytical calmness of a professional soldier. “It went through my mind for a split second, why isn’t the blood squirting into the air, then reality kicked in. I got back to my good medical training put on a tourniquet, called up on the radio, checked on my younger guys.”

Petry remained coherent,  insisting his fellow Rangers be cared for first. He wanted to get back in the fight. Continue reading

Daniel Inouye: Courage on the Battlefield and in Congress

Photo credit: Sen. Daniel Inouye bio page

Photo credit: Sen. Daniel Inouye bio page

I have been remiss not marking the passing of another WWII Veteran, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.

He fought both on the WWII battlefield being awarded the Medal of Honor and in the halls of Congress earning voters’ continued approval since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962.

Of all the comments memorializing the long-serving senator, one of the most heartfelt came from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki:

“Senator Daniel K. Inouye stood among the ‘greatest’ of our ‘Greatest Generation.’  Recipient of the Medal of Honor, our Nation’s highest award for valor; distinguished service as a long-serving member of the U.S. Senate; and role model to generations of Americans of Asian-Pacific Islander heritage, especially those growing up in his beloved Hawai’i, Senator Inouye made public service a noble and honorable calling.

Dan Inouye’s courage on the battlefield and in Congress, his passion for making a difference in the lives of average Americans, and his intense modesty spoke volumes about a remarkable American, who embodied the bedrock values and quiet virtues of our Nation.

On behalf of America’s 22 million Veterans, I salute the memory of a brave man, a great patriot, a devoted public servant, an unwavering benefactor to Servicemembers and Veterans of every generation, and my friend and mentor.  I extend my deepest personal condolences to the entire Inouye family.”

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