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.

An Army Career of 46 Years, 4 Days Ends in Tampa

U.S. Army Col. Warner Farr, Command Surgeon, U.S. Special Operations Command, speaks during Col. Charles "Dahl" Farr's room dedication ceremony, at Hurlburt Field Fla., Aug 16, 2010. (DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Airman Caitlin O'Neil-McKeown/Released)

U.S. Army Col. Warner Farr, Command Surgeon, U.S. Special Operations Command, speaks during Col. Charles “Dahl” Farr’s room dedication ceremony, at Hurlburt Field Fla., Aug 16, 2010. (DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Airman Caitlin O’Neil-McKeown/Released)

After a career spanning 46 years and four days, Army Col. Warner “Rocky” Farr retired today, April 25, 2013.

His military experience started as a Green Beret in the jungles of Vietnam ended as the command surgeon of U.S. Special Operations Command Central at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

Farr, retiring at age 64, is “the third-longest serving soldier in the Army and one of only 13 of more than a half-million on active duty who served in Vietnam” according to the Tampa Tribune.

Reporter Howard Altman wrote a comprehensive profile about this accomplished military man. I encourage you to read it.

Congratulations to Col. Farr and his family because we all know that in the military, it’s the whole family that serves and may they all enjoy a retirement well earned.

 

Bill McBride Proved His Leadership as a Marine in Vietnam

Photo credit: Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride law firm

Photo credit: Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride law firm

Bill McBride volunteered for the Marine Corps and Vietnam in 1968 – which defined his character and life.

Tampa attorney McBride died Saturday while spending the holidays in North Carolina. He is being memorialized by family, friends and colleagues at a Tampa service Dec. 28, 2012.

McBride was a loving father and husband and will be remembered for the strides he made as a former managing partner of Holland & Knight and more recently as senior partner of the law firm of Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride.

As a novice political candidate, McBride also will be remembered for his relentless spirit yet unsuccessful campaign against incumbent Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

It was during that 2002 campaign that a fellow Marine and Vietnam veteran Ralph Quallen, nicknamed Heavy, came to Florida on his own to campaign for McBride.

A Marine’s Loyalty and Leadership Continue reading

Bay Pines VA and Patriot Riders Honor Grieving Father

Patriot Guard Riders showed up to support a fellow veteran who lost his son during the Benghazi raid on the U.S. diplomatic staff in Libya.

Patriot Guard Riders showed up to support a fellow veteran who lost his son during the Benghazi raid on the U.S. diplomatic staff in Libya.

More than a dozen Patriot Guard Riders, American flags at their sides, lined the sidewalk Monday morning at the entrance of the Bay Pines VA Hospital.

They greeted all veterans arriving – but they were there for someone specific, Ray Smith, a Vietnam veteran and father of Sean Patrick Smith.

Sean Smith was one of the three men killed along with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in the Benghazi raid. Sean Smith served in the Air Force six years and then spent 10 years as a computer expert with the State Department.

Ray Smith shakes hands with one of the Patriot Guard behind him, Cong. Bill Young greets another rider.

Ray Smith shakes hands with one of the Patriot Guard behind him, Cong. Bill Young greets another rider.

Ray Smith’s ex-wife was officially notified of their son’s death, but the father learned about it while watching television as the four coffins were returned from Libya.

Ray Smith was a Marine who served as a “tunnel rat” during Vietnam. So, the lack of protection for the diplomatic staff made him angry and he blames President Obama.

“Blood’s on his hands just like the ones that murdered my son,” Ray Smith told reporters Monday. “My son wasn’t shot in combat, he was murdered and there’s a difference. And he gave his life trying to help the ambassador. He should be given a Medal of Honor.”

Smith turned to Congressman Bill Young for answers. Young said he’s attended all the classified briefings on the Benghazi raid and he’s been told the same thing over and over – “it’s under investigation.”

Ray Smith hugs the framed Congressional proclamation and photo of his son hanging in the VA family counseling room.

Ray Smith hugs the framed Congressional proclamation and photo of his son hanging in the VA family counseling room.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to investigate, but the people of America basically are demanding answers, my constituents are demanding of me that I get the answers,” Young said.

Young has been trying to get answers for Smith and also help him deal with his grief.

The congressman asked Bay Pines VA Hospital, where Ray Smith receives treatment for his wounds suffered during Vietnam, to help honor Smith’s son.

On Monday, a fourth floor counseling room where families meet with chaplains and physicians to discuss difficult medical decisions was dedicated in Sean Patrick Smith’s honor.

A parchment copy of the congressional proclamation recognizing Smith’s sacrifice and his photo are neatly framed and hangs in the room.

When it was unveiled, Ray Smith went over, hugged the picture frame, then took a step back and saluted his son.

 

Homeless Veterans Flood into San Diego Stand Down

Homeless Veterans Flood into San Diego Stand Down

For a quarter of a century, the Veterans Village has sponsored a Stand Down for homeless veterans in San Diego. It started as outreach for Vietnam veterans but now organizers are starting to see veterans from Desert Storm and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are looking for a safe place to bunk down, get a shower, warm meal and medical care. According to NPR, more than 1,000 veterans came out to the three-day event.

Vietnam Veterans “Welcome Home Day” in Charlotte, NC

Photo courtesy of VAnatage - the VA blog.

The following comes from a VAntage blog entry by Alex Horton:

It has been more than three decades since my uncle came home from his tour in Vietnam, but he wore the battle on his face for many years. Even when I was little, I understood the man in my family who walked jungle trails as a Marine grunt was different from my other relatives. He didn’t talk about his experiences much, to the detriment of our family and our history.

My uncle’s story is hardly unique among Vietnam Veterans, and the less than welcoming reception from the public played a role in how comfortable many were in speaking about his experiences. As the Marine Corps blog noted, Vietnam Veterans never received a welcome fit for their honor and sacrifice.

Last year, the Senate recognized March 30 as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” to right the wrongs of our past.

This year, the USO of North Carolina is organizing an event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 31, Saturday, to thank Vietnam Veterans. The VA will have mobile sites set up to help Veterans sign up for health care and benefits. Veteran Service Organizations will be there and there will be live entertainment including the Charlie Daniels Band and George Clinton. Details on the event are available HERE.

You can read Alex Horton’s full blog posting HERE.

Military Base Housing Adapts for Wounded Warriors

Retired Army Capt. Alvin Shell was one of several advisers on the design of the Wounded Warrior Home Project in Fort Belvoir, Va. Soon 19 more innovative homes will be built to accommodate wounded active-duty personnel. Photo by: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

Pair a few severely injured soldiers  with a renowned architect confined to a wheelchair and a design firm with a Vietnam Veteran as a partner and you get the team that designed the new wounded warriors’ housing at Army’s Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

National Public Radio took a tour of the new adaptive housing. It was created by architect Michael Graves who was left unable to walk after a bad infection and the design firm IDEO with partner David Haygood who  served in Vietnam and now lives with Parkinson’s Disease after being exposed to Agent Orange.

“When I was interviewed, I rolled in, in my wheelchair,” Graves says, “and I thought I had a pretty good chance of beating out the competition, because I was with the Wounded Warriors.”

From automated door openers to adjustable stove heights, the innovative home addresses a wide range of disabilities. There are obvious fixes such as wider hallways and doors to accommodate wheelchairs. But, there also are subtle design changes to help with the invisible wounds or emotional scars.

Huge windows and French doors are everywhere, so a resident can observe the surroundings, inside and out. That’s important for soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress.

View a slide show of the adaptive housing and listen to the NPR story HERE.

Veterans Helping Veterans: A New Mission for Civilian LIfe

Army Veteran Andrew Berry said his role as a Mission Continues Fellow has restored his sense of "mission and brotherhood" missing since he left active duty in September 2009.

Combat veteran Andrew Berry spent almost six years in the Army in the Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault and then as a sniper. He survived two bullets and eight bomb blasts when deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the last Improvised Explosive Device (IED) left him too injured to continue his military career.

Like many combat veterans, Berry misses the sense of mission and the feeling of brotherhood he experienced while on active-duty.

It took a few years, but he’s found his “mission” in the civilian world thanks to the Mission Continues, an organization founded by a veteran Navy SEAL that emphasizes community service and helps returning veterans use their military training to become civilian leaders.

Berry was in Tampa Tuesday representing Mission Continues at the Home Depot Foundation “Celebration of Service” project – doing repairs and renovations at the K-9s for Veterans facility. It’s one of 200 service projects for veterans nationwide that Home Depot and Mission Continues are completing between Sept. 11th and Nov. 11th.

“I have four young boys at home, so it takes me to be a leader and show my kids that if I can adapt and overcome everything that happened to me, they can do anything,” Berry said.

Nearly 100 volunteers and veterans worked Tuesday to renovate the facilities at Tampa's K-9s for Veterans facility.

Here’s just a short list of what Berry has had to overcome. He is blind in his right eye, deaf, suffers from seizures due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). His right leg was crushed. He wears a brace proudly. He has three slipped disks and a hematoma on his brain.

“Since I’ve been retired September 09, I’ve had seven friends, seven who served with me in Iraq, that committed suicide and that’s something I don’t never want to hear from someone else,” Berry said adding that he tried to commit suicide twice.

“For a while, I told my wife the best thing that could have happened to me was dying in Iraq,” Berry said. “I know how much it hurt her. She’s been with me before the military. She’s been with me after.”

Porsche is the service dog of Vietnam Veteran Mike Halley who founded K-9s for Veterans with his wife Pam.

And like many veterans, he said, he “would go back to Iraq in a heartbeat” because he misses having a mission and feels he should be there to support deployed troops.

But by helping with service projects like the K-9s for Veterans renovation, Berry is developing a new “civilian” mission as a veteran helping other veterans.

That’s what motivated Vietnam veteran Mike Halley and his wife Pam to start the K-9s for Veterans program. They say they’ve trained 50 service dogs for 50 veterans over the past three years. Sitting in a wheelchair with his service dog Porsche next to him, Halley thanked the Home Depot volunteers and veterans who came to help fix-up his kennels and surrounding buildings.

A new deck connecting ancillary buildings is one of the many improvements made by the Operation Continues veterans and Home Depot volunteers.

“All of this is for the veterans and we can’t do this without your help,” said a tearful Halley. “When Mission Continues and Home Depot got together, it’s just like God came down here and he’s in this crowd somewhere.”

There were almost 100 volunteers dressed in orange Home Depot t-shirts.Tampa district manager, Pat Dixon offered the crow a pep talk shortly after 8 a.m.

“Ready to have long fun day,” Dixon asked? “We’re here today to make a difference.”

They broke up into teams. One group laid sod and landscaped around the flagpole, others put up fencing while another group laid-down a deck.

Army veteran Berry, despite his leg brace, was ready to grab a hammer and start working, but he was in demand. Touched by his story, volunteers kept approaching him, wanting to talk and to thank him for his service.

“I know my place now is here helping other guys,” Berry said, “because not every person can understand where a veteran is coming from.”

Berry’s favorite saying is one he learned in the military – Adapt and Overcome – and he’s now applying it to his civilian life.

PTSD Poem, Art Exhibit Misses the Mark, Some Veterans Say

The reintegrattion brochure that inspirede the poem, Many Happy Returns.

Art for a cause is nothing new especially on college campuses and at the University of South Florida an adjunct professor is using her poetry, she said, to shine the spotlight on America’s responsibility to help combat veterans with post traumatic stress. But some veterans on campus believe her poem and accompanying art exhibit missed the mark and instead portrays them in a bad light.

The poem is titled Many Happy Returns by Melanie Graham who teaches composition and professional writing at USF. Graham called it a found poem because it combines written material from other sources into a poem. In this case, she merged language from a military brochure on reunification that one of her students had brought in for a project with news reports.

The poem begins:

A note to the returning service member and family:

If the return home was easy, there would be no need for this guide

But we know that is not always the case.

June 2002, the first veterans of the war in Afghanistan return to Fort Bragg, N.C.

However, knowing what to expect and preparing for it can make the process easier.

June 11,Sgt. First Class Rigoberto Nieves fatally shoots his wife Teresa and then himself in their bedroom.

A cork-board display, many with symbolic photos, is set up for each stanza of the poem Many Happy Returns.

She crafted the poem into an art installation making an individual cork-board for each stanza. At each board, you read the military brochure set-up and then the media account typewritten on onion skin paper.

“I choose onion skin because of rareness of the paper and it’s extremely fragile, you can almost see through it and like truth it’s very fragile,” Graham said.

Also symbolic are the many of the images with the displays: photos of a beekeeper, a steak and potato dinner, a family with their faces scratched out. Graham, whose father was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, said she wrote the poem to focus on the observation that many military service members are coming home and not getting help with their symptoms of post traumatic stress.

“If you’re in America, we are at war. We don’t feel it,” Graham said. “We need to appreciate what’s going on and beside the fact of putting a yellow ribbon magnet on your car, beside the fact of saying to someone thank you for your service look at what the realities are that these people face.”

One of the more disturbing photos in the exhibit shows a generic family photo with the faces scratched out.

But some student veterans at USF who saw the exhibit drew different conclusions.

“One of the veterans said to me ‘I’m not going to come out and say I’ve got post traumatic stress if this is what they’re going to look at me and say oh you’re going to do this,’” said Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veteran Services at USF. “It (Graham’s art exhibit) paints an image that is not accurate of post traumatic stress.”

Braue said there are many different levels of post traumatic stress that are not reflected in the exhibit. He learned about Graham’s PTSD poem and display when one of his student veterans gave him a controversial postcard promoting the exhibit.

“Just the words that were on there,” Braue said. “And the graphic image of a veteran or somebody who appeared to be a veteran blowing his head off with a pistol.”

Braue, a veteran himself, went to the exhibit at USF’s Centre Gallery worried there would be similar violent images. There are not. But he was troubled by Graham’s poem as were many of the student veterans who come through his office for services.

“Some of them were offended. Some of them were hurt,” Braue said. “They felt hurt that they were being portrayed in a light that was very negative. You know when you look at the stories of a sergeant who comes home and kills his family, that’s certainly not how many of our veterans want to be portrayed and while things like that have happened, that is not the norm.”

Many Happy Returns - a poem turned into an art exhibit that focuses on returning combat veterans who have committed domestic violence, murder and suicide.

Graham said she sought feedback from veterans in her family as she worked on the poem and the postcard is an illustration of her brother who was a Marine embassy guard. She added that she did not mean to offend or traumatize veterans, but she defended her use of only violent homecoming scenarios.

“It’s a necessary evil, so to speak, to raise these issues and I certainly didn’t mean for it to damage anyone,” Graham said. “I’m hoping to wake people off of their Facebook so they’ll realize this is reality for a lot of people and people who sacrifice on behalf of the country.”

Because of the sensitive topics covered by the poem - the USF Centre Gallery put up a cautionary "adult content" notice on the gallery door.

While Braue did not like parts of the exhibit, he said it did prompt much-needed discussion about post traumatic stress.

“While maybe it’s not the way we would have liked it to happen, but it has raised awareness and it helps our veterans to say what post traumatic stress really is – it gets them to speak out and tell the real  story of what post traumatic stress is,” Braue said. “And really raises awareness for our counselors to know that there are misconceptions about post traumatic stress.”

The exhibit, Many Happy Returns, is open through Friday at the USF Marshall Center, Centre Gallery, Tampa Campus.

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