In an emotional ceremony at the White House on the afternoon of March 18, 2014, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 18 Latino Army Veterans, two living and 16 posthumously, together with six other non-Hispanic Veterans, one living and five deceased. They were honored for their extraordinary valor during major combat operations in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Five Hispanic Veterans were recognized 70 years after their heroic deeds. The Medal of Honor has been awarded to more than 3,400 recipients since it was established during the Civil War. The medal is bestowed "only to the bravest of the brave," the Army said.
Each of the 24 soldiers had been previously presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest military award. However, that award will be upgraded to the Medal of Honor in recognition of their bravery and heroism above and beyond the call of duty. The presentation came after Congress, in a 2002 defense bill, ordered a review of thousands of war records to determine whether Latino and Jewish veterans had been denied the nation's highest military decoration because of discrimination.
During the ceremony, President Obama spoke of setting wrongs right. "This ceremony reminds us of one of the enduring qualities that makes America great," he said. "No nation is perfect. But here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal."
The two living Hispanic Veterans, Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia and Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela, wore their military uniforms at the ceremony. Specialist Erevia was a radio telephone operator from Texas who, in 1969, tended injured comrades in Vietnam's Quang Tin province when his position came under attack. According to the citation, Erevia took out three machine gun bunkers with grenades and gunfire. He then returned to care for his wounded comrades, crawling from one wounded man to another to administer aid. Sergeant First Class Rodela "was wounded in the back and head by rocket shrapnel while recovering a wounded comrade," while commanding a mobile strike force in Vietnam's Phuoc Long province Despite his injuries, he single-handedly assaulted and knocked out a mortar position before returning to lead his men.
Citing 'unimaginable' valor, the President said that "in the thick of the fight all those years ago, for your comrades and your country, you refused to yield."
The names of the Medal of Honor recipients will be added to the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
Hispanics who won the medal of Honor in 2014
Living Hispanic (Vietnam) Veterans:
- Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia
- Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela
Hispanic Veterans honored posthumously:
- World War II Veterans
- Private Pedro Cano
- Private Joe Gandara
- Private First Class Salvador J. Lara
- Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza
- Korean War Veterans
- Corporal Joe R. Baldonado
- Corporal Victor H. Espinoza
- Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez
- Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron
- Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena
- Private Demensio Rivera
- Private Miguel A. Vera
- 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
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