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24 Veterans Get Long-Overdue Medals of Honor

Melvin Morris vividly remembers the day in September 1969 when he became a war hero in the eyes of others.

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris

Morris was a young Green Beret staff sergeant in South Vietnam. After his master sergeant was killed in a jungle ambush in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Morris, serving as the commander of a Special Forces strike force, went back into the line of fire three times to recover the body and a map case – and was wounded three times in the process.

Duty and mission kept him going, Morris says. “You have to do what you have to do,” he told National Public Radio in an interview. “I couldn’t leave the body, and I knew I couldn’t leave sensitive information. So even though it was a great risk to me, this is something I had to do.”

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Now, more than 44 years later, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest commendation for combat valor – to Morris and 23 other Army veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War at a White House ceremony on March 18.

The deserving soldiers were originally passed over, a review ordered by Congress in 2002 determined, because they were Hispanic, Jewish or African American.

Spc. 4 Santiago J. Erevia

Spc. 4 Santiago J. Erevia

Morris, an Oklahoma native who lives in Port St. John, Fla., is one of only three veterans in the group of 24 who are still alive. Joining him at the White House ceremony will be Santiago J. Erevia, 68, of San Antonio, Texas, a former specialist 4 who, while serving as a radio telephone operator, displayed “courageous actions” during a search-and-clear mission near Tam Ky, Vietnam, and Jose Rodela, 76, also of San Antonio, a former sergeant first class who distinguished himself during combat in South Vietnam on Sept. 1, 1969, while serving as the company commander of a mobile Special Forces strike force.

Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela

Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela

Morris, Erevia, Rodela and the other veterans were previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military honor, which will now be upgraded to the Medal of Honor “in recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty.”

The posthumous recipients are:

Vietnam War

 

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Korean War

 

World War II

 

Photos: U.S. Army

 

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