On March 18, President Obama will be presenting the Medal of Honor to 24 soldiers who were denied that honor due to discriminatory practices of the times. This ceremony is proof that one person can make a difference.
One Man Army
“I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.”
For over 50 years, veteran Mitchel Libman believed that his friend Pfc. Leonard Kravitz should have received a Medal of Honor instead of the Distinguished Service Cross for his act of bravery during the Korean War. Kravitz, the uncle of rocker Lenny Kravitz, took up the machine gun of a wounded soldier – despite being ordered to retreat – and fought off advancing Communist soldiers so his platoon could retreat under cover. He was found the next morning, fatally wounded and crumpled over his machine gun. There were six bullets left in the machine gun and he was surrounded by dead enemy soldiers.
While lobbying to get Kravitz’s medal upgraded, Libman’s research led him to believe that anti-semitism had played a role in the review process for the Medal of Honor. He found that only two Jewish soldiers had been recognized with the Medal of Honor since World War II, while 138 had received the Distinguished Cross of Service. He believed that other minorities had also received the Service Cross for the same acts of bravery that earned others the Medal of Honor. After years of writing to Presidents and the Pentagon, he took his case to former (FL) Rep. Robert Wexler. These actions led Congress to pass an act in 2002 requiring a review of the service records of not only Jewish, but Hispanic DCS recipients who may have also been overlooked for the Medal of Honor due to their ethnic heritage.
12 Years, 6000 Records, 24 Corrections
A painstaking review of over 6000 records from World War II and the Korean and Viet Nam Wars took over 12 years to complete. They found that 17 Hispanic American soldiers and one Jewish American soldier, Leonard Kravitz, displayed valor in combat worthy of the Medal of Honor. Another six men, including one African-American, will also have their Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to a Medal of Honor. Three of the 24 recipients are still living and will be present at the White House to receive their medals.
The three living veterans are former Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris, who served in Viet Nam as a Green Beret and was the only African American identified in the review, former Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela and former Specialist Four Santiago Erevia, both of whom also served in Viet Nam. A full list of the recipients with a brief biography of each has been published by the Washington Post.
America has a turbulent history of racial and ethnic discrimination. It is a sad fact that the military reflected the civilian prejudices of the times. In many instances, the actions of one person led to changes in this country’s social and political practices, and it is the persistence of one person that led to correcting the discriminatory wrongs of medal recognition.
Like those being honored on March 18th, Mitchel Libman, a veteran of the Korean War, embodies the US Army Warrior Ethos “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.” It is only fitting that he be present to see his friend’s family receive that much deserved Medal of Honor.