Hagel, Army Leaders Induct ‘Valor 24’ Into Hall of Heroes
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led a celebration correcting an injustice today, as 24 Army veterans whose heroics spanned three wars were inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes here.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Secretary John M. McHugh walk with Army Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia to a ceremony to induct 24 Medal of Honor recipients into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, March 19, 2014. The 24 recipients fought in the Vietnam War, the Korean War and World War II. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
President Barack Obama presented to the Medal of Honor to three living heroes and to family members or representatives of the 21 others at the White House yesterday. All had previously received the Distinguished Service Cross, but a congressionally directed review resulted in their awards being upgraded.
Joined by Army Secretary John M. McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, the defense secretary noted that today’s event also celebrated the nation’s highest award for valor.
“We are here this morning to celebrate the heroism of 24 selfless individuals,” Hagel said, noting that their acts of gallantry in battle merit the nation’s highest recognition. “We are also here to correct an injustice of history to help right 24 wrongs that should have never occurred.”
Before honoring the Medal of Honor recipients themselves, Hagel recognized a friend of one particular recipient for his determination to ensure Pfc. Leonard Kravitz, and other deserving soldiers, received their rightful recognition.
“I want to recognize another soldier here today, a man who President [Barack] Obama acknowledged and commended yesterday,” Hagel said. “His name is Mitch Libman. He was the driving force behind this effort to award the Medal of Honor to Jewish and Hispanic service members who had earned it, but had never received it because of racial or religious discrimination.”
Hagel said when Libman discovered his childhood friend had been denied the Medal of Honor, he decided to do whatever was necessary to rectify it.
“He never gave up,” the secretary said. “And though it took a long time -- too long -- he was able to see the record set straight, not only for his friend, but for 23 other soldiers. Mitch, on behalf of everyone in this auditorium, and this country, thank you. We’re grateful for your hard work and your persistence.”
Hagel also expressed gratitude to Army officials and others who helped to identify and verify every heroic deed being honored at the ceremony.
Hagel also noted three of the 24 medal recipients -- Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela, Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris and Specialist 4th Class Santiago J. Erevia, who all were promoted to the next rank before leaving the Army -- were in attendance at the induction ceremony.
“Some of these soldiers gave their lives in service to this nation,” he said. “Others have passed away, but we are honored to have three of the recipients here with us today. The names that grace the walls of the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes belong to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who represent the essence, the finest, the best of military service.”
The defense secretary also related a story of a Jewish chaplain who survived the carnage at Iwo Jima 70 years ago and paid tribute by leading his fellow Marines to dedicate a cemetery on the island.
“They were burying their friends and their comrades,” Hagel said, “men of all religions, all races [and] all creeds.”
In mourning them, Hagel said, the chaplain observed, “Here no man prefers another because of his faith, or despises another because of their color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Thus do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began.”
The defense secretary said the two dozen Medal of Honor recipients’ induction into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes continues to honor their valor.
“Today, on the doorstep of our nation’s capital, we honor 24 heroes with the same solemn pledge that was given on the island of Iwo Jima -- that their sacrifice shall never be in vain,” Hagel said. “Thank you for what you all have done for our country.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)