President Barack Obama will award Medals of Honor to two dozen veterans, many of whom were overlooked in the past because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds.
After a 12-year Pentagon review ordered by Congress, it was discovered that 24 veterans were overlooked for the highest commendation for combat valor – a Medal of Honor.
The investigation was ordered to ensure that all soldiers who should have been awarded a Medal of Honor finally received what was rightfully theirs.
Many of the recipients come from African-American, Jewish and Hispanic descent and it is believed that they were passed over for the prestigious honor simply because of their race or ethnicity.
The ceremony will take place on March 18 and will honor the largest group of Medal of Honor recipients since World War II.
Only three of the 24 recipients are still alive ,and only five of the recipients are not African-American, Hispanic or Jewish.
One of the living recipients, Melvin Morris, said he was shocked to hear about the honor and even more surprised to hear from the president.
“I fell to my knees,” said Morris, a 72-year-old veteran who fought in the Vietnam War. “I was shocked.”
Morris said he never thought much about awards and never imagined that his race would have prevented him from receiving a Medal of Honor.
He recalled what Obama said to him on the phone.
“President Obama said he was sorry this didn’t happen before,” Morris said. “He said this should have been done 44 years ago.”
Morris’s Medal of Honor comes in commemoration of his recovery of the body of his master sergeant during a jungle ambush in South Vietnam back in 1969.
He later retired after serving in the Army for more than two decades.
The other two living recipients, both from San Antonio, are Spc. 4 Santiago J. Erevia, and Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela.
The Army began conducting the massive review after Congress passed the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act that required that the record of each Jewish-American and Hispanic-American veteran who received a Service Cross during or after World War II be reviewed to possibly receive a Medal of Honor.
More than 6,000 recipients had to be reviewed, so the Army also called on the help of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, and the American GI Forum.
Eight of the new Medal of Honor recipients fought in the Vietnam War while nine fought in the Korean War and seven in World War II.