Righting an historical wrong, President Obama today awarded the nation's highest military honor to two dozen Army veterans who were previously overlooked, saying "today we have the chance to set the record straight."
"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 president said.
The "truly historic" group includes 19 Hispanic, Jewish and African-American soldiers who were unjustly denied the Medal of Honor because of prejudice, passed over because of their race or ethnicity. Today's ceremony comes after a 12-year Pentagon review of records from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to determine if deserving veterans were being overlooked because of discrimination.
"Their courage almost defies imagination," Obama said. "When you read the records of these individuals it's unimaginable, the valor that they displayed - running into bullets; charging machine gun nests and climbing aboard tanks and taking them out; covering their comrades so they could make it to safety; holding back enemies, wave after wave, even when the combat was hand-to-hand; manning their posts, some to their very last breaths, so that their comrades might live."
Of the 24 honored, 10 never came home and one is still missing. Only three of the recipients lived to see this day. Sergeant Santiago Erevia, Sergeant First Class Melvin Morris, and Master Sergeant Jose Rodela were hailed by the president as "extraordinary Americans" and "exemplary soldiers."
Family members of the 21 other recipients accepted the awards on their behalf. Standing beside the president, many were overcome with emotion, tears streaming down their faces as their loved ones were recognized.
After awarding them the Medal of Honor, the president called the three surviving veterans back to the stage. "This is a remarkable moment," he said. "On behalf of a grateful nation, we all want to thank you for inspiring us, then and now, with your strength, your will and your heroic hearts."