White House announces 24 soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor

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(CNN) – They braved bullets and bombs, risking their lives for their country.

Now — having been passed over in some cases for decades due to their ethnicity or skin color — the U.S. government is giving them their just reward.

President Barack Obama announced Friday that 24 Army veterans would receive the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award, bestowed on U.S. troops who show “gallantry above and beyond the call of duty ” — for their combat actions in Vietnam, Korea and during World War II.

Many of their fellow soldiers received this medal long ago, for doing similar things in similar places at similar times. But not these 24 men.

In 2002, Congress — as part of the Defense Authorization Act — set up a review of Jewish and Hispanic veterans who served in combat since the middle of the century “to ensure those deserving the Medal Of Honor were not denied because of prejudice,” explained the White House. The congressional action was later amended to open the door for any serviceman or woman denied the award due to discrimination.

Marine denied posthumous Medal of Honor again

Twenty-one of the new Medal of Honor recipients — with last names including Garcia and Weinstein and Negron — aren’t alive to receive the award.

But three others, including Melvin Morris, are alive to be recognized.

Morris was 19 when he volunteered to go to Vietnam. In 1969, the Army Green Beret got hit multiple times by bullets during combat. Bleeding, he “charged into a hail of fire” to rescue his dead and wounded comrades in what the Army characterizes as a show of “determination possessed by few men.”

His heroics were recognized in 1970 with the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross award.

Now 72, Morris — who is black — will wear his country’s highest military honor.

So, too, will Santiago J. Erevia, a native Texan. The radio-telephone operator was caring for wounded colleagues in 1969 in Vietnam when his position came under attack. According to the Military Times, “without hesitation Specialist Erevia crawled from one wounded man to another,” charged while armed toward the hostile fire, before eventually returning to take care of the injured troops he’d left behind.

The last surviving new Medal of Honor recipient is Jose Rodela, who like Morris and Erevia also won a Distinguished Service Cross. While commanding a mobile strike force in Vietnam, Rodela was “wounded in the back and head by rocket shrapnel while recovering a wounded comrade,” according to a military commendation, yet he still single-handedly “assaulted and knocked out (a) rocket position” before returning to lead his men.

One of those who will posthumously receive the award is Leonard Kravitz, an assistant machine gunner in the Korean War. He is the uncle and namesake of actor and rock musician Lenny Kravitz.

Retired Marine Col. Harvey Barnum, who is white, says he is eager to welcome all the new award recipients into the fold.

Barnum, who earned a Medal of Honor himself in 1967 for his service in Vietnam, said he “had heard rumors … that there were certain people that people thought should have received the medal.”

Now that they’re finally being justly recognized, Barnum said, “I’ll look forward to putting my arms around them, and calling them brother, and saying welcome home.”

President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to three living soldiers:

Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as radio telephone operator in Company C, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) during search and clear mission near Tam Ky, Republic of Vietnam.

Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as Commander of a Strike Force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam on September 17, 1969.

Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as the company commander, Detachment B-36, Company A, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces during combat operations against an armed enemy in Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam on September 1, 1969.

The President will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the following who served during the Vietnam War:

Sergeant Candelario Garcia will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an acting Team Leader for Company B, 1st Battalion, 2d Infantry, 1st Brigade,1st Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Lai Khe, Republic of Vietnam on December 8, 1968.

Specialist Four Leonard L. Alvarado will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Rifleman with Company D, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during combat operations against an armed enemy in Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam on August 12, 1969.

Staff Sergeant Felix M. Conde-Falcon will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an acting Platoon Leader in Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Ap Tan Hoa, Republic of Vietnam on April 4, 1969.

Specialist Four Ardie R. Copas will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Machinegunner in Company C, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia on May 12, 1970.

Specialist Four Jesus S. Duran will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an acting M-60 machinegunner in Company E, 2d Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Republic of Vietnam on April 10, 1969.

The President will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the following who served during the Korean War:

Corporal Joe R. Baldonado will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an acting machine gunner in 3d Squad, 2d Platoon, Company B, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kangdong, Korea on November 25, 1950.

Corporal Victor H. Espinoza will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an Acting Rifleman in Company A, 23d Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Chorwon, Korea on August 1, 1952.

Sergeant Eduardo C. Gomez will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Tabu-dong, Korea on September 3, 1950.

Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an assistant machinegunner with Company M, 5th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Yangpyong, Korea on March 6 and 7, 1951.

Master Sergeant Juan E. Negron will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a member of Company L, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kalma-Eri, Korea on April 28, 1951.

Master Sergeant Mike C. Pena will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a member of Company F, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Waegwan, Korea, on September 4, 1950.

Private Demensio Rivera will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an automatic rifleman with 2d Platoon, Company G, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Changyong-ni, Korea on May 23, 1951.

Private Miguel A. Vera will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as an automatic rifleman with Company F, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2d Infantry Division in Chorwon, Korea, on September 21, 1952.

Sergeant Jack Weinstein will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while leading 1st Platoon, Company G, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division in Kumsong, Korea on October 19, 1951.

The President will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the following who served during World War II:

Private Pedro Cano will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving with Company C, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Schevenhutte, Germany on December 3, 1944.

Private Joe Gandara will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving with Company D, 2d Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Amfreville, France on June 9, 1944.

Private First Class Salvador J. Lara will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as the Squad Leader of a rifle squad with 2d Platoon, Company L, 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Aprilia, Italy on May 27 and 28, 1944.

Sergeant William F. Leonard will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Squad Leader in Company C, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy near St. Die, France on November 7, 1944.

Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Sergeant with Company B, 350th Infantry, 88th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy on Mt. Battaglia, Italy on October 4, 1944.

Sergeant Alfred B. Nietzel will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as a section leader for Company H, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Heistern, Germany on November 18, 1944.

First Lieutenant Donald K. Schwab will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courageous actions while serving as the Commander of Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy near Lure, France on September 17, 1944.

CNN’s Barbara Starr and Greg Botelho contributed to this report

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